Back to School at
Home > School and Learning > By Grade > High School > SATs and Other Tests > Typical Errors on the SAT Proofreading Section

Typical Errors on the SAT Proofreading Section

Verb Tense Errors

Illustrative Sentences

  • After months of campaigning the councilmember finally had enough support for her proposal, so she calls for an immediate vote.
  • The marathoner paused briefly in the race to drink a few sips of water after he had ran the first half at a record-setting pace.
  • If both parties would have known how long and difficult the conflict was likely to be, the earlier settlement talks might have been more fruitful.
We tend to think of tenses in terms of past, present, and future, but in fact variations of these tenses arise depending on when the action takes place relative to other events. Consider the following examples and you'll see that different situations would require different tenses.

Present Tenses

  • I clean up my room.
  • I am cleaning up my room.
  • I have cleaned up my room.
  • I have been cleaning up my room.
Past Tenses
    I cleaned up my room.
  • I was cleaning up my room.
  • I had cleaned up my room.
  • I had been cleaning up my room.
Future Tenses
  • I will clean up my room.
  • I will be cleaning up my room.
  • I will have cleaned up my room.
  • I will have been cleaning up my room.
A sentence can contain more than one tense. (Because I was sick yesterday I am studying for a make-up test that I will take tomorrow.) If so, however, these tenses must be consistent with each other. In the first example, the past tense switches inconsistently with the present.

In the second example, the correct form of the past tense would be "had run." Occasionally the SAT will include a tense of an "irregular" verb like "to run." There are too many irregular verbs to list here, but usually your ear will be reliable detecting any such tense errors (a notable exception to our general caution about relying on your ear on the proofreading questions).

The verb phrase "would have" in the third example is used to construct conditional forms, as in the sentence, I would have called you if I hadn't lost your phone number. In this sentence, however, a past tense is required. The correct version of this sentence would have been, If both parties had known . . .

You don't have to memorize dozens of verb tenses. Just read carefully and realize that this error does show up once or twice on a test.

Related Errors

If this type of error tends to trip you up, you should also review the following category:

  • sentence fragments or run-ons

Next: Page 10 >>

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.

If you'd like to buy this book, click here.

stay connected

Sign up for our free email newsletters and receive the latest advice and information on all things parenting.

Enter your email address to sign up or manage your account.

Facebook icon Twitter icon Follow Us on Pinterest

editor’s picks

get ready for school!

We’ve got your
shopping list,
lunch menu,
and more.



Handwriting Headquarters
We've got handwriting practice worksheets, handwriting tips, and answers to your child's writing struggles, just in time for back to school. Brought to you by BIC.

11 Coolest Lunch Boxes for Kids
Send your child's lunch to school in style! Check out our picks for the 11 best lunch boxes with great features from BPA-free accessories to spill-resistant fabric.

7 Important Back-to-School Safety Tips
Follow these back-to-school safety tips to make sure your child stays safe on the way to school, in the classroom, and while on the playground.

Kindergarten Readiness App Wins Gold
Our Kindergarten Readiness app won the Gold Award of Excellence in the educational category at the 2014 Communicator Awards. This valuable checklist comes with games and activities to help your child practice the essential skills she needs for kindergarten. Download the Kindergarten Readiness app today!

Join BIC on our mission to save handwriting and Fight For Your Write! Writing helps kids become better readers, boosts their confidence and sparks their creativity. Visit to sign our petition to save handwriting!