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SAT Writing Tips

Teacher/Instructor Eva Holtz
Eva Holtz

Harvard University
Perfect scores on the SAT and 4 SATIIs

Eva is a certified admissions counselor and the founder of PrepPoint, a premier test prep company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

So in this episode we're going to talk about some quick tips either things you probably already know and just need to go over briefly so that you're thinking about them on test day or topics that just aren't so hard that we need a long episode to cover them fully. So let's just run through this quickly. We're going to talk about wordiness and redundancy, the construction noun comma pronoun, number agreement, the use of adjectives versus adverbs, double negatives and everybody's favorite split infinitives.
Let's look at this in detail next. So the first concept we're going to elaborate on is wordiness and redundancy, this is simple but so so important on the SAT writing section. In brief you want to favor short concise answers over long and repetitive ones this will help you a lot in particular if you have two answer choices and you can't tell them apart in terms of which one is better than looking for a concise answers is really good way to make the final judgment call. Let's looks at a couple of examples. If this were on the SAT it wouldn't be a good answer choice let's look at why and see what a better version of it would look like; 'In order to reduce the rate of criminal activity, the building will constantly be monitored at all times.' Okay that is wordy and redundant, how can we do better. 'In order to reduce the rate of criminal activity,' well this should just be crime, crime is criminal activity, 'the building will constantly be monitored at all times.' Well 'at all times' is repetitious after we have 'constantly' and incidentally we don't need 'in order to' we could also just say 'to' to reduce. So now on the SAT you won't actually be doing these edits on your own but you will be looking for answer choices that match this new version of the sentence a little more closely, answer choices that are short to the point.
Let's try the second example; 'The award-winning typist's per-minute typing speed reached up to 120 words per minute.' This one's a pretty short sentence but it's still repetitive and so longer than it should be; 'The award-winning typist's per-minute typing speed,' well since we have 'per minute' down here we probably don't need the 'per-minute typing speed reached up to 120 words per minute.' The other thing we could cut is that since we know she is typing 'cause there is a typist and she reached a number of words per minute we could get read rid of the word typing. 'The award-winning typist's speed reached up to 120 words per minute.' So this one's not quite as bad as the first example but still keep in mind that we want short and concise sentences. Wordiness and redundancy is a big no no on the SAT.
Next up noun comma pronoun, do not be repetitive by summarizing your noun which is often your subject of your sentence with an unnecessary pronoun. Now that's a little abstract let me be clear about what I mean, you don't want sentences to have constructions like; 'My cousin, he...' or 'The modernist, they...' because you already told us what you're talking about, so why would you go and summarize it right there, same thing here. So let's see what that would look like in a sentence on the SAT; 'Michael eagerly told his friends that his crazy neighbor, she has 32 cats.' Very simply we already know we're talking about the crazy neighbor so we don't want repeat that noun with the pronoun 'she' not good on the SAT.
Next number agreement. Number agreement is the idea that we want to use singular nouns and plural nouns appropriately. It's a little vague so let's look at some examples and you'll see what I mean. First up; 'All my friends hope to become an actor.' I hope you can tell that's wrong 'All of my friends' is plural and yet somehow they only want to become a single actor are they all going to work together to become one person, not so much. So this would be incorrect. You would want something like; 'All my friends' plural 'want to become actors' plural. Now that's not to say that every time you have plural people in the sentence the rest of the sentence has to be plural too. Let's look at the next one the next sentence which is quite similar; 'All my friends want to share a house.' Now that's okay because all the friends do want to work together to share a single house, so that's not a problem. This one's okay. Let's look at the next two examples and see which ones do have a problem with number agreement and which ones don't. 'My mom and dad met years ago when they were studying to be a geologist.' Now that is problematic there is a problem with number agreement here, we have 'my mom and dad' that's plural and yet somehow they were studying to a single geologist presumably they were studying to be geologists two people become two geologists so that would be wrong and lastly, 'My mom and dad are considering the possibility of getting a terrier.' Now even though we have 'my mom and dad' plural and the 'terrier' singular there is no problem because they are sharing a single dog just like your friends were planning on sharing a single house. So that's number agreement in brief.
