The SAT Writing test covers a broad spectrum of Grammar and Usage in multiple choice sections and an essay. Just FIVE grammar rules account for the biggest ‘bite’ of the questions. These five rules account for about 30% of the multiple choice questions and are needed for every essay. Know these, recognize them, follow them EVERY TIME, and you can feel sure of a solid score on the Writing section of the SAT.
1 – Tense Agreement
Tense usage must make sense. Tense can change within a sentence, but these changes MUST follow the logical flow of the sentence. For instance, the following is correct despite the changes in tense:
I used to eat chocolate bars exclusively, but, after going through a conversion experience last year, I have broadened my range and now eat gummy candy, too.
The following sentence is incorrect because it changes from the past to future perfect tense in a way that confuses the meaning:
During the last school year the tennis team will have added 12 new members.
Be especially careful of irregular verbs! There are many books and web sites that list common ones – MEMORIZE them.
2 – Subject-Verb Agreement
The basic rule is that if the subject is plural, the verb needs to be plural, but it’s not always that simple. All too often the complexity lies in just finding the subject and verb in the sentence. Here are common ‘traps’ you will see:
- The subject comes after the verb
- The subject and verb are separated in the sentence
- There are several clauses
- There is a compound subject
- There is a collective noun, such as ‘herd’, or an indefinite pronoun, such as ‘everybody’, that seems plural but is actually
3 – Pronoun Agreement
Pronouns must agree with their antecedents in terms of singular and plural. Be especially careful of “their”. Despite common usage, it is ALWAYS plural! This sentence shows the CORRECT form:
Every student in the class pretended to forget his homework (NOT their homework!).
4 – Pronoun Case
Pronouns must also be in the proper case, Nominative Case for subjects:
And Objective Case for objects of verbs or prepositions:
Alex hit him.
Give that to me.
5 – Idiom and Usage
In truth, this is nothing more than the way Americans generally put words together – by convention rather than by rule.
I am different than you.<<--- is wrong
I am different from you.<<--- is right
You must rely on your “mind’s ear” for these. If the phrase sounds ‘off’, it probably is. These conventions most often refer to the choice of preposition, so focus there if you suspect an idiom or usage problem in a sentence.
Work hard with your tutor on these rules. Be able to recognize violations of them in sentences. Always follow them carefully in your writing. Your reward for all of this hard work will be a better Writing score!