SAT Writing and ACT English put you into the role of an editor. While high schoolers generally approach English as sometimes reluctant readers and writers, they don’t have as much experience as editors. That, however, is where the magic happens. Skillful editing turns a draft into a polished document. Every published work you’ve ever read has been worked over by one or more editors; most are reviewed by both copy editors for grammar and content editors for effectiveness. On these tests, students need to wear both hats.
Thus, the first step on any ACT English or SAT Writing and Language grammar question is to find the errors. After all, most of the questions will have at least one error that demands a fix. Grammatical errors usually sound wrong to attuned ears, so read each underlined section silently to listen for errors. Use your eyes as well, because punctuation errors in particular are more easily seen than heard.
Next, in order, predict the fix, then find the fix in the answer choices. Prediction leads to fast and accurate editing. Whenever possible, wait until you’ve decided how an error might be remedied to review the offered corrections. Be as general (“too wordy“) or specific (“the subject should be plural to match the plural predicate“) as the question allows. Always read every choice!
The last step is to confirm the answer by ensuring it sounds right in context. The best way to determine contextual accuracy is to read the choice back into the full sentence to make sure it sounds right. And don’t be afraid to select the NO CHANGE option: recognizing the absence of errors is as essential to success on this section as detecting and fixing the errors that are present. Keeping the selection as written and not making a change is a legitimate–often necessary–course of action.
Since most Americans don’t speak perfectly grammatical English (imagine how slow and stressful that would be), test takers may need to refine their editorial ear to recognize errors. An excellent way to do this is to review practice test errors and read the correct sentence out loud to hear how correct grammar sounds. Another way to fine tune that editorial ear is to read. Well-written pieces of non-fiction may be best for this task, but nearly anything–fiction, movie reviews, biographies, magazines, sports websites–will work. A test taker who can find even fifteen minutes a day to deliberately attune their ears to proper written English will take a strong step towards a better score. Remembering to read as an editor on the grammar sections of the test will drive that score even higher!