PSAT Writing : Improving Sentences

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for PSAT Writing

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Correcting Phrase, Clause, And Sentence Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

The ancient Sumerians are credited with the invention of beer and cuneiform, and organized government.

Possible Answers:

invention of beer, cuneiform, and organized government

inventions of beer, cuneiform, and organized government too

invention of the beer, the cuneiform, and the organized government

the invention of beer and cuneiform, and organized government

inventions of beer, cuneiform, and also organized government

Correct answer:

invention of beer, cuneiform, and organized government

Explanation:

The original sentence does not employ correct parallel structure; it is imbalanced. The shortest and most straightforward of the sentences is most desirable. The repetition of the article in “the beer, the cuneiform . . .” sounds awkward.

Example Question #1 : Correcting Punctuation Errors: Other Punctuation

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English.

That café offers many beverages to choose from; lemonade, soda, coffee, tea, and more.

Possible Answers:

to choose from; lemonade, soda

to choose from: lemonade, soda

to choose from . . . lemonade, soda

to choose from, lemonade, soda

to choose from—lemonade, soda

Correct answer:

to choose from: lemonade, soda

Explanation:

Here, the colon is the most appropriate punctuation mark to use because it precedes a list of things that do not form an independent clause. The colon is used to introduce such lists.

Example Question #1 : Correcting Punctuation Errors: Other Punctuation

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

I talked to Jenny this morning; who said that it was too cold to go swimming.

Possible Answers:

morning; who

morning—who

morning. Who

morning: who

morning, who

Correct answer:

morning, who

Explanation:

A comma should separate the two clauses of the sentence; the second clause is a dependent clause, and cannot stand alone as its own sentence.

Example Question #1 : Correcting Punctuation Errors: Other Punctuation

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Because my aunt lives far away; I do not see her very often.

Possible Answers:

Because my aunt lives far away. I do not see her very often.

Because my aunt lives far away, I do not see her very often.

Although my aunt lives far away; I do not see her very often.

Because my aunt lives farthest away; I do not see her very often.

Because my aunt lives far away; I do not see her very often.

Correct answer:

Because my aunt lives far away, I do not see her very often.

Explanation:

The two clauses need to be separated by a comma.

Example Question #1 : Correcting Semicolon Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Leading the Transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson championed individualism; and spoke against slavery.

Possible Answers:

Leading the Transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson championed individualism and spoke against slavery.  

Leading the Transcendentalist movement; Ralph Waldo Emerson championed individualism, and spoke against slavery.  

Leading the Transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson championed individualism, and spoke against slavery.  

Leading the Transcendentalist movement; Ralph Waldo Emerson championed individualism and spoke against slavery.  

Leading the Transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson championed individualism; and spoke against slavery.

Correct answer:

Leading the Transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson championed individualism and spoke against slavery.  

Explanation:

A semi-colon separates two independent clauses. No punctuation between "individualism" and "and" is necessary.  

Example Question #1 : Correcting Punctuation Errors: Other Punctuation

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

Carrie and her cat, Mittens; were having a relaxing afternoon, Mittens was basking in a sunbeam near Carrie's feet.

Possible Answers:

Carrie and her cat; Mittens, were having a relaxing afternoon. Mittens was basking in a sunbeam near Carrie's feet.

Carrie and her cat, Mittens, were having a relaxing afternoon; Mittens was basking in a sunbeam near Carrie's feet.

Carrie and her cat, Mittens; were having a relaxing afternoon, Mittens was basking in a sunbeam near Carrie's feet.

Carrie and her cat, Mittens, were having a relaxing afternoon. Mittens was basking; in a sunbeam near Carrie's feet.

Carrie and her cat, Mittens, were having a relaxing afternoon. Mittens was basking in a sunbeam; near Carrie's feet.

Correct answer:

Carrie and her cat, Mittens, were having a relaxing afternoon; Mittens was basking in a sunbeam near Carrie's feet.

