SAT: The Improving Paragraphs (Revision in Context) Section

In this section of the exam, there are one or two sets of questions based on short samples of student writing. As a rule, each selection is about three paragraphs and about two to three hundred words long. There are four to seven questions on each passage. These questions test your ability to recognize and correct errors and revise paragraphs, following the guidelines of standard written English.

You should demonstrate your ability to apply basic grammar and correctly structure sentences in this section of the SAT. You should prove your ability to organize and develop a paragraph and correct or improve the language used. Here are some more tips about what to expect:

  1. Typically, one or two of the questions will ask you to combine two or three sentences.

  2. One question may ask you to recognize and correct a usage error.

  3. Other questions will deal with a variety of topics that arise from the selection.

  4. There may be questions about sentence structure, transitions from sentence to sentence or paragraph to paragraph, the organization of the passage or a paragraph, logic, clarity, rhetorical strategy, or verbosity.

  5. Some questions that deal with the whole essay or with individual paragraphs will focus on organization, development, and appropriate language.

  6. Keep in mind that the best answer is one that most effectively expresses the intended meaning.

The sentences the exam will ask you to work with will probably be grammatically correct, but they will be choppy, wordy, or dull. There may be a series of very short sentences: "Iris is twenty. She is getting married in June. She is designing a dress. It is white." Or the sentences may be mindlessly coordinated: "Iris is twenty, and she is getting married in June, and she is designing a dress, and the dress is white." Your combined and revised version might read like this: "Twenty-year-old Iris is designing a white dress for her June wedding."

The purpose of sentence combining is to clarify the relationship between thoughts and to eliminate wordiness or choppiness. The techniques the exam questions will most often call for are coordination and subordination. To coordinate is to make equal; to subordinate is to place in a less important position. The parts of speech used to control sentence elements in these ways are the coordinating and subordinating conjunctions.

The following are coordinating conjunctions:

  • and

  • but

  • for

  • nor

  • or

  • so

  • yet

Subordinating conjunctions include these:

  • after

  • although

  • as

  • as . . . as

  • as if

  • as long as

  • as soon as

  • as though

  • because

  • before

  • despite

  • how

  • if

  • in order that

  • provided that

  • since

  • so . . . as

  • so that

  • than

  • that

  • though

  • unless

  • until

  • when

  • whenever

  • where

  • wherever

  • whereupon

  • while

  • why

The best way to begin a problem in combining sentences is to determine which idea you wish to emphasize. If the two ideas are equally significant, use the coordinating conjunction that best expresses their relationship. If one idea is more important, subordinate the other. If you haven't already done so in your English class, practice different ways of combining sentences, especially sentences that seem awkward to you. It will help you on the multiple-choice section of the exam and will improve your writing.

On the exam, you may find a question that asks you to select the best coordinating or subordinating conjunction. The sentence-combining questions appear in two forms. In one, part of the end of one sentence and part of the beginning of the next will be underlined, and you will be given five revisions to choose from. In the second type, the question will ask for the best way to revise and combine two or three complete sentences from the passage.