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How Often is "No Error" Correct on SAT Writing?

Posted by Justin Berkman | Jul 1, 2015 11:00:00 AM

SAT Writing




On the identify the error subsection of SAT Writing, you may have noticed that there is always a “No Error” option. On the sentence improvement subsection, answer choice A will always be the same as the underlined portion of the original sentence.  

Have you ever wondered how often the given sentence on the multiple choice SAT Writing questions will be right? Many students fear the “no error” option, but it is sometimes the right answer. In this article, I’ll explore the frequency of correct no error answers.

For this article, I relied on the answers from four SATs released by The College Board.


Sentence Improvement: How Often is No Improvement Needed?

On the sentence improvement subsection, answer choice A is always identical to the underlined phrase in the sentence. So, how often does not changing the underlined portion of a sentence at all result in a correct answer? There are 25 total sentence improvement questions on each SAT.


  Frequency of "A" % of "A"
Test #1 5 20
Test #2 4 16
Test #3 3 12
Test #4 2 8


What Does This Mean?

If correct answers were distributed evenly between answer choices (there are 5 total answer choices for each question), we would expect answer choice A to be correct 20% of the time. Answer choice A tends to be less common, but there are always at least a couple of sentences that don’t need any improvement.

Now, let's take a look at the frequency of "no error" on the identify the error subsection.


Identify the Error: How Often is There No Error?

There are 18 total identify the error questions on each SAT. Answer choice E is always “No error”. So, how often was “E” correct for the identify the error questions on the four tests I examined?


  Frequency of "E" % of "E"
Test #1 3 16.67
Test #2 4 22.2
Test #3 3 16.67
Test #4 3 16.67


What Does This Mean?

Again, if the correct answers are distributed evenly among all the answer choices, “No error” should be right 20% of the time. In ¾ of the tests, “No Error” was slightly less common, but it hovered around the 20% range.

If we combine the sentence improvement and identify the error subsections, what is the frequency of correct answers in which the given sentence does not need to be changed at all?


Sentence Improvement and Identify the Error Combined: How Often is There No Error?

Here, I combined the two subsections to see how often the correct answer was “A” in sentence improvement and “E” in identify the error. There are 43 total sentence improvement and identify the error questions combined.


  Frequency of No Error % No Error
Test #1 8 18.6
Test #2 8 18.6
Test #3 6 14
Test #4 5 11.6


For every single test, the percentage of correct no error answers was less than 20%, but there were always at least 5 questions in which there was no change needed to improve the sentence or no error.

Now that we have the facts, how can these numbers help you to improve your SAT Writing score?


How Should You Use This Information?

Only use this as a rough guide. The percentage of correct no error answers can vary from test to test. However, "no error" will most likely be the least common correct answer on your SAT. If you think a sentence does not contain an error, check again. Perhaps you missed a violation of a commonly tested grammar rule like subject-verb agreement, parallel structure, or pronoun agreement.

I’ve never seen a test with more than 25% correct no error answers. If you keep getting no error answers, you should check the sentences more closely. Also, if you have to guess entirely randomly on questions, you're more likely to get the question right if you DON'T guess "No Error."

On the other hand, don’t be afraid of the no error answer choice because it will be correct sometimes. There are always at least a handful of correct no error answers. If you never get an answer that indicates that the given sentence is correct, you’ve made mistakes somewhere and should look back at the questions you had trouble with.


What's Next?

The information in this article should help you as you practice the sentence improvement and identify the error subsections. Make sure to prepare for the other subsection on SAT Writingimproving paragraphs, as well.

For those of you planning to take the SAT soon, I highly recommend you check out these posts on last minute SAT strategies and guessing strategies for the SAT.


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Justin Berkman
About the Author

Justin has extensive experience teaching SAT prep and guiding high school students through the college admissions and selection process. He is firmly committed to improving equity in education and helping students to reach their educational goals. Justin received an athletic scholarship for gymnastics at Stanford University and graduated with a BA in American Studies.

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