Explanation:

The correct use of a semicolon is connecting two related independent clauses. If a part of a sentence can't stand alone as a sentence, it can't be connected to another part of the sentence with a semicolon. In this case, the correct form is "Carrie and her cat, Mittens, were having a relaxing afternoon; Mittens was basking in a sunbeam near Carrie's feet," which connects the two related sentences with a semicolon.

Example Question #1 : Correcting Colon Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

The plan sought improvements to the city government in three areas municipal finances, emergency services, and traffic enforcement.

Possible Answers:

in three areas municipal finances, emergency services, and enforcing traffic.

in three areas, municipal finances emergency services and traffic enforcement.

in three areas municipal finances, emergency services, and traffic enforcement.

in three areas; municipal finances, emergency services, and traffic enforcement.

in three areas: municipal finances, emergency services, and traffic enforcement.

Correct answer:

in three areas: municipal finances, emergency services, and traffic enforcement.

Explanation:

The sentence is structured so that the list is given as the examples of the "three areas" the sentence mentions. When a list follows a phrase that can be a complete sentence and adds new information to the sentence, a colon should precede the list. Therefore, the correct answer choice is "in three areas: municipal finances, emergency services, and traffic enforcement."

Example Question #1 : Improving Sentences

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English.

Upon entering the room, you will have two choices either drink from the chalice or drinking from the mug.

Possible Answers:

Either drink from the chalice or drinking from the mug, upon entering the room, you will have two choices.

Upon entering the room, you will have too choices, either drink from the chalice or drink from the mug.

Upon entering the room, you will have two choices; drinking from the chalice or drink from the mug.

Upon entering the room, you will have two choices either drink from the chalice or drinking from the mug.

Upon entering the room, you will have two choices: either drink from the chalice or drink from the mug.

Correct answer:

Upon entering the room, you will have two choices: either drink from the chalice or drink from the mug.

Explanation:

A colon can be used to separate these two clauses. A semi-colon cannot be used, because the second clause cannot stand independently as a full sentence. Both of the verbs used need to be conjugated in the same way. The only answer choice that corrects both of these issues is, "Upon entering the room, you will have two choices: either drink from the chalice or drink from the mug."

Example Question #1 : Correcting Colon Errors

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

I found I had a lot in common with my pen pal: we stayed in touch all summer.

Possible Answers:

Although I found I had a lot in common with my pen pal, we stayed in touch all summer.

I found I had a lot in common with my pen pal: we stayed in touch all summer.

I found I had a lot in common with my pen pal; we stayed in touch all summer.

All summer, I found I had a lot in common with my pen pal: we stayed in touch.

I found I had a lot in common with my pen pal, we stayed in touch all summer.

Correct answer:

I found I had a lot in common with my pen pal; we stayed in touch all summer.

Explanation:

In this sentence, two independent clauses were joined with a colon. Although this can sometimes be appropriate, in this case the clause following the colon did not further explain what came before it, so it makes more sense to use other punctuation. The correct answer choice replaces the colon with a semicolon.

"Although I found I had a lot in common with my pen pal, we stayed in touch all summer," is an option that may be tempting, as it grammatically correctly links a subordinate clause; however, the sentence does not make logical sense, as "although" would imply that the contact with the pen pal would be in opposition to the feeling of having a lot in common.

Example Question #1 : Improving Sentences

Replace the underlined portion with the answer choice that results in a sentence that is clear, precise, and meets the requirements of standard written English. One of the answer choices reproduces the underlined portion as it is written in the sentence.

The young bunny waited in the nest for its chance to swiftly grab a morsel of the food.

Possible Answers:

it’s chance at grabbing a morsel of the food swiftly.

its chance to swiftly grab a morsel of the food. 

it's chance at swiftly grabbing a morsel of the food.

its chance to grab a morsel of the food swiftly.

it’s chance to swiftly grab a morsel of the food.

Correct answer:

its chance to grab a morsel of the food swiftly.

Explanation:

“Its” is possessive, while “it’s” is the contraction of “it” and “is.” Also, "to swiftly grab” constitutes a split infinitive, so the adverb “swiftly” must be moved elsewhere in the sentence.

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