Ever since the concept of the SAT changed a couple of years ago, students have been struggling with the Writing section of the exam. It’s no wonder — this part requires you to know English grammar rules inside out. What’s more, you have only 35 minutes to answer 44 questions, so there’s no time to waste.
Still, SAT Writing is not impossible to ace. You just have to study hard and prepare yourself well. With this guide, you will learn the most common SAT grammar rules and sweep through the test.
10 Major SAT Grammar Rules for the Writing Section
1. Pay Attention to the Context
Unlike the old SAT, the new version won’t test your knowledge of those extremely rare, weird English words that you’ve never heard of in your life. That is great news, as this change has saved you from hours and hours of learning words like pogonotrophy and cattywampus parrot-fashion.
Still, SAT Writing includes several questions that will assess your vocabulary. But there is one major difference — instead of checking if you know the meaning of words, the test will make sure you can use words properly in the context.
Most commonly, you will get word-choice questions. What makes this tricky is that all the words have the same or similar meanings, but only one fits the given context. So, when you face this type of question, bear in mind that just looking at the sentence is not enough. You will have to pay attention to the context and maybe even the whole paragraph.
The tower attracts thousands of visitors every year who flock to Pisa to see one of the greatest architectural weirdnesses in the world.
- NO CHANGE
- Oddities — Correct answer
In this example, all words have rather similar meanings. However, the Tower of Pisa is one of the most beloved Italian landmarks. So, since options A, B, and D have a slightly negative connotation, the correct answer is C. As you can see, to get the correct answer, you need to think about the meaning behind the whole sentence.
There is another type of question that tests your understanding of context. In this case, the options will include homonyms and homophones. What kind of words are these?
- Homonyms: words spelled the same way but with different meanings (left as a noun, left as the past tense of the verb to leave).
- Homophones: words that sound the same but have different meanings (right, meaning true or correct, and the verb to write).
Due to there extensive training, medical school graduates can already perform some basic procedures when they start their residency.
- NO CHANGE
- Their — Correct answer
- His or her
Options A and D do not make sense in this context, while option B is not grammatically correct. Thus, the correct answer is C.
2. Make Sure There Is Subject-Verb Agreement
Understanding the subject-verb agreement is incredibly important for anyone who wants to become a master of SAT grammar rules. Indeed, questions related to this agreement are incredibly common on both the SAT and the ACT tests. Yet, the rules here are simple:
- If the subject is singular, the verb must take the singular form.
- Mary studies a lot, so she’s the best student in our class.
- If the subject is plural, the verb needs to be plural as well.
- Mary and Jane study a lot, so they are the best students in our class.
While this probably seems rather simple, the SAT will try to confuse you with long or collective-noun subjects. Therefore, you need to pay close attention to the sentence subject when solving this type of question.
3. Use Singular Predicates with Collective Nouns
Using collective nouns is a great way to make the subject-verb agreement questions a bit more challenging. Since collective nouns represent a group of people, it’s natural that a plural verb will be your first instinct. However, bear in mind that collective nouns, such as team, committee, jury, panel, and police, require singular verbs.
- The team celebrate their every victory. — INCORRECT
- The team celebrates its every victory. — CORRECT
Still, if the collective nouns are plural, you should use a plural verb.
- All teams work hard to prepare for the season.
4. Prepositional Phrases Don’t Change the Noun Number
Subjects that contain prepositional phrases can be a bit confusing when determining the number. Therefore, you need to remember that prepositions and prepositional phrases do not influence the number.
To make it easier, just pretend that the prepositional phrase isn’t there. If you don’t pay attention to it, you will determine the correct number instantly.
- The jacket with brown buttons are beautiful. — INCORRECT
- The jacket (with brown buttons) is beautiful. — CORRECT
5. Keep the Sentence Structure and Verbs Parallel
Many SAT candidates make mistakes on questions that include longer or complex sentences. However, there are certain SAT grammar rules that will make these questions incredibly easy.
All you need to do is follow the pattern. If you notice that one verb form was used in the first part, use the same form for the rest of the sentence.
Jane likes singing, playing the piano, and dances ballet.
- NO CHANGE
- Dancing — CORRECT
- Has been dancing
In this example, the correct answer is obviously C. This verb form is parallel to other forms (singing, playing), so if you follow the pattern, you will easily get the right answer.
You can use this strategy for all sorts of sentences. Follow the verb, preposition, conjunction, or any other pattern in the sentence, and you won’t make a mistake.
Edward wanted to apply to med school, partly because of his love for medical soap operas, but mostly because he needs to help people.
- NO CHANGE
- Of his need — CORRECT
- There is a need
- He needed
Again, to reach the correct answer, you need to follow the pattern. In the first part of the sentence, you have the structure because of + possessive adjective + noun — “partly because of his love for…”. Out of the four given options, only B uses this structure. Therefore, it is the right answer.
6. All Pronouns Must Have a Clear Reference and Number
In your SAT Writing part, you will face several questions designed to test your understanding of SAT grammar rules related to pronouns. Therefore, you need to make sure that the pronoun reference is clear and that it agrees with the noun it refers to.
