Practice with Improving Paragraphs for the SAT

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  • 0:00 Improving Paragraphs
  • 0:45 An Easy Example
  • 2:53 A Tougher Example
  • 4:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

The SAT has undergone some pretty big changes as of March 2016, but that doesn't mean that the skills tested in improving paragraph questions have disappeared! In this lesson, we walk through a few practice problems.

Improving Paragraphs

The changes made to the SAT as of March 2016 mean that there are quite a few new aspects of the test that you should be familiar with. As a result, there are no longer clearly marked improving paragraph questions that ask you to make changes to a paragraph in order to make it better. Instead, all questions on the Writing and Language Test are now taken from passages that you may or may not have read before.

So does that mean we can completely ignore the skills gained from working on improving paragraphs? Absolutely not! In fact, it becomes even more important to make sure you've got the skills necessary to do it easily. In this lesson, we'll look at two sample questions - one easy, one more difficult - suggesting how to improve a paragraph.

An Easy Example

For our first example, let's keep in mind that the SAT test makers really want to test your ability to follow the style of a passage. Very often, that means matching rhetorical devices like repetition. While repetition can be laborious to read, when it's part of a speech or otherwise used to a certain effect, it has the ability to drive home the thoughts of the speaker or writer. Let's look at a famous speech, but one that I've made a small change to for the purpose of this example.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

Okay, even if you didn't know that was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s I Have a Dream speech, you may have heard parts of it before. Now let's say that it's part of a longer passage on the SAT, and the part I dream that my four little children was underlined. You get these four choices as a possible answer:

A. I dream that my four little children
B. I have a dream my children
C. I want my four little children
D. I have a dream that my four little children

First things first: notice that answer choice A is always the same as what is listed in the text. Does that really fit in the style of this passage? Not really. King doesn't dream, he has a dream. See the difference? So we can get rid of A. B is a big tougher. Normally, you're encouraged to be concise with writing. However, King is using imagery here to drive home that maybe his kids could see this in their adult lives. In other words, getting rid of 'four little' weakens it. So B is gone. That leaves us with C and D. C completely disregards that whole idea of having a dream, so get rid of it! That leaves us with D, which works quite well, and is actually what King said that day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

A Tougher Example

Okay, that was a pretty easy one, but what about a tougher one? The SAT isn't just about pretty language, it also cares about how you develop your paragraphs. In other words, they want to see you know how to build your writing to a point, if not a dramatic finish. Take a look at this one, for example.

WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

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