PSAT Writing : Identifying Conventional and Idiomatic Usage Errors

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Writing

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Identifying Conventional And Idiomatic Usage Errors

Select the underlined word or phrase that needs to be changed to make the sentence correct. Some sentences contain no error at all.

In the cities of the Pacific Northwest, like Seattle and Portland, there isn't hardly a single day that passes without rain. No error

Possible Answers:

cities

isn't

No error

without

single day

Correct answer:

isn't

Explanation:

This sentence's meaning is confused because it uses two negative words: "isn't" and "hardly." Double negatives are grammatically incorrect in modern English and would technically yield a positive meaning, so we need to change out one of these negative words for a positive one. Since it isn't an option to change or omit "hardly," "isn't" contains the sentence's error and is the correct answer. One way to correct the sentence would be to change "isn't" to "is," yielding the sentence, "In the cities of the Pacific Northwest, like Seattle and Portland, there is hardly a single day that passes without rain."

Example Question #2 : Identifying Conventional And Idiomatic Usage Errors

Select the underlined word or phrase that needs to be changed to make the sentence correct. Some sentences contain no error at all.

The writing tutor noticed that her student's writing skills had significantly improved since their first session. No error

Possible Answers:

their

No error

had significantly improved

student's

that

Correct answer:

had significantly improved

Explanation:

The sentence's error is a split verb phrase. Verb phrases, like "had improved," should be kept together and not split by adverbs, like "significantly." To correct the split verb phrase, the verb and adverb should be rewritten as "had improved significantly."

Example Question #3 : Identifying Conventional And Idiomatic Usage Errors

Select the underlined word or phrase that needs to be changed to make the sentence correct. Some sentences contain no error at all.

Despite the poor weather, I was planning on attending the festival with herNo error

Possible Answers:

Despite

No error

was planning

her

on attending

Correct answer:

on attending

Explanation:

The proper idiom for planning an action is planning to do something, not planning on something. Thus, the clause should be "I was planning to attend the festival with him."

Example Question #1 : Identifying Conventional And Idiomatic Usage Errors

Select the underlined word or phrase that needs to be changed to make the sentence correct. Some sentences contain no error at all.

Margo was upset how the zoo was wasting valuable resources on moving sidewalks when the lions needed a new enclosure. No error

Possible Answers:

how

was wasting

moving sidewalks

needed

No error

Correct answer:

how

Explanation:

This sentence uses the wrong relative pronoun after the adjective "upset." Usually, "that" is used. The corrected sentence reads, "Margo was upset that the zoo was wasting valuable resources on moving sidewalks when the lions needed a new enclosure."

Example Question #2 : Identifying Conventional And Idiomatic Usage Errors

Select the underlined word or phrase that needs to be changed to make the sentence correct. Some sentences contain no error at all.

While computers maybe an integral part of modern life, they cause problems as well as provide benefits. No error

Possible Answers:

No error

life, they

maybe

as well as

While

Correct answer:

maybe

Explanation:

"Maybe" is an adverb that means perhaps and is incorrectly used in this sentence. To correct the sentence's error, "maybe" needs to be changed to "may be."

Example Question #2 : Identifying Conventional And Idiomatic Usage Errors

Select the underlined word or phrase that needs to be changed to make the sentence correct. Some sentences contain no error at all.

Given the disproportionate amount of deaths caused by drunk drivers, most states have passed strict legislation against individuals who choose to operate vehicles while inebriated. No error

Possible Answers:

who choose

amount of deaths

No error

inebriated

have passed

Correct answer:

amount of deaths

Explanation:

"Amount of" refers to something that is not necessarily measured numerically, while "number of" refers to something that is measured numerically. Given that deaths incurred by drunk drivers is something that can be measured numerically, "number of" would be appropriate, not "amount of." If the sentence was "Given the disproportionate amount of heartache caused by drunk drivers . . .", the sentence would have been properly constructed because heartache generally cannot be measured numerically. 

Example Question #7 : Identifying Conventional And Idiomatic Usage Errors

Select the underlined word or phrase that needs to be changed to make the sentence correct. Some sentences contain no error at all.

Even though Joseph is a big fan of cooking shows, he hasn't never cooked in his entire life. No error

Possible Answers:

cooked

No error

his

Even though

hasn't

Correct answer:

hasn't

Explanation:

Double negatives are grammatically incorrect in standard written English, so instead of saying "hasn't never cooked," one should say "has never cooked."

Example Question #3 : Identifying Conventional And Idiomatic Usage Errors

Select the underlined word or phrase that needs to be changed to make the sentence correct. Some sentences contain no error at all.

A fundraising campaign was started for the purpose to support ecological restoration projects in South America. No error

Possible Answers:

was started

in South America

to support

fundraising

No error

Correct answer:

to support

Explanation:

This sentence does not use the use the phrase “for the purpose of” correctly. This phrase is typically followed by a gerund, a verb that is used as a noun. The corrected sentence reads, "A fundraising campaign was started for the purpose of supporting ecological restoration projects in South America."

Example Question #4 : Identifying Conventional And Idiomatic Usage Errors

Select the underlined word or phrase that needs to be changed to make the sentence correct. Some sentences contain no error at all.

All of the chemistry teachers have decided, as of this morning, to unanimously postpone the midterm exam as a result of their students’ poor grades. No error

Possible Answers:

students'

their

No error

to unanimously postpone

have decided 

Correct answer:

to unanimously postpone

Explanation:

“To unanimously postpone” constitutes a split infinitive because the verb “to postpone” is split by the adverb. “Unanimously” should be placed elsewhere in the sentence.

Example Question #4 : Identifying Conventional And Idiomatic Usage Errors

Select the underlined word or phrase that needs to be changed to make the sentence correct. Some sentences contain no error at all.

Every year, thousands of tourists swarm to New York City to view the impressive, timeless monument known as the Statue Of Liberty. No error

Possible Answers:

thousands of tourists

the impressive, timeless, monument

to New York City

No error

the Statue Of Liberty 

Correct answer:

the Statue Of Liberty 

Explanation:

The preposition “of” in the title “Statue of Liberty” does not need to be—and should not be—capitalized.

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