Are you a math or science person who feels intimidated by SAT Writing or ACT English? Do you think that your natural abilities will prevent you from doing well on the Writing and English sections? This article should alleviate your concerns.
I'll let you know how you can excel on Writing or English even if you're more skilled in math and science. Furthermore, I'll provide you with important tips and strategies that will enable your success.
Why You Shouldn’t Worry
If you're worried that you can't excel on the SAT Writing/ACT English section if you're not a published novelist with superlative reading comprehension and writing skills, let me ease your fears. With the right studying and ample practice, you can do well even if you're not a naturally gifted writer.
Maybe you're worried that you won't be able able to understand the passages well enough. Not a problem. Even though the questions come from longer passages, most of the questions pertain to specific sentences or paragraphs. None of the questions require more than a superficial understanding of the passage.
Perhaps you're concerned because you have a limited vocabulary, and you're not familiar with the big fancy words that have become associated with the SAT. Don't fret. Most of the vocabulary isn’t extremely complicated or abstruse (an old SAT world). The SAT has done away with very difficult vocabulary words.
Do you feel like you struggle with grammar? Do you have no idea when to use a comma? Are you clueless about the difference between "there" and "their?" You can overcome these obstacles. The grammar questions are based on rules that can be learned fairly quickly. You don’t need to have a strong intuitive grasp of English and writing to correctly answer most of the grammar questions.
Are you scared of the organization or transition questions that test your knowledge of writing style? The majority of the writing style questions can be correctly answered by using logic and employing basic strategies.
3 Awesome Strategies for SuccessI recommend using these strategies to do well on SAT Writing/ACT English as a math/science person.
#1: Rely on Grammar Rules Instead of What Sounds Right
For all grammar questions, try to identify the rule that's being tested. Keep in mind that some questions will test multiple rules.Keep in mind that some questions will test multiple rules. If there’s a grammar error, select the answer choice that corrects the error without creating any additional errors. Often, the SAT and ACT provide answer choices that sound right to many people, but they contain subtle grammar errors. By relying on your knowledge of grammar rules, you’re less likely to overlook errors and make careless mistakes.
Here's a question taken from an actual ACT.
If you’re not familiar with the grammar rules for the ACT, this sentence may sound fine to you. You may not detect any obvious grammar error and select A. However, if you study ACT grammar rules, you’ll know that the shortest answer that doesn’t contain a grammatical error and conveys the same information as the original sentence will be the right answer. Also, you’ll know that the word “being” often indicates a wordiness error. The correct answer is C.
You'll see the importance of following grammar rules on this question from an official practice SAT.
If you rely on what sounds right, you may miss the grammar errors in this sentence. Whenever you see a verb underlined, you need to ensure that the verb agrees with its subject and that the correct form of the verb is being used. Also, whenever a pronoun is underlined, you need to check to see that the pronoun has a clear antecedent and that the correct form of the pronoun is being used. In this sentence, the singular verb “was” corresponds with the plural subject “Harvey Houses,” and the singular pronoun “its” refers to the Harvey Houses, too. Both the verb and the pronoun should be plural. The correct answer is B.
#2: Use A Systematic Approach for Reading the Passages
Before taking the SAT/ACT, you should have a tested approach for reading SAT Writing/ACT English passages. There are multiple approaches you can take to reading the passages: sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, answer as you go, or passage first.
Read the article on how to approach ACT English passages or how to approach SAT Writing passages (coming soon) for more information explaining the various approaches and how to decide which one will work for you. Once you settle on the approach that works best for you, you’ll be able to maximize your efficiency and make the best use of your time.
#3: Review Examples of Questions Related to Each Grammar Rule and Type of Writing Style Question
The SAT and ACT use the same types of questions on each test. Reviewing each type of question will increase your familiarity and understanding of all of the different questions. You’ll be more comfortable with the content on the SAT/ACT.Create a study guide of questions from real ACTs/official practice SATs.
Key Topics to Study
If you’re not a reader or extremely proficient with English, you may struggle with questions that don’t conform to specific rules, like word choice and idiom questions. However, there are a number of topics you can study that are relatively straightforward and conform to rules that you should be able to understand.