Next up adjectives versus adverbs, this is not hard but you should know to watch out for adjectives and adverbs used properly. People miss this all the time 'cause they're not reading closely. Don't use adjectives where you should use adverbs. To be clear adverbs are typically -ly words like quickly, easily, rarely. Let's look at two examples so that you can see how these might pass you by if you're not reading closely enough on the SAT. 'Quantum physics is a constant evolving field of science.' This should be; 'Quantum physics is a constantly evolving field of science.' Really simply that's the right answer but you need to be on the lookout for it. Next up; 'It's fair to say that this a poor designed bird feeder because squirrels consistently manage to steal bird seed from it.' Similar deal it's poorly designed bird feeder and it's a pretty easy to catch if you are looking. So just be paying attention to adjectives and adverbs use properly.
Another one double negatives, this one is so easy I hesitate to even bring it up. Just don't use double negatives and to be clear double negatives could involve a lot of things. So what most people have to watch out for that they might miss is the use of words like no or not along with hardly, scarcely and barely. For instance I think there is a movie called 'Can't Hardly Wait' that's grammatically incorrect because we have 'can't' that's the -n't and 'hardly' so that's a double negative. So if you want you can write in to the producer and say that they should rename the movie 'Can Hardly Wait' and see what happens and let's look at an example; 'When my puppy returned home after a three-week absence, I couldn't hardly believe my eyes.' Now that might not immediately catch your ear but if you're on the lookout for words like 'hardly' then you'll know to check the double negatives and you'll find them and you'll make some points that way.
And last up split infinitives. Don't use split infinitives. "What are split infinitives?" you ask. Well I'm glad you asked 'cause here goes, an infinitive is the word to plus a verb like to run, to eat, to go whatever and it should never be split up. So for instance if you say 'Mom I promise to never lie to you.' That's a split infinitive because you have 'to' 'lie' to verb and you've got something stuck in the middle, that's not allowed. You would have to say instead 'Mom I promise never to lie to you.' Now we don't usually follow this rule in everyday life but on the SAT it matters and you definitely have to watch out for it because sometimes not splitting the infinitive and following this rule actually makes an answer choice sound worse really really ugly and yet it's still the right answer. Let's look at an example; 'To better serve its busy clientele, the bank expanded its hours.' That's wrong because we have a split infinitive 'to' and the verb have the word 'better' in the middle, so we need to move it somewhere else maybe out here or over here probably over here would sound best; 'To serve it's busy clientele better, the bank expanded its hours.' And now 'to serve' is together as a single infinitive. Other example; 'Marla was too tired to even try to stay awake till midnight.' Sounds pretty natural but it's a split infinitive the word 'even' comes between 'to' and the verb 'try' so we need to move even somewhere else, sounds a little funny out here but that's the right answer. Something like 'Marla was too tired even to try to stay awake till midnight.'
So let's do a quick recap of everything that we've covered in these quick tips. So here's a quick recap of what we have learned on this segment on quick tips. First off wordiness and redundancy you really want to watch out for you should always favor a short concise answer choice over a longer one assuming that it's grammatically correct and covers all the information that's in the original sentence. Noun comma pronoun like; 'My cousin he' is a construction you definitely want avoid if you see it in an answer choice, that answer choice is wrong. Number agreement the idea that you can say, 'All my friends want to share a house,' is fine but you can't say 'all my friends want to be an actor' because 'all your friends' plural 'want to be actors' plural. So be on the lookout for that. Adjective versus adverb, probably not hard but be on the lookout for adjectives that actually need -ly tacked into the end. Double negatives, 'no, can't, hardly, waiting' please on the SAT and lastly, split infinitives, you shouldn't have 'to + verb' with any word in between and that's quick tips.