If you want to improve your SAT Writing or ACT English score, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll help you to improve your score with our best strategy for SAT Writing and ACT English.
We’ll show you how to get the most out of every practice question as you study, and also how to approach the test itself.
First, we’ll give an overview of the strategy and explain how it works. Then, we’ll include a sample passage and a few questions, along with an explanation of how to apply the strategy to those questions.
Overview of Our Best Strategy for SAT Writing and ACT English
Many students try to “wing it” and make it through the SAT Writing or ACT English section using only their intuition about the English language. On some questions, this is the best strategy for SAT writing or ACT English. Sometimes, you can “hear” the mistake, even if you don’t know exactly why it is wrong. Other questions will disguise a grammar mistake and make it difficult to spot. There will be other questions that are even trickier. Some questions will not test grammar at all, but will instead test some aspect of style or rhetoric.
Of course, there are always the questions about organization and placement of sentences, which are testing sentence transitions, order, and flow. On some of these questions, you may need to read the entire sentence, and even surrounding sentences, to give you context.
One Correct Answer
Regardless of what concept the question is testing, remember that there is only one correct answer. This means that all of the other answers are incorrect. In each incorrect answer, there is always something that makes it wrong. If you learn what to look for, you can go through a process to quickly find out what makes an answer wrong and eliminate it from consideration.
There are two main aspects that we will focus on: how you study before the test, and what you do during the test. We’ll start with how to study before the test:
Before the Test: How to Study for the SAT Writing or ACT English Section
With school, sports, and extracurricular activities, we all have limits on how much time we can spend studying for the test. The important thing is to get the most you can out of every single practice question before the test.
That means having a two-step process for reviewing your work:
- For missed questions, identify the mistake you made, and think about how you can avoid it the next time. It is helpful to take notes, and in your notes, categorize each question (we’ll get into more detail about exactly how to do that).
- For every question, look at the incorrect answers, and explain why each one is wrong.
If you follow this process, you will be able to find mistakes much faster. This will help you to eliminate answers quickly on most questions.
You will also get lots of experience with the common “traps” found in the incorrect answers. With enough practice, you will be able to identify and avoid these traps on test day.
Categorizing questions helps you to create a mental framework for the types of questions you will see on the test.
- Subject & Verb – this category includes questions about:
verb tenses (past, present, future, etc.)
a missing subject or verb within a clause
- Pronouns – this category includes questions about pronouns and possession, including:
- Punctuation – this category includes questions about:
It is important to understand independent clauses, dependent clauses, and how to use punctuation to connect them.
- Precision & Clarity – this category includes questions about:
redundancy (repetitive wording in a sentence)
parallel structure within a sentence
slang words or incorrect tone
conciseness (using as few words as possible without losing meaning)
- Organization & Rhetoric – this category includes questions about
adding a sentence to a passage
removing a sentence from a passage
moving a sentence within a passage
It is important to understand whether a sentence would be a good introduction or conclusion to a paragraph (or an entire passage).
It is also important to understand the flow of a passage and the chronological order of events in a passage.
TIP: If you practice by categorizing test questions into these five categories, you will eventually be able to do it quickly and easily.
When test day comes around, you can use this method to help you approach questions with a strategy that you have already dialed in to perfection.
What to Do During the SAT Writing or ACT English Section
When test day arrives, most of the work will already be done, since you have put in many hours of practice beforehand.
There is a two-step process for answering questions on test day:
- Try to categorize each question as you did during your practice. For example, if all of the answers have a variation of an underlined verb, then you know that the category is “Subject & Verb”. This means you should look for grammatical errors related to subject/verb agreement, verb tenses, etc.
- Read the sentence with your chosen answer, and make sure that you did not introduce a new error while fixing the original error.
It is possible that you will get stuck on a question and are unable to categorize it. In that case, go down the list of categories, one at a time, to eliminate possibilities. Remember that if you cannot find any grammatical mistakes, then the question is probably testing precision and clarity. (One dead giveaway is that two or more answers are grammatically correct.)
How to Apply the Categorize Strategy to a Real SAT Writing or ACT English Passage
This is where the rubber meets the road! It’s time to go over some real practice questions from a real practice test.
For each question, we will provide the category that the question falls into, along with how we made that determination. For each incorrect answer, we will provide an explanation of why it is wrong.
My grandfather is not known for embracing technological change. He still drives his ’59 Chevy Impala.
A. NO CHANGE
B. change he still drives
C. change still driving,
D. change, and still driving
Looking at the answer choices, we see that each one has different punctuation separating the two clauses in the sentence (a period, a comma, or no punctuation). This question is in the Punctuation category.
A. This is the correct answer. There are two independent clauses here, and it is acceptable to separate them into two sentences with a period. (The first clause has a subject of “My grandfather”, and a verb of “is”. The second clause has a subject of “he”, and a verb or “drives”.)
B. This answer is incorrect. Since there are two independent clauses here, they must be separated by a period, a semicolon, or a comma with a conjunction, such as and, but, or for. (This is known as a run-on sentence, which connects two independent clauses without proper punctuation).
C. This answer is incorrect. Adding “still driving” to the end of the first independent clause does not make sense. The verb “driving” should be connected to the object (the Chevy Impala) in the second clause.
D. This answer is incorrect. It uses a comma with a conjunction (and) to separate two clauses in the sentence. However, the second clause (“still driving his ’59 Chevy Impala”) is missing a subject, and so it is not an independent clause.
(He says, he can’t imagine needing frivolous options like automatic transmission or power steering.)
F. NO CHANGE
H. says, that
J. says, that,
Looking at the answer choices, we see that each one either adds or removes a comma from the original choice. This question is in the Punctuation category.
F. This answer is incorrect. We would use a comma after “He says” if we were using quotation marks to quote something that the grandfather said.
G. This is the correct answer. The author is telling us what his grandfather says, without quotation marks, so no comma is needed after “He says”.
H. This answer is incorrect. There is no need for a comma between “says” and “that”. We should simply say “he says that …”
J. This answer is incorrect. There is no need for a comma between “says” and “that”, or after “that”. We should simply say “he says that …”
So, when he has went to buy a new color television – owing to the knowledge that his old black-and-white model had finally quit – and the salesperson tried to talk him into buying a model with a remote control, he resisted.
A. NO CHANGE
B. had went
Looking at the answer choices, we see that each one is a variation of the verb “go” (the past tense of “go” is “went”, and the past participle of “go” is “gone”). This question is in the Subject & Verb category.
A. This answer is incorrect. The phrase “has went” is a past participle of go. We want the past tense of “go” (see answer C for full explanation).
B. This answer is incorrect. The phrase “had went” is a past participle of go. We want the past tense of “go” (see answer C for full explanation).
C. This is the correct answer. We need to carefully read the entire sentence for context. At the end of the sentence, we see the phrase “he resisted”, which has a verb (“resist”) in the past tense. So, we want to use the past tense of “go”, which is “went”, in the beginning of the sentence.
D. This answer is incorrect. The verb “goes” is in the present tense. We want the past tense of “go” (see answer C for full explanation).
As with any SAT or ACT strategy, this one will get easier as you practice it more. Don’t just try it once and then give up.
Also, don’t use this strategy for the first time on test day. (You wouldn’t want your driver’s license test to be your first day behind the wheel of a car, right?)
Get started early and give yourself plenty of time to practice and internalize this strategy. If you give it enough time, the categorization will become automatic by test day, and you will be able to eliminate wrong answers quickly and easily.