Since SAT employed only passages in its section 2 (grammar) in 2016, there isn’t a divide on how students may approach the section that contains 44 questions and merely 43 second per question.
All in the test prep profession believe that you should read in detail only when necessary. Such a necessity, as they suggest, arises at the presence of EOI questions, where EOI stands for expression of ideas. We know that EOI questions come in three ways, relevancy of information to topic, identity either as idea or evidence, and location or order of information in question. When you are asked on this type of questions, you read in detail to identify the topic (key idea) of the paragraph, determine whether the information is summative or supportive to, or simply off-topic. Then, of cause, to find the right order in which the in-topic information should be placed, displaced or replaced. This framework seems so obvious that many of us, including myself, have been advising it to students. Not until now!
Looking at students’ practice, we see that some of the EOI errors are surprisingly consistent throughout the practices. One of the errors is on the determination of relevancy on a particular information. Take a look of the following example:
From New Orleans, Armstrong moved to Chicago to join Joe Oliver and his King Oliver Creole Jazz Band. His new big move was to New York, Where the “Harlem Renaissance” was in full swing. Here Armstrong met and collaborated with artists of all types—painters, poets, writers, actors and musicians — and ___________ :
Choose one that indicates specific effect of Armstrong’s New York experience on his work:
-A. embraced an artistic culture even richer than that in New Orleans;
-B. many of whom have become legendary artists in their own right;
-C. so his performance become more theatrical and comedic;
-D. later would recall this period as one of the most influential in his career.
Although the key to the solution lies in the question itsself or a “specific effect …on his work” as stated by the question, many students missed this question more than twice and even after they were explained the correct answers. The cause to the error’s consistency is that all four choices read fine by view of grammar logic when you are not equipped with an eye on the overall EOI structure. If the question is revised into “which choice best fit the discussion here”, you may see very few students survive.
However, if you know the article’s EOI structure, this would not be your problem. The article describes the career growth of American Jazz musician Louis Armstrong, following an IE-E-S structure with merely three paragraphs. “I” stands for idea, or key idea that we just stated above. “E” stands for evidences that are generally the supporting information that discusses, describes, explains, proves or narrates the key idea. In the Armstrong article, evidences are his career life lines with an emphasis on his acquisitions and choices in musical values. After Armstrong’s musical start in New Orleans is introduced, his musical specifics along his Chicago-New York-Chicago route is discussed in detail. Thus, having a message on the “more theatrical and comedic” performance of his would be much relevant, if not perfect. Even though A and D both read very well and seem to be related to Armstrong's music career, C is specifically in topic within the paragraph. You can also confirm this if you find Armstrong’s “rhythmic but nonsensical syllables” later in the paragraph.
There are two general structures in section 2 passages, IES and IED, both in line with what we discussed in Idea Progressions (click here is you haven’t read this topic). IES is idea-evidence-summary, and IED is idea-evidence-development. The difference between summary and development is whether the passage closes the discussion or indicates an unresolved direction by the end. Considering passages are often (almost) in 4 to 5 paragraphs, variations of both structure are in place. The following three count nearly all of your SAT examples since 2016.
One most common variation is I-E-I-E-S/D. In this structure, passage throws out an initial idea in the first paragraph, then places some evidences in the second. (Sometimes, the first and second may be combined in one so that structure can be IE-I-E-S/D.) In the next paragraph, a new, often competing idea is introduced and then evidence supplied. Last paragraph serves as closing statement or further extension for the entire passage. As you may have noticed, this also looks a lot like the standard structure in our CRM model.
The second variation, even more popular, is IEI-E-E-S/D. When you see a very long beginning paragraph, sometimes takes 1/3 to 1/2 of the entire passage, that's it. In such cases, an idea (often a phenomenon or person) is introduced in the very beginning with some illustrating details. But the first paragraph generally doesn’t stop here, instead it points out a concern or question about the idea or phenomenon. It indicates but may not give out an second idea straightly in the first paragraph. The following 2-3 paragraphs go on with all the evidences, and then a closing paragraph of summary or development.
The last common variation is I-E-E-E-S/D. Unlike the first two structures where two ideas are discussed, this third one employs only one key idea but gives out a lot more supporting information. It is very common when the passage’s main objective is to explain basics of a phenomenon or object, or describe a person’s life or career. It may be needless to employ two competing ideas in such occasions. The Armstrong examples falls in this structure.
In taking a section 2 test, you shall have these structures in mind before you start to address the questions. When asked for an EOI question, identifying the paragraph in the overall structure first — being it as simple as “I”, “E” or “S/D”, or complicate as “IE” and “IEI” — will help you to make your choices. It not only helps in determining the information relevancy, it can also help to determine the location or order on a good piece of information that you sure must keep. We will talk about this in next blog.
On June 4, 2016, a question in the writing and language section of SAT helped to dismay more 80% of the students. Still, the other 20% on that day spells luck more than know. The question asked us to choose one of the provided connecting words:
Italy’s Tower of Pisa has been leaning southward since the initial stages of its construction over 800 years ago. [Indeed/Therefore/Nevertheless/However] if the tower’s construction had not taken two centuries and involved significant breaks due to war and civil unrest, which allowed the ground beneath the tower to settle, the tower would likely have collapsed before it was completed.
Almost all students were able to eliminate one option (Therefore) that suggests a consequential relation between the two sentences. Some savvy readers among the students were able to eliminate a second one (Nevertheless) that doesn’t seem to belong to the context. They didn’t know why. At last, all who come down to choose between However and Indeed felt it a mission impossible. We have no doubt that SAT has raised its standard in the language sections. Choosing a connection word is one of toughest job even for the professional writers.
