The SAT Proofreading and Editing Section: Basic Principles
- After a thorough examination, the doctor told Melissa that she should exercise more vigorously as well as more regularly.
What it seems to say: Melissa's doctor advised Melissa to get more exercise.
What it actually says: We can't tell. The sentence might be saying that, but it might be saying that the doctor is admitting to Melissa that she, the doctor, should be getting more exercise.
- The academic habits and expectations of teenage girls are very different from teenage boys.
What it seems to say: Girls study differently from the way boys study.
What it actually says: The way girls study is different from the way boys are. Yes, that's nonsensical, but that's what the sentence says literally.
- When completely painted with the third and final coat of varnish, Peter set the antique chair outside on the porch to get some sun.
What it seems to say: That Peter varnished an old chair and then set it outside to dry.
What it actually says: That Peter was painted with varnish and then went outside to get some sun, perhaps while sitting in an antique chair. Yes, that's nonsensicaland that's why it's wrong.
Not all grammatical errors result in nonsense, but many do. You're a proofreader on these questions, so your job is to be suspicious of everything you read.
First, a Look at Error-Free Sentences
Before we consider the different types of grammatical errors you need to hunt for on these questions, we need to discuss error-free sentences.
There's a strong temptation to think that all the sentences in this section must have some problem with them. After all, each sentence presents you with four suggested errors. Sometimes, however, you'll read a sentence but you won't find anything wrong with it. The sentence sounded a bit strange, but you couldn't put your finger on anything specific.
You think that maybe you missed something so you reread the sentence, closely examining each choice. But still you find no error. In fact, you're absolutely sure that two of the five choices can't be right, but you're not sure about the other choices. You grit your teeth in frustration and decide to read it a third time, and now you really focus on each remaining choice. You come up empty-handed again.
I told you that your ear for grammar is not completely reliable. Sometimes grammatically incorrect sentences sound fine to our ears, while grammatically correct sentences sometimes sound strange. Don't drive yourself crazyand waste timesearching too long for errors where none may exist.
On average, one-sixth of the 49 proofreading questions are grammatically correct.
Let's take another look at the two error-free examples from our introductory quiz: questions 1 and 10.
- The two pieces of woodwork by the apprentice carpenters were each so finely sanded that it took the trained eye of their teacher to determine that the oak tabletop was more nearly flat than was the pine tabletop.
Discussion: The uncommon phrase "more nearly" sounds alien to most students, who then assume that the phrase must be wrong. It's not. If a word or a phrase in a particular sentence merely "sounds weird" but you can't put your finger on why it's wrong, the phrase may be perfectly okay.
- Were it not for the downturn of the local economy last year, the then-popular mayor would surely have been reelected.
Discussion: This sentence opens with an uncommon phrase and also ends with a lengthy verb phrase. Could that sentence have been phrased more clearly? Undoubtedly. But just because you can think of a different or even better way to rewrite a sentence does not mean that the sentence as written is grammatically incorrect.
Now that you know how awkward or stilted correct sentences can sound, you won't be so tempted to rely on your ear to determine whether some part of a sentence is grammatically incorrect.
Sometimes a proofreading question will include a difficult or unfamiliar word like one of the following: inviolable, usurped, inestimable, whereabouts, invasive, attests, belying. Don't be intimidated and think that the word or the sentence is necessarily incorrect. The proofreading questions do not test vocabulary.
I'll have more to say about the topic of difficult words on these questions when we get to diction errors. Okay, then, let's explore the major grammatical errors on the SAT proofreading questions, arranged roughly in order of importance.
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From The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT and the PSAT by Adam Robinson. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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