Study Notes: SAT Writing Section

Relative Clauses

Relative clauses are the phrases which start with a relative pronoun. While they probably essential to the meaning of a sentence, they are never crucial to the completeness of a sentence. For instance:

The tiger ate my aunt earlier today.

The tiger [that was hungry] ate my aunt earlier today.

Comma phrases are the additional phrases which are set off by a pair of commas. Take the following sentence:

[After escaping], the tiger that was hungry ate my aunt, [who was nice and juicy, earlier today.]

A crucial part of doing well on the SAT Writing section is knowing how to strip away all these secondary phrases to get back to the essence of the sentence.

Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases are preposition and noun combinations, which are unessential to the completeness of a sentence. Take the following structure: Prepositional Phrase=Preposition + Noun + Any Attached Describing Phrase.

[Throughout the living room] was the scent of fatty crabs [that had expired weeks ago.]

Prepositional phrases are not essential to the sentence they’re in.

  • as to means ‘with respect to’
  • crica means ‘approximately’
  • abroad means ‘over a wide area’


Idioms are phrases that are correct just because that’s the way we say them. On the SAT, idiom errors come in the form of an incorrect preposition. Unfortunately, there’s no rhyme or reason behind these phrases and the right preposition can depend on the meaning of the sentence. By contrast, it merely based on your knowledge.

Subject-Verb Agreement

The subject is a noun that is the main feature in the sentence as well as the verb is an action word. In order to extract these features from awkward sentences, we could remove prepositional phrases, comma phrases and relative clauses.

  • Name of books, TV shows, bands, and movies are all singular.
  • Subjects joined by ‘and’ are always plural.
  • ‘Everybody, everything, every, anybody, no one’ are all singular subjects.
  • ‘Each, neither, and either’ are all singular subjects.

Investigations into the scandal (shows/show) a lot more than we want to know.

Investigations [into the scandal] show a lot more than we want to know.

Her jewerly, in addition to her pokemon cards, (was/were) stolen by the robber.

Her [jewerly], in addition to her pokemon cards, was stolen by the robber.

Inside heaven’s kingdom (rests/rest) Charlie and his angels.

Inside heaven’s kingdom rest [Charlie and his angels].


Modifier modifies or describes someone or something in the same sentence. Usually, modifiers come at the beginning of sentences and are spearated off by commas. In some cases, modifiers might be misplaced:

Incorrect: After being beaten and deflated, the baker shaped and seasoned the dough.

Correct: After being beaten and deflated, the dough was shaped and seasoned by the baker.

However, modifiers don’t necessarily have to be at the start of the sentence. Sometimes, in order to correct the sentence, modifier might be changed to dependent clause, which contains a subject and a verb but can’t stand alone as its own complete sentence.

Wrong: Watching the end of the world, our lives flashed before our eyes.

Correct: While we were watching the end of the world, our lives flashed before our eyes. (Dependent clause)

Remeber to keep modifiers right next to the thing they’re supposed to describe.


Run-ons are the situations that several complete sentences are being connected togethre with just commas or spaces: [complete sentence], [complete sentence] or [complete sentence] [complete sentence].

For instance: He was hungry, he bought a Chipotle burrito.

In order to solve this mistake, we could either use periods, use conjunctions, or use the semicolon. ‘For, and, nor, but, or, yet, so’ are typical conjunctions, but ‘therefore, however, moreover, in addition to, nevertheless, furthermore’ cannot be used as conjunctions.

Take the following sentences:

He was hungry. He bought a burrito.

He was hungry, so he bought a burrito.

He was hungry; he bought a burrito.

Otherwise, we should change the wording so that we no longer have two complete sentences:

Dependent clause

He was hungry, he bought a burrito.

Because he was hungry, he bought a burrito.

Relative clause

The teacher yelled at Alicia, she had left her homework at home.

The teacher yelled at Alicia, who had left her homework at home.

A noun phrase set off by commas

Yesterday, Russia deployed troops on the border, this is a clear violation of the peace agreement.

Yesterday, Russia deployed troops on the border, a clear violation of the peace agreement.