Question above calls you to tell apart among the connection words. First of all you should have known that these words are divided into big functional groups such as addition, opposition, condition and conclusion. For example, “therefore” spells a connection from condition to result whereas “after all” spells conclusive summary after much of details.
When it comes to within a functional group, words are often embedded with their subtleties. It is exactly the situation among however, indeed, nevertheless and although in spelling the contrasting relations between two sentences or clauses.
1) ALTHOUGH is general use connector in the opposition group, linking two complete sentence structures in contrasting. As long as the two linked with although are complete in their sentence structure, we are good. See the example below：
- Although I've been to his house several times, I still can't remember how to get there.
- Although I haven’t been to his house for many years, I still remember how to get there.
Occasionally, although may be used to lead an adjective, participle or noun term, these terms can be easily transformed into a complete sentence by assuming the subject of the main sentence. This use is rather a style of abbreviation than a grammar rule. For example:
- Although (yogurt was) disgusting initially, yogurt soon became my favorite desert.
- Although (Steven was) a college student, Steven discovered a cancer drug that earned him a national fame.
2) HOWEVER, next in this roll, is a general use connector that often leads the message from a positive tone/feature into a negative tone/feature. Unlike although that only leads the first idea within a transition, however only leads the second idea. When people tend to give the first idea a positive tone and the second a negative one, it creates the illusion that however often leads a transition in one direction. For example:
- Steven has made all As in math throughout the semester. However, he failed his final in that class.
- Steven failed his final in math. However, he still made it an overall A with his hardworking throughout the semester.
- For thousands of years people had thought the Sun orbits the Earth. However, Copernicus found it is opposite.
This rule is not always, but often, in reality. If you use however in transition from negative to positive, you would not be necessarily wrong. So I would also treat this as a style, rather than a rule. But remember, SAT is increasingly test you on style.
3) NEVERTHELESS and INDEED are both used in transition from a negative tone or feature to a positive one. There is a subtle difference between these two. Nevertheless denotes the negative feature of something whose main feature is still positive. Indeed, on the other hand, denotes a negative feature that somehow can also be regarded as positive. Here are the examples:
- Steven failed his midterm and final in math. Nevertheless, his hardworking throughout the semester has earned enough As and extra credits to make an overall A for the class.
- Steven failed his midterm in math. Indeed, the test gave him an opportunity to reassess and improve he studied and finally succeeded in the final.
Go back to the Pisa Tower question in the beginning of this blog article. It is a negative thing that the construction of the tower took too long. But there is a positive effect of this negative—allowing the ground to settle thus preventing its otherwise collapse. So it is a positive side of a negative feature, indeed is the best.
It can be a deadly loss in your SAT grammar section when a pronoun does not have an antecedent to refer to. This particular kind of error is hard to discern because it is abundant and allowed in America’s daily communication. Teachers and parents are making the same mistakes all the time. No doubt students make it too.
(1) You heard mom and dad talk like this:
Mom: Did you call the hotel to make a reservation?
Dad: Yes, I just did. They didn’t answer. I will call them again later.
He sounds alright. But, who does “they” refer to? It seems that “they” refer to the hotel, which is a singular noun and must be referred by a singular pronoun. In this case the pronoun “they” and “them” do not have a correct antecedent.
(2) You also read the teacher commenting your final project:
You are a really talented artist. I am sure you will find more use of it in your life.
She also sounds great. But what does “it” refer to? Sounds like it is your art talent, but the precedent sentence never mentioned your talent. It only mentions “talented artist”. Here, the pronoun “it” does not have an antecedent.
No-antecedent mistakes are abundant in speaking because the right antecedent is generally easy to be assumed. This kind of mistakes does not confuse us daily. Since they’ve made along with us well, I suspect that they will become part of the English convention one day. But, before it happens, you have to remember that they are still wrong at least for the sake of SAT.
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However, there is one more form of no-antecedent that is totally wrong. And even a most liberal mind in terms English grammar like mine won’t be able to take it as part of the grammar. The presence of it in the language is always utterly confusing. Here is a couple of examples:
(a) High energy uv rays may alter the molecule components, which is harder to reverse.
This is from a practice SAT test. The pronoun “which” leads a clause, but what it defines is an absence. Neither “molecule components” nor “uv rays” is not something considered to be reversed. The only thing that can be the reversed is the fact referred by the entire main sentence. Therefore it must be corrected into the following:
High energy uv rays may alter the molecule components, creating a problem harder to reverse.
(b) Jefferson…exploited government power to the fullest in purchasing a vast piece of land that would double size of the United States.
This example comes from a high school ELA class, and is considered a student writing piece of high marks. The pronoun “that” also leads a definitive clause, but the subject it defines has a problem. "That" must define “land” preceding it, but a "land" cannot double size of the country. It is the purchase of the “land” that doubled the size of the country. So this must be revised into the following:
Jefferson…exploited executive power to the fullest in purchasing a vast piece of land, an government action that would double the size of the United States.
In both examples, the pronouns that lead the clauses refer to something, although related to, not exactly designated in the preceding sentence. We have to introduce an antecedent noun to refer to the information, thus make the sentence cohesive.
This is most deadly form of no-antecedent because it not only sounds ok but also sounds good to most of us in most of the time. Many often even the proficient and most sophisticated language users make such mistakes. They are hard to diagnose. Stay alerted when you see a definitive clause led by a pronoun underlined in your SAT.
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