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How to Approach the Improving Paragraphs Questions
Please Note:
The last administration of the SAT II Writing was on 1/22/05. Beginning 3/12/05, parts of the SAT II Writing test will be included in the New SAT. You should be studying the New SAT book. Go there!
How to Approach the Improving Paragraphs Questions
The four question types (sentence revision, essay analysis, sentence addition, and sentence combination) should each be approached a bit differently, but there are five standard steps for dealing with all types of Improving Paragraphs questions:
  1. Quickly read the essay.
  2. Read the question.
  3. Reread the sentences before and after the “problem” sentence.
  4. Come up with your own revision/analysis/addition/combination.
  5. Look for the answer choice that comes closest to your own answer.
These steps are fairly simple, but there are important things to note about each one.
1. Quickly read the essay.
This first step never varies: before looking at the questions, read the essay. Spend about a minute (really, just a minute) reading the essay. A minute is not that long, but you won’t need long to get through the essays. They aren’t lengthy, and their prose is not that difficult. The goal of the quick read-through is to get a general idea of what the essay is about, and figure out the point of each paragraph.
It’s a mistake to read the essay looking for errors and imagining how you would fix them. Because the essay has more sentences than the questions can cover, it’s a waste of time to examine each sentence carefully. You won’t be asked about every single sentence, so let the questions themselves tell you which sentences you should examine for problems, rather than reading the essay and trying to anticipate the questions.
2. Read the question.
This is an obvious step, but it is important to give the question a very careful read-through. On sentence revision questions, for example, you’ll see a sentence from the essay reprinted; sometimes the entire sentence will need revision, while sometimes only an underlined portion of the sentence will need work. If only a portion of the sentence is underlined, you don’t want to make unnecessary work for yourself by combing through the entire sentence looking for errors.
Look at this example:
1. How would sentence 4, reproduced below, be best revised?
I love eating pizza for dinner, even more I love eating it for breakfast.
Since only a portion of this sentence is underlined, you know that you need examine only the underlined part for errors and do not need to think too much about the parts that aren’t underlined.
3. Reread the sentences before and after the “problem” sentence.
“Context matters” is a good motto for this section of the test. Because you’ll read the essay before you tackle the questions, you’ll have a general understanding of what the essay is about. But in order to answer the individual questions, you’ll have to go back to the relevant part of the essay and reread the problem sentence (the sentence mentioned in the question) more carefully. It’s also crucial to read the context sentences (the sentences before and after the problem sentence). Sometimes the context can help you rewrite the sentence. Suppose you go back to the essay, and read these sentences around the problem sentence:
Her mother told Emily to make the bed. Another chore her mother told her to do was to take out the garbage. Emily reluctantly complied.
Here, the first and second sentences convey similar information, but the second (problem) sentence is wordy and awkward, and the first sentence is clean and succinct. Therefore, you can take the first sentence as a model for the revision of the second sentence.
4. Come up with your own revision first.
As in the other multiple-choice sections, in Improving Paragraphs questions it’s important to generate your own answer before you read the answer choices. The answer choices are there to confuse you. Preparing your own answer will allow you to keep a cool head as you read the answer choices.
Say you read the context sentences and see that the first sentence works well. You model the revision on that successful first sentence and come up with:
Her mother also told Emily to take out the garbage.
Now, go to the answer choices and follow the fifth step:
5. Look for the answer that comes closest to your own answer.
Say the answer choices read:
(A) Another chore her mother told her to do was to take out the garbage.
(B) Her mother additionally asked her to do the chore of taking out the garbage.
(C) Also, take out the garbage, her mother asked.
(D) Then, her mother told Emily to take out the garbage.
(E) She also asked Emily to take out the garbage.
(D) comes closest to the revision you prepared before you looked at the answer choices, so that should be your choice.
With these five basic rules in mind, we’re going to take you through each of the four question types and discuss their features and quirks. We list the question types in order of the frequency with which they occur on the test—sentence revision, sentence addition, sentence combination, and essay analysis.
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