- Jeremy was walking down the street when he saw the accident.
As you can see from this example, the pronoun clearly refers to Jeremy. However, the example is quite simple, and you need to expect more difficult questions.
For instance, you might come across a sentence with multiple nouns. In that case, you need to make it clear who the pronoun refers to.
- Jeremy, Walter, and Chris were walking down the street when he saw the accident. — INCORRECT
While this sentence may seem correct at first, it is not clear enough. You don’t know who saw the accident. Since the pronoun he was used, and all three potential subjects are male, it could be any of them. Therefore, additional information is required, so you should use a noun instead of a pronoun.
- Jeremy, Walter, and Chris were walking down the street when Chris saw the accident. — CORRECT
However, at times, you will find sentences with prepositional phrases. As already discussed, prepositional phrases do not influence the number. So, just like you learned to skip them when determining the verb number, you should do the same when identifying the right pronoun.
- Houses with big gardens in Joan’s neighborhood are nicer than that in Jackie’s neighborhood. — INCORRECT
- Houses (with big gardens in Joan’s neighborhood) are nicer than those in Jackie’s neighborhood. — CORRECT
To make things easier, you can cross out the unnecessary part and circle the pronoun and the noun it refers to. That way, you will find the correct answer faster.
7. Follow the Punctuation Rules
In order to do well on your SAT, you need to learn how to recognize the main clause and complete sentences.
Basically, a complete sentence consists of a subject and a predicate. You can recognize them as the noun phrase and the verb phrase. If a sentence has both of these phrases, it is complete and can stand independently in the text.
According to the punctuation rules, two or more grammatically complete sentences cannot be linked by a comma.
- Mark’s best friend is Joanna, she is always there for him. — INCORRECT
In this example, you have two complete sentences combined into one with a comma. Therefore, the sentence is incorrect.
There are a couple of ways to fix the sentence. For example, you can separate it into two sentences, or link them with a semicolon.
- Mark’s best friend is Joanna. She’s always there for him. — CORRECT
- Mark’s best friend is Joanna; she’s always there for him. — CORRECT
Alternatively, you can link them with a coordinating conjunction. If the conjunction requires it, a comma is allowed in this case.
- Mark’s best friend is Joanna because she’s always there for him. — CORRECT
8. Avoid Run-Ons and Fragments
As mentioned in the previous rule, the main clauses need to be connected in a certain way. However, it’s easy to make a mistake and link them incorrectly. Let’s take a look at the most common sentence mistakes and SAT grammar rules that will help you fix them.
Run-ons are a common example of incorrect sentences. A run-on sentence is one that consists of two main clauses that are not linked with proper punctuation or conjunctions.
- Jeremy lives in Canada and Michael lives in the US. — INCORRECT
Another type of sentence that you may come across is a fragment sentence. These sentences seem like full sentences, but they do not have the main, independent clause. So, you need to transform them and form the main clause.
- Jeremy living in Canada and Michael in the US. — INCORRECT
- Jeremy lives in Canada, and Michael lives in the US. — CORRECT
9. Place the Modifiers Next to the Words They’re Modifying
One of the most important SAT grammar rules refers to the position of the modifier. If there is a modifier in a sentence, it needs to be located next to the word it modifies. Otherwise, the modification won’t be clear. Let’s take a look at a typical mistake:
- An intelligent, ambitious man, banking was the perfect career choice for Alex. — INCORRECT
Since the modifier “an intelligent, ambitious man” is placed incorrectly, it seemingly refers to “banking” instead of “Alex.” To fix this sentence, you will need to shuffle it a bit.
- An intelligent, ambitious man, Alex found that banking was the perfect career choice for him. — CORRECT
There are many other examples of misplaced, ambiguous modifiers. Check out the following sentence:
- Harrison said that he would work harder during the meeting. — INCORRECT
From this sentence, you can’t know for sure when Harrison will work harder. Will it be during the meeting? Or did he mean it in general? To make the meaning clear, you need to move the modifier.
- During the meeting, Harrison said that he would work harder. — CORRECT
Now the meaning is quite clear. Harrison made this statement during the meeting and promised to work harder in the future.
10. Certain Coordinators Require a Pair
Anyone who’s not familiar with SAT grammar rules will easily make a mistake with correlative coordination.
Basically, some coordinators can’t stand in a sentence on their own — they come in pairs. You will have to learn these words by heart, but they will be extremely helpful on the exam day. Let’s go through the most common examples.
- Either… or… — Either Stephanie or Angela will be the class president.
- Neither… nor… — Neither Jonathan nor his mother showed up at the wedding.
- Both… and… — Both my dog and George’s dogs like to play fetch.
- Not so much… as… — She’s not so much confident as she’s self-centered.
- Not only… but (also) — This car is not only affordable but also feels good to drive.
The Bottom Line
Now that you are familiar with SAT grammar rules, preparing for the test will be far easier. So, start studying on time, do a lot of practice tests, and be confident in your skills. If you work hard enough, you will surely ace the exam.