People named it after inventor Tesla, the tesla coil is used in radio transmitters and electrotherapy.

Named after inventor Tesla, the tesla coil is used in radio transmitters and electrotherapy.

Use ‘and’ to join verbs

James turned up the music, he danced like there was no tomorrow.

James turned up the music and danced like there was no tomorrow.

Never use more than one way of correcting a run-on within the same sentence.


A sentence fragment is a piece or part of a sentence. It’s an incomplete sentence, one that’s missing a subject or a verb. For example:

Floating on the river.

However, SAT might use lengthy fragment to misguide you:

People who have a sense of entitlement and feel absolutely no sympathy for those less fortunate even when they take advantage of their services.


Redundancy is the words that essentially repeat or unnecessarily define previous words or inflated and useless phrases that could be omitted or condensed into fewer words.

Incorrect: I once believed and had faith in the power of love.

Correct: I once believed in the power of love.

The phrase had faith in repeats the same meaning as believed.

Incorrect: Joey bought a super-sized hamburger due to the fact that he was really hungry.

Correct: Joey bought a super-sized hamburger because he was really hungry.

The phrase ‘due to the fact that’ has the same meaning as ‘because’.


You probably know from math that parallel lines are two lines that go in the same direction. The concept is similar in English in the way we structure certain things together.

I like flying planes, riding trains, and driving automobiles.

  • The verb tenses must be the same.
  • Parallelism can also come up when pairing two phrases together, especially with ‘and’ or ‘or’.

Pronoun Reference

A pronoun must clearly stand for ONE and ONLY ONE other NOUN.

A singular noun must be referred to by a singular pronoun. Likewise, a plural pronoun must be referred to by a plural pronoun.


SAT does not test all of the tenses. In fact, answer choices containing the present perfect or past perfect tenses are almost always wrong. The most common error on the SAT is tense inconsistency. To correct it, we should change everything to either past tense or present tense.

Whenever we stopped by the market, my mom always tries to negotiate the prices.

Whenever we stopped by the market, my mom always tried to negotiate the prices.

Answer choices with ‘would’ or ‘would have’ are typically correct only when dealing with hypotheticals.

Moreoever, the answers to these questions will almost always be the shortest ones.

Commas, Dashes, and Colons


A semicolon is used to join two independent clauses.

Bats are nocturnal creatures; they come out only during the night.


Use a comma after an introductory clause, phrase, or modifier.

Although he is lactose intolerant, he likes to eat pizza for lunch.

Use commas to separate three or more items in a series.

His hobbies included jumping off planes, crashing helicopters, and eating jellyfish.

Use commas to set off nonrestrictive/nonessential elements. (If we take it out, what’s left is still a sentence that makes sense grammatically.)

Great white sharks, the most fearsome creatures of the sea, are actually less dangerous than they appear.

To determine whether a phrase is essential or non essential is to ask yourself whether the phrase narrow down what we’re talking about.

Moving on, when the word ‘that’ is used, it’s always for essential elements, wheras ‘which’ is usually used for nonessential elements.

Use commas to set off transitions and intervening phrases.

Some animals are nocturnal; for example, the coyote hunts during the night.


To set off and emphasize interrupting phrases or in-between thoughts, often for dramatic effect.

When dashes are used this way, they must be paired up, much like commas when setting off nonessential phrases. In fact, dashes can take the place of those commas when a dramatic effect is appropriate.

Once dashes are paired up, the sentence must still make sense on its own if the interrupting phrase between the dashes is taken out.

To signal a list, restatement, or additional detail.


A colon can only come after an independent clause to direct attention to a list, a noun phrase, or another independent clause that summarizes or clarifies the first. (Even though a dash can do the same thing.)

  • A colon can only come after an independent clause.
  • While a dash can often times replace a colon, a colon cannot always take the place of a dash. When dashes need to be paired up, colons cannot be used instead.

Incorrect: The dangerous animals you have to watch out for are: lions, tigers, and pythons.

Common Punctuation Misuses

Don’t use punctuation before prepositional phrases (typically at, for, in, of, on, to, with).

Don’t use any punctuation after such aslike, or including.

