The SAT Writing and Language Test-Words

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The Writing and Language Test will focus on words—mainly nouns, pronouns, and verbs. While we will discuss a few of these grammatical concepts along the way, this chapter will boil these many concepts down to three main terms: Consistency, Precision, and Concision. With less minutia to remember, you will be able to work through Words questions with confidence and ease.

Now we're going to look at what to do when the SAT is testing words—mainly verbs, nouns, and pronouns.

Our basic strategy, however, has remained the same. As we saw in the previous two chapters, when faced with an SAT Writing and Language question, we should always

As you will notice, throughout this chapter, we talk a lot about certain parts of speech, but we don't really use a lot of grammar terms. That's because we find that on the SAT, the best answers across a lot of different parts of speech can be summed up more succinctly with three basic terms: Consistency, Precision, and Concision.

You don't need to know a ton of grammar if you can remember these three basic rules.

CONSISTENCY: Correct answers are consistent with the rest of the sentence and the passage.

PRECISION: Correct answers are as precise as possible.

CONCISION: Barring other errors, correct answers are as concise as possible.

Let's look at some examples of each.

Consistency

The speakers of what has come to be known as 1 Appalachian English has used a form of English that few can explain.

1.

A) NO CHANGE

B) Appalachian English uses

C) Appalachian English use

D) Appalachian English using

Here's How to Crack It

First, as always, check what's changing in the answer choices. In this case, Appalachian English stays the same, but the forms of the verb to use change. Therefore, because the verbs change, we know that the question is testing verbs.

When you see verbs changing in the answer choices, the first thing to check is the subject of the sentence. Is the verb consistent with the subject? In this case, it's not. The subject of this sentence is speakers, which is plural. Therefore, (A) and (B) have to be eliminated, and (D) creates an incomplete idea. Only (C) can work in the context.

Thus, when you see verbs changing in the answer choices, check the subject first. Subjects and verbs need to be consistent with each other.

Let's have a look at another.

Many scholars believe Appalachian pronunciation comes from Scots-Irish immigration, but 2 some theorizes that this dialect of English may be closer to what Londoners spoke in Elizabethan times.

2.

A) NO CHANGE

B) some theorized

C) some have theorized

D) some theorize

Here's How to Crack It

Check what's changing in the answer choices. The word some remains consistent, but the verbs are changing. Remember from the first question that whenever you see verbs changing, make sure the verb is consistent with the subject. Because the subject of this sentence is some, you can eliminate (A), which isn't consistent.

Then, because all the others are consistent with the subject, make sure they are consistent with the other verbs. It looks like all the other verbs in this sentence—believe, comes, may be—are in the present tense, so the underlined verb should be as well, as it is in (D). Choices (B) and (C) could work in some contexts, but not this one!

As you can see, verbs are all about consistency.

When you see verbs changing in the answer choices, make sure those verbs are

- CONSISTENT with their subjects

- CONSISTENT with other verbs in the sentence and surrounding sentences

Let's try one that has a little bit of everything.

Trying to understand these changes 3 demonstrate that although we all technically speak English, we speak very different languages indeed.

3.

A) NO CHANGE

B) demonstrate that although we all technically spoke English, we speak

C) demonstrates that although we all technically speak English, we might have been speaking

D) demonstrates that although we all technically speak English, we speak

Here's How to Crack It

Check what's changing in the answer choices. It looks like lots of verbs!

Let's start with the first. See which one, demonstrate or demonstrates, is consistent with the subject. That subject is Trying, which is singular, thus eliminating (A) and (B).

Then, we have to choose between speak and might have been speaking. Since both of these are consistent with the subject we, let's try to pick the one that is most consistent with other verbs. The only other verbs are demonstrates and speak, both of which are in the present tense and don't use the odd might have been form. Therefore, if we have to choose between (C) and (D), (D) is definitely better.

Consistency applies across the test. Let's see another question in which the idea of Consistency might help us.

Appalachian-English speakers and 4 their family communicate in a way that shows just how influential diversity can be on the language we speak.

4.

A) NO CHANGE

B) they're families communicate

C) their families communicate

D) their family communicates

Here's How to Crack It

Check the answer choices first. It looks like pretty much everything is changing here: they're/their, families/family, and communicate/communicates. Let's look at the ones we have done already.

We can't cite a good reason to use an apostrophe, so let's get rid of (B). Then, the verb changes, so let's check the subject. That subject is Appalachian-English speakers and their family/families, which is plural regardless of the word family or families. Keep the verb consistent with the plural subject and eliminate (D).

Then, we have to choose between family and families, two nouns. As with verbs, nouns are all about consistency. When you see nouns changing in the answer choices, make sure they are consistent with the other nouns in the sentence. In this case, we are talking about Appalachian-English speakers, all of them, so we must be talking about all of their families as well. Many speakers must mean many families, as (C) suggests.

Noun consistency can show up in other ways as well. Let's have a look at question 5.

The language of the West Virginians in Applachia is almost nothing like 5 New Yorkers or even other West Virginians.

5.

A) NO CHANGE

B) the language of New Yorker's or even other West Virginian's.

C) that of New Yorkers or even other West Virginians.

D) people from New York or from West Virginia.

Here's How to Crack It

Look at what's changing in the answer choices. It looks like the main change is between the nouns—New Yorkers or even other West Virginians and the language. We saw in the last problem that when nouns are changing in the answer choices, we want to make sure those nouns are consistent with other nouns in the sentence.

In this case, the nouns are being compared. The language of Appalachia is being compared with the language of New Yorkers and West Virginians. Choices (A) and (D) suggest that the language is being compared with the people, so those are inconsistent. Then, (B) contains some unnecessary apostrophes, so only (C) is left.

The SAT calls this concept "faulty comparison," but we don't have to know that name. Instead, we can just remember that nouns have to be consistent with other nouns. When the answer choices show a change in nouns, look for the sentence's other nouns. They'll provide the clue!

Scholars today are not sure whether to call it a purely European dialect or 6 a uniquely American one.

6.

A) NO CHANGE

B) uniquely American.

C) a unique one.

D) American.

Here's How to Crack It

Check what's changing in the answer choices. There's a fairly significant change between American and American one. As in the previous sentence, let's make sure this is consistent. The part of the sentence right before the underlined portion refers to a European dialect, so we should make our part of the sentence consistent: an American dialect, not merely American, as in (B) and (D).

Then, we are down to (A) and (C). The difference here comes between the words unique and uniquely American. While we do want to be concise when possible, we need to make sure first and foremost that we are being precise. Choice (A) is more precise than (C) in that it has a clearer relation to the European dialect with which it is being contrasted. Therefore, (A) is the best answer in that it is the most consistent with the rest of the sentence and the most precise of the remaining possible answers.

Consistency

- When the verbs are changing in the answer choices, make sure those verbs are consistent with their subjects and with other verbs.

- When the nouns are changing in the answer choices, make sure those nouns are consistent with the other nouns in the sentence and the paragraph.

Precision

Consistency is probably the most important thing on the SAT, but precision is a close second. Once you've made sure that the underlined portion is consistent with the rest of the sentence, then make sure that the underlined portion is as precise as possible. Perfect grammar is one thing, but it won't matter much if no one knows what the writer is talking about!

Let's hear that one more time.

Once you are sure that a word or phrase is consistent with the non-underlined portion of the sentence, make that word or phrase as precise as you can.

Really, 7 most are collections of many influences, but the Appalachian dialect seems unique.

7.

A) NO CHANGE

B) most of them

C) most Americans

D) most American dialect

Here's How to Crack It

Check what's changing in the answer choices. The changes could be summed up with the question "most what?" We've got four different options, so let's use our main guiding principles of consistency and precision.

First of all, there's a comparison in this sentence between different kinds of dialects, so (C) can be eliminated because that explicitly changes the comparison to something else inconsistent.

Then, let's be as precise as possible. Choices (A) and (B) are very similar in that they say most, but they don't specify what that most refers to. Even though these are grammatically consistent with the rest of the sentence, they're not quite precise enough, which makes (D) a lot better.

As question 7 shows, pronouns can be a bit of a challenge. They can appear in otherwise grammatically correct sentences. Still, precision is key when you're dealing with pronouns. See what you can do with these sentences. Circle the potentially imprecise pronouns and rewrite the sentences. Answers can be found on this page.

i. Certain dialects have obvious sources, but that doesn't make it any easier to understand.

ii. Each of us speaks with an accent because of where they are from.

iii. Word choice and pronunciation it's usually easy to hear in someone's accent.

iv. Everyone uses some kind of dialect words in their everyday speech.

v. Movies, TV, the internet: it may be destroying differentiated dialects in the modern world.

The answers:

i. it is the problem. Certain dialects have obvious sources, but that doesn't make those dialects any easier to understand.

ii. they is the problem. Each of us speaks with an accent because of where he or she is from.

iii. it's is the problem. Change it's to are! Word-choice and pronunciation are usually easy to hear in someone's accent.

iv. their is the problem. Everyone uses some kind of dialect words in his or her everyday speech.

v. it is the problem. Movies, TV, the internet: all three may be destroying differentiated dialects in the modern world.

Precision can show up in some other ways as well. Have a look at this question.

The Appalachian region's 8 isolation has led to some hypotheses from major urban centers that its dialect has remained intact from the days of its earliest settlers.

8.

A) NO CHANGE

B) isolation has led to some hypotheses that its dialect from major urban centers has remained intact

C) isolation from major urban centers has led to some hypotheses that its dialect has remained intact

D) isolation has led to some hypotheses that its dialect has remained intact from major urban centers

Here's How to Crack It

Check what's changing in the answer choices. This step is crucial here because there are no obvious grammatical errors, so the answer choices are essential to figuring out exactly what the question is asking you to do.

In the end, the only difference among the answer choices is that the phrase from major urban centers is in different places. In the end, we will just need to put that phrase in the most precise place, hopefully right next to whatever it is modifying.

In this case, we can choose from among hypotheses, dialect, isolation, and intact. Which of these would have the most precise need for the phrase from major urban centers? Because urban centers seems to have something to do with place, we should eliminate (A), hypotheses, and (D), intact, which don't have anything to do with place. Then, because the passage as a whole has talked about the remoteness of the Appalachian dialect, we can say for sure that it is not a dialect from major urban centers, eliminating (B). All that remains, then, is (C), which completes the phrase isolation from major urban centers, which is the most precise answer possible.

Let's have a look at some more of these modifiers. Rewrite the sentence on a piece of scratch paper so the modifier makes the precise sense that it should. Check your answers against those on this page.

i. With all its ins and outs, many people find language a tough thing to study.

ii. Dialects are really fascinating to anyone who wants to study them of a particular language.

iii. Once opened up, you can find endless mysteries in the study of language.

iv. I first learned about the Appalachian dialect from a professor in college at age 19.

v. Frankly pretty boring, Donald didn't pay much attention in his linguistics class.

The answers:

i. Many people find language a tough thing to study because of all its ins and outs.

ii. Dialects of a particular language are really fascinating to anyone who wants to study them.

iii. Once opened up, the mysteries of a language can be endless.

iv. I first learned about the Appalachian dialect from a college professor when I was 19 years old.

v. Donald didn't pay much attention in his linguistics class, which he found, frankly, pretty boring.

Concision

This is not to say, however, that more words always mean more precision. In fact, a lot of the time less is more. If you were to ask for directions, which answer would you rather receive?

Turn right at Main Street and walk four blocks.

or

Since this street, Elm Street, is facing in a northerly direction, and your destination is due north east, go east when you arrive at the intersection of Elm and Main. Going east will entail making a right turn in quite that easterly direction. After having made this turn and arrived on the perpendicular street…

The first one, obviously.

And that's because concision is key when you want to communicate meaning. Really, as long as everything else is in order—as long as the grammar and punctuation are good to go—the best answer will almost always be the shortest.

Let's see an example.

It is precisely this isolation that has led many scholars to believe that Appalachian English is 9 alike and similar to the English spoken in Shakespeare's time.

9.

A) NO CHANGE

B) similar

C) likely similar

D) similarly alike

Here's How to Crack It

Check what's changing in the answer choices. In this case, the word similar appears in all the answer choices, and in some it is paired with the word alike. Typically, if you see a list of answer choices wherein one answer is short and the rest mean the same thing but are longer, the question is testing conciseness.

What, after all, is the difference between the words similar and alike? There really isn't one, so there's no use in saying both of them, as in (A), or pairing them awkwardly, as in (D). In fact, the shortest answer choice, (B), does everything the other choices do, but it does so in the fewest words. Choice (B) is therefore the best answer.

Let's see one more.

10 Whatever the case may be, Appalachian is a fascinating dialect, and we can only hope that it persists against the onslaught of mass media.

10.

A) NO CHANGE

B) Whoop-de-doo, Appalachian

C) All things considered, Appalachian

D) Appalachian

Here's How to Crack It

As always, check what's changing in the answer choices. The changes could be summed up like this: There's a bunch of stuff before the word Appalachian. Does any of that stuff contribute in a significant way to the sentence? No. Does the word Appalachian alone help the sentence to fulfill its basic purpose? Yes. Therefore, the best answer is (D).

As we have seen, when SAT is testing words (any time the words are changing in the answer choices), make sure that those words are

- Consistent. Verbs, nouns, and pronouns should agree within sentences and passages.

- Precise. The writing should communicate specific ideas and events.

- Concise. When everything else is correct, the shortest answer is the best.

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