Tip from Josie: Find the Error!

Josie Francois2Hi everyone, my name is Josie Francois and I am a rising junior at Harvard College concentrating in Chemistry with a secondary in Economics. I have worked as a tutor at HSA Tutoring for a few years now and I really enjoy it. I want to help students perform to the best of their ability, whether in class or on standardized tests.

Today I will be providing tips for the Identifying Sentence Errors questions that appear on the SAT Writing sections. These questions will ask you to identify grammar and usage errors in a sentence, if such an error exists. These questions generally test the same common grammar and usage concepts over and over again: subject-verb agreement, illogical comparisons, pronouns, tenses, parallelism, adverbs, idioms, and word choice.

For each question, read the sentence carefully and eliminate any answer choices you are sure do not contain an error. Go back and look at the answer choices remaining and check for any errors. If you cannot find an error, choose “No error” as your answer choice. Don’t be afraid to choose “No error” as there will be sentences that do not have an error. When looking for an error, keep the most commonly tested concepts in mind.

Subject-verb agreement questions are relatively straightforward. Always make sure that the subject and the verb agree. For example, if the subject is plural, the verb should agree. Illogical comparison questions are a bit trickier. On the SAT, make sure that the sentence is comparing two like things. For example, if the sentence compares an artist’s painting to another artist, instead of that other artist’s painting, then the comparison is illogical. Read sentences carefully and keep track of what they are comparing.

Pronoun questions will test pronoun agreement, as in you need a plural pronoun for plural subjects and singular pronouns for singular subjects. Some questions will also require you to determine whether the pronoun used should be subjective or object, like “he” vs “him.” For some questions, the error will be a pronoun shift. There will be some questions that start with “one” as the subject but then switch to “you.” In other questions, the error will be an ambiguous pronoun. For example, the sentence might mention two women and then start talking about “she” without making it clear who “she” refers to.

Other errors to look out for are sentences that randomly switch tenses or idioms that are incorrect. Often, incorrect idioms will use the wrong preposition. There will also be some errors where the wrong word is used but the word used is similar to the appropriate word, although it has a different meaning (e.g. its vs it’s). Other errors will involve neglecting to use an adverb when one is required.

One of the more difficult errors that may be tested have to do with parallelism. In a parallel sentence, the items or ideas listed should follow the same pattern, whether in terms of grammar or usage. For example, if several activities are listed, the verbs should be conjugated in the same manner. “Riding…, biking…, and walking…” is parallel but “riding…, biking…, and to walk…” is not so “to walk” is an error.

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