Don’t use any punctuation before that.

Don’t put semicolons, dashes, or colons where commas should be used.

Word Choice

Avoid exaggerated, overly dramatic, or high-sounding language.

Avoid casual or informal language.

Avoid vague and wordy language.

Vague words to look out for include people, things, something, stuff, matters, aspects, tons of.

Be aware of commonly confused words.

Here’s a list of commonly confused words:

  • accept vs. except
  • affect vs. effect
  • allusion vs. illusion
  • ascent vs. assent
  • cite vs. sight vs. site
  • complement vs. compliment
  • advice vs. advise
  • council vs. counsel
  • elicit vs. illicit
  • altar vs. alter
  • eminent vs. imminent
  • precede vs. proceed
  • access vs. excess
  • fair vs. fare
  • than vs. then
  • allude vs. elude
  • waive vs. wave
  • respectfully vs. respectively
  • discreet vs. discrete
  • adverse vs. averse


Common Transition Words

ExampleTransitionSimilar Transitions
I love eating vanilla ice cream. However, too much of it makes me sick.presents an opposing point or balances a previous statementfortunately, on the other hand, conversely, whereas, while, in contrast, on the contrary, yet
Math trains you to approach problems more analytically. Furthermore, it helps you calculate the minimum tip when you eat out.adds new and supporting informationin addition, also, moreover, and, too, as well, additionally, not to mention
Pandas are rapidly becoming extinct. In fact, some experts predict that pandas will die out in 50 emphasis to a point by adding a specific detail/caseas a matter of fact, indeed, to illustrate, for instance, for example
The state is facing a flu epidemic. Consequently, all hospital rooms are filled at the moment.shows cause and effectas a result, because, hence, therefore, thus, accordingly, so, for this reason
Granted, the SAT is a long and tedious exam, but it’s necessary for college admissions.concedes a point to make way for your own pointnevertheless, although, regardless, despite, even if, nonetheless, still, even so
Place the bread on an ungreased baking sheet. Finally, bake in a preheated oven for 10 minutes.shows order or sequencesubsequently, previously, afterwards, next, then, eventually, before
Social security numbers uniquely identify citizens. In the same way, IP addresses identify computers.shows similaritysimilarly, likewise, by the same token
In conclusion, the world would be a happier place without nuclear a summary or restatementin summary, to sum up, in short, in other words

Some other transitions that didn’t quite fit in the table are meanwhile, instead, and otherwise

  • ‘otherwise’ means ‘in other respects; apart from that’.
  • ‘meanwhile’ means ‘on the other hand’.
  • ‘instead’ means ‘as an alternative or substitute’.
  • ‘indeed’ means ’emphasize a statement or response confirming something already suggested’.
  • ‘likewise’ means ‘in the same way’.
  • ‘conversely’ means ‘a statement or idea which reverses one that has just been made or referred to’.
  • ‘regardless’ means ‘despite the prevailing circumstances’.
  • ‘not to mention’ means ‘used to introduce an additional point which reinforces the point being made’.

Topic, Conclusion, and Transition Sentences

Transitions can be more than just one or two words. They can be entire sentences that guid the reader from one thought to another.

Although they are transition sentences, topic and conclusion sentences are typically more general and less specific than sentences in the middle of a paragraph.

When you’re asked to insert the best transition between two sentences, look for words such as this, that, and these. These reference words must point to other nouns that exist in the surrounding context, which means the transition sentence itself may need to include them.

Point of View

Keep the point of view the same within sentences and within paragraphs.

Incorrect: If one does not believe, you will not succeed.

Correct: If one does not believe, one will not succeed.

Odds and Ends

Avoid the passive voice.

Beware of double main verbs.

Not only… but (also).

Whereby and Thereby

Whereby means ‘by which’ or ‘in which’. Thereby means as ‘a result of’ or ‘because of that’.

Prepositions with Multiple Idioms

Incorrect: I am interested and familiar with graphic design.

Correct: I am interested in and familiar with graphic design.

Published by

Siujoeng Lau

Liberty will never perish.

One thought on “Study Notes: SAT Writing Section”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *