kitchen table math, the sequel: SAT Critical Reading & Writing Tips

Friday, June 17, 2011

SAT Critical Reading & Writing Tips

I've started keeping track the SAT lessons that might be helpful to others. The first posts are Critical Reading and Writing tips from my meeting with Erica Meltzer.

The list will be stored here: Solutions

UPDATED with clarification that this example is merely to point out what to look for when reading these sentences for errors.

(Cross posted on Perfect Score Project)


Allison said...

Am I the only one here who doesn't understand the "advice" in red in the slightest?

Their advice is to check that "is still being debated" shouldn't be "is still be debated" ???? or "is debated"????

Isn't the correct answer B????
Shouldn't the sentence read "The question of whether certain fertilizers are a curse or a blessing is still being debated." ???

B is the part that is wrong because you don't change from the order indicated by a sentence structure to one indicated by a question structure when you combine with a conjunction?

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Allison is correct. I'd run away from this advice giver as quickly as possible. Bad advice is worse than no advice.

SteveH said...

Whew! I was afraid to ask. I thought B was the correct answer too. I was wondering if the comment meant that the sentence should read:

"The question of whether certain chemical fertilizers are a curse or are they a blessing is still to be debated."

I didn't see how this was a present participle versus an infinitive issue. I thought, at least, that B should be changed to "or whether they are". That is the issue Allison raised.

The infinitive form would imply that the debate hasn't begun yet.

Debbie said...

I was simply pointing out WHAT to LOOK FOR when you see these questions.

Of course B is the answer. I will go clarify in the post for future viewers.

lgm said...

B can't be the best answer unless 'or' was not meant to be underlined. It makes no sense to write:
The question of whether certain chemical fertilizers are a curse a blessing is still being debated.

'or' has to be in there to seperate 'a curse' from 'a blessing'.

imho you are much better off getting a high school grammer workbook (B&N has these fairly cheap) or the Little Brown Handbook and learning the material there instead of potshotting with the test prep products.

lgm said...

Please excuse the spelling errors...need to train myself to open the comment box to a larger size so I can see well while typing amidst interruptions.

lgm said...

Someone please delete my posts. The interruption errors are too much this a.m.

Honestly though, is it more efficient to potshot the SAT prep books or more efficient to take the grammar course and master the mat'l?

SATVerbalTutor. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SATVerbalTutor. said...

Let me see if I can provide some clarification here. On the Writing section, the SAT typically replaces gerunds with infinitives (and vice-versa) in order to create errors.

This is not some sort of "test-prep" trick; it's actually a fact, one of the stock errors that the College Board likes to use. It shows up at least once (sometimes multiple times) in pretty much every Error-ID on every official test.

So, for example, in the following sentence:

While humans and animals share similar abilities to learn from experience, only humans have proven themselves capable to understand that others can have thoughts different from their own.

The infinitive "to understand" should be replaced by an infinitive "of understanding" because the gerund is required by standard usage. To correct the error, you do need to be able to hear that the gerund is required, however, and there's no real "trick" for this beyond reading a lot and being exposed to correct English.

Now, what Debbie was trying to explain is something slightly different. The biggest problem that most test-takers have on the Error-ID section is the "No error" option because they want there to be an error very badly, even when they don't hear one immediately, and therefore go *looking* for errors when none exists (and consequently get questions wrong).

In order to "prove" that the answer to a question with no apparent error must be E (and therefore remove the anxiety surrounding it), it can be helpful to consider each answer choice systematically and in accordance with the particular errors suggested by the underlined words and phrases.

Thus, in the above sentence, had the correct version appeared ("of understanding") as an underlined phrase and the test-taker wanted to make sure absolutely certain that it was ok, that person would stick in the infinitive ("to understand") just to double-check that it didn't sound better. Since it doesn't in fact sound better, they can be assured that the answer choice was really and truly is fine.

Working this way is the best means that I've found of getting someone over their fear of picking option E -- and trust me, I've had students who were beyond neurotic about it.

For a more extensive explanation of how the technique works, please see:

particularly example #3.

My apologies if I inadvertently cause any more confusion. This can be very hard to explain in writing; the technique seems much more amorphous than it is in reality, and it's far easier when you're actually sitting and explaining it to someone.

Catherine Johnson said...

I've only skimmed the comments, but Debbie & sattutor are right: there are endless 'being' errors on the SAT writing test.

I have C. examine all instances of 'being.' The fact that 'being' is sometimes used correctly makes the tactic all the more useful when we work through writing sections together.

Catherine Johnson said...

I should write a post about C. and the writing section.

C. is quite a good writer for a high school student, I think, and he scored a 10 on the SAT essay first go round with no practice whatsoever. I'm not sure anyone even mentioned any rules-for-SAT-essay writing to him.

His score on the writing section - 660 - puts him in the 92nd percentile.

So: he's a good writer & he's in the top 10% of the country on the writing section without tutoring or test prep ---

***And he knows precious little grammar.*** He's going entirely by 'sound' as in "Does it sound right?"

He doesn't find it easy to locate a subject in a complicated sentence; he doesn't readily see parallel structures; he doesn't readily identify pronoun-antecedent agreements or lack of agreement; and on and on and on.

I finally put my foot down & told C. he has to do some writing prep with me this summer (and I'm probably going to ask sattutor - above - to work with him once). I find it **ridiculous** for a person to be a 16-year old with very good skills and ability in writing and only limited comprehension of what he's actually doing.

I'd be fine with a 660 if his interests and talents lay in math (I think), but given that writing is what he's good at, he should know exactly what's going on in SAT sentences.

Catherine Johnson said...

I repressed this part: he also doesn't perceive comma splices.

Comma splices!

The sentence is the basic unit of written expression, and C. doesn't instantly KNOW that the comma in front of him divides two complete sentences.

Ed and I were talking: our impression is that schools are spending practically no time teaching the sentence.

Stacey HL said...

Catherine - He was clearly raised in a house where correct grammar was spoken. Most of my best students also can't identify things grammatically (can't articulate the grammar rules), but they have a reliable ear. And heaven help the students who haven't grown up around correct grammar - there isn't enough time to get them up to speed in a couple short months.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi Stacy - You are absolutely right. He was raised by two writers with Ph.Ds, for pete's sake.

C's ability to score in the top 10% of the country while knowing virtually nothing about formal grammar is one of the best pieces of evidence for the advantage that accrues to children of educated parents.

I should add, though, that he's had pretty intensive instruction in writing at his Jesuit high school -- but even there the teachers don't seem to have put a lot of time and energy into teaching the sentence per se.

I suspect that most of what he's learned about sentence structure has come from having his incorrect sentence structures corrected by teachers & parents.

I don't think that's the best way to teach.

Have kids do something wrong, then correct them.