Here are some of the most often tested topics that, even as a science/math person, you should be able to master with a little practice. I’ve linked to the related articles which thoroughly explain the rules you need to know and provide example questions.
SAT Writing and ACT English both emphasize punctuation rules. You need to know when and how to use commas, semicolons, colons, apostrophes, and dashes. While you may have no idea how to use punctuation right now, the punctuation rules tested on the SAT and ACT aren’t overly complex. Read our articles on punctuation, possessives (coming soon), and commas. We break down all the rules and provide example questions.
Transitions are more heavily emphasized on the SAT, but they're tested on both SAT Writing and ACT English. You need to know which transition word to use in a given sentence, and you need to be able to select the sentence that will most logically connect ideas in a passage. While transition questions can seem difficult to students who aren’t strong in English, there are some rules you can learn to simplify transition questions. Make sure to review our transition articles. Transition questions rely on logic, and I assume that’s a strength for all the math and science people.
Wordiness and Redundancy
As I mentioned previously, the basic wordiness rule is that a sentence should be grammatically correct and concise. The shortest grammatically correct sentence that conveys that same information as the original sentence will be the correct answer.
On both the SAT and ACT, all else being equal, shorter is better. Review our wordiness and redundancy articles for example and practice questions.
Verb tenses and forms are tested on both the SAT and ACT, but verb questions are more common on the ACT. If you know how different tenses are used and keep verb tenses consistent, you should be able to correctly answer the verb questions you encounter.
Both the SAT and the ACT test you on how to organize a passage. Macro-logic refers to knowing where sentences and paragraphs should go in a passage. You’ll be a asked where a sentence should be placed in a paragraph, and you’ll be asked where a paragraph should be placed in a passage. Basically, you need to remember that each sentence should logically connect to the sentence that follows, and each paragraph should logically transition to the next one.
Key Tips to Help You Correctly Answer SAT Writing/ACT English Questions
Here are some important tips that will help you eliminate wrong answer choices and improve your score.
Read the Whole Sentence
This tip is extremely important for the SAT Writing and ACT English section. Most questions will ask you how to change the underlined portion of a sentence. Don’t just read the underlined portion. You need to read the entire sentence. For some questions, like transition questions and verb tense questions, you often need to read the surrounding sentences as well.
If Two Answer Choices Are Functionally the Same, Both Are Wrong
If two errors are functionally identical, both must be wrong. You may see this on redundancy, punctuation, or transition questions. Here’s a transition question from SAT Writing to illustrate this point.
This is a transition question. You need to read both sentences to determine the relationship between them and select the correct transition to use. In looking at the answer choices, C and D are functionally identical. They can be used interchangeably; therefore, both answer choices must be wrong.
Now, you only have to choose between A and B. Because the second sentence is illustrating the opinion expressed in the first sentence, the correct answer is A. “However” is used to indicate contrast.
Don’t Fear No Change
Some students think the NO CHANGE option can’t be right, but sometimes NO CHANGE will be the correct answer. In fact, on ACT English, NO CHANGE tends to be more common than expected if all the answer choices were distributed evenly.
If a sentence doesn’t seem to contain an error, look at the differences between the answer choices to determine what concept is being tested. Then, look at the original sentence to ensure that there is no error pertaining to that concept or rule.
Review: Key Takeaways
To sum up the important points I've previously mentioned, here are the most essential things to remember on your quest to get a wonderful SAT Writing/ACT English score
You Can Do It!
This is the most important thing to remember. Even if you're a math/science person, you're capable of doing exceptionally well on the SAT Writing/ACT English section if you're diligent in your preparation.
Grammar Can Be Your Friend
There's no reason to think you have to be a professional grammarian to get a top score. While some of the grammar questions can be challenging, most of them apply to rules that can be learned fairly quickly with proper studying and practice.
Targeted Practice Will Lead You to Your Target Score
If you study and understand each type of question from real ACTS and the official practice SATs, you'll do well on test day. Again, make sure you're familiar with all the differenct concepts that are tested on SAT Writing/ACT English, and know the proper steps to take to correctly answer each type of question. Review our SAT Writing and ACT English articles for content instruction, example questions, and strategies.
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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.