The Perfect Score Project

One mom's quest to ace the SAT.

Is it Weird or Is it Wrong?*

Learning grammar at age 45 (finally).

"Is it weird or is it wrong" was my process for the SAT Writing Section (pre-Erica).

Here's how I scored in 2011, "by ear," as an adult:

It is worth noting that:

  1. I do not recall ever being taught grammar in school.
  2. I do remember being told by an English teacher that a comma happens when you feel a pause. I believed that was "the official comma rule" for about 35 years.
  3. I worked in book publishing for over two decades and am a voracious reader.

Point #1 is probably a universal truth for American-educated kids facing the SAT today, as is some variation of point #2.

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According to Erica:

Most of my students had little to no familiarity with grammatical terminology, so rather than simply reviewing concepts and offering up a couple of tricks, I had to teach them virtually all of the fundamentals of grammar.

Point #3 probably makes me anomalous (have I mentioned that I just bought my first pair of reading glasses?).

Given that the average SAT Writing score is 492, I can not think of one single reason why every student facing the SAT should not own their own copy of The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar. This is THE definitive guide to the SAT Writing section (and trust me, I've examined most others).

Erica is the most precise human being I have ever met with regard to SAT grammar. I have visions of her picking through single words in the Blue Book as if individual blades of grass. To give you some idea:

Furthermore, I noticed that specific kinds of questions always showed up at specific points in the test. For example:

-Faulty comparisons almost always showed up in the last three Error-Identification questions, as did certain kinds of tricky subject-verb agreement questions.

-The final Fixing Sentences question (#11 in the first Writing section, #14 in the second) very frequently dealt with parallel structure.

Are you starting to get the picture?

When I first started picking apart exams and grouping their questions by category, I did not quite understand why the College Board chose to focus so heavily on certain types of errors (subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement, parallel structure) and virtually ignore others. Contrary to what most guides say, "who vs. whom" is not actually tested on the SAT, even though who, and very occasionally whom, are underlined on various questions. Then, as a tutor, I read the writing of high school students - lots of them. And I started to notice that most of their writing was full of the exact errors tested on the SAT. Here it seems that the College Board does actually know what it's doing.

*From the Introduction to The Ultimate Guide to SAT Grammar.

llustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis

Full disclosure:  I scoured the book about 10 times for missing punctuation and spacing errors in the 11th hour, in exchange for tutoring time with Erica. It was a labor of love and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.


Debbie Stier is the founder of The Perfect Score Project, and is writing a book about her experience of trying to get a perfect SAT score.


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