No Time to Prep for SSAT Vocab_ Try These Hacks_PrepMaven

No Time to Prep for SSAT Vocabulary? Try These 6 Hacks

No Time to Prep for SSAT Vocabulary? Try These 6 Hacks

Bonus Material: Top 50 Word Parts for Learning SSAT Vocab Quickly

When it comes to the SSAT Verbal Section, we encourage our SSAT students to work on the following:

  • Strategies
  • Vocabulary building

We’ve outlined our favorite strategies for succeeding on SSAT Verbal in another post

But when it comes to vocabulary building, the test prep path might not feel so straightforward. The key to building a robust vocabulary? Time. 

And time is exactly what many SSAT students don’t have enough of

We’ve already discussed some general tips for mastering SSAT vocab. Now we’re here to offer our expertise in building your SSAT vocabulary quickly and effectively within a limited timeline.

You’ll also get access to our Top 50 Word Parts for Learning SSAT Vocab Quickly, which you can grab below.

Here’s what we cover:


6 Hacks for Learning SSAT Vocab Quickly

1. Learn by word parts

This is the most essential hack for quickly and effectively building your vocabulary, whether you’re prepping for the SSAT or English exams.

Every word in the English language consists of specific parts:

  • Prefixes
  • Roots
  • Suffixes

By learning the general meaning of these word parts, you can infer the general meaning of a vocabulary term, as in the following examples.

Vocabulary Word Word Part and Meaning General Meaning of Word Actual Meaning of Word
ambivalent ambi: both sides Both sides of something Having or showing simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward something or someone
vociferous voc: voice, speak Something to do with speaking or voice Marked by insistent outcry
lucid luc: light, clear Having the quality of clarity or lightness Clear; intelligible; coherent

Notice how knowing the word part and its meaning for each of these three terms does not necessarily create a precise definition. But it allows one to get fairly close, which can be helpful when eliminating answer choices on SSAT Verbal (both synonyms and analogies). 

We’ve compiled the top 50 word parts you should know for the SSAT here:

We also recommend that students check out Merriam-Webster’s Vocabulary Builder for a full range of word parts, associated vocabulary terms, and definitions.

2. Learn by category

As you build your SSAT vocabulary, try grouping new words into categories.

This has 2 benefits:

  1. It trains your brain to think in terms of synonyms (valuable for the Synonym questions on the SSAT Verbal section)
  2. Learning by category can help you work through large numbers of words relatively quickly

Here are some examples of word categories based off of common SSAT vocabulary:

  • Positive feelings or qualities (i.e., “elated” and “benevolent”)
  • Negative feelings or qualities  (i.e., “malignant” and “virulent”)
  • Difficulty (i.e., “arduous” or “onerous”)
  • Light (i.e., “translucent” or “lucid”)
  • Dark (i.e., “obscure” or “furtive”)
  • Wordy (“verbose” or “loquacious”)

3. Learn by visual or auditory memorization

For some students, new vocab terms are more likely to stick if they have visual or auditory elements. 

If you are a visual learner, try associating new words with specific colors or images. Your flashcard for “serene” might be blue, for example, or you might draw a picture of a clear window next to the word “translucent.” Some students might also wish to create a memory palace, a memorization technique utilized by ancient Greeks.

This can be an especially valuable trick when paired with category learning, discussed in the previous tip. 

Auditory learners might want to record themselves reading full sentences incorporating new vocab terms or work through flashcards by reading words and definitions out loud.  

4. Learn by speed rounds

Students only have thirty minutes to work through 60 questions on SSAT Verbal. To prepare for this time crunch and build a robust SSAT vocabulary in a short amount of time, practice learning through speed rounds.

Have a friend or family member test you with flashcards, for example, in 1-minute, 3-minute, and/or 5-minute speed rounds. See how many words you can get right in these shorter increments, and try to beat your record on subsequent rounds!

To take things up a notch and practice for the Synonyms section, try Synonym speed rounds. When a flashcard with a given word appears, instead of providing the definition, offer a word with a similar meaning.

5. Learn by repetition

Yes, repetition is vital when it comes to developing vocabulary! It is particularly essential if you are working with a shorter test prep timeline.

When learning new SSAT vocabulary terms, return to these words several times throughout a given day. 

And once you feel that you truly know a word, don’t relegate it to the back of the flashcard stack! Keep cycling through familiar words on a daily basis so that they don’t lose their grip in your memory.

These repetition rounds do not have to be intensive. Spend three minutes flipping through flashcards on the bus, for example, over breakfast, or right before falling asleep.

6. Learn by cross-definitions

When looking up definitions for new words and adding these to flashcards or vocabulary banks, consider using vocabulary terms you’ve already learned in these definitions! This improves your capacities to:

  1. Recognize new words in different contexts
  2. Learn by synonyms
  3. Solidify new vocabulary terms

Here are a few examples of cross-definitions:

torpor Dullness; apathy; a state of mental and physical inactivity
lucid Clear; intelligible; coherent; filled with light
virulent Full of malice; harsh or strong; malignant

Notice how apathy, coherent, and malignant are all SSAT vocabulary words in themselves that surface in the definitions for torpor, lucid, and virulent.


Download our Top 50 Word Parts For Learning SSAT Vocab Quickly

We recommend incorporating all of these strategies into your vocabulary practice.

Yet of the hacks in this post, the most effective is the first one: learning by word parts. We’ve compiled the top 50 word parts you should know for learning SSAT vocabulary on a limited timeline.

Here’s what you get in this free download:

  • The top 50 word parts that surface in SSAT vocabulary
  • Their definitions
  • Three example words per word part

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.



Tips for Mastering SSAT Vocabulary_PrepMaven

7 Tips for Mastering SSAT Vocabulary

7 Tips for Mastering SSAT Vocabulary

Bonus Material: The Top 100 SSAT Vocabulary Words You Need to Know

The SSAT Verbal section can be one of the most challenging sections for test-takers.

This is because the section’s Synonym and Analogy questions require students to have strong working knowledge of advanced vocabulary.

This can be tricky and overwhelming for test-takers. Vocabulary isn’t always a part of middle school curriculum. Plus, it can be difficult to build vocabulary in a short amount of time.

In this post, we offer our expert tips for mastering SSAT vocabulary. 

Plus, we give you access to the top 100 SSAT Vocabulary Words you need to know (with definitions). Grab this valuable resource below before we get started.

Here’s what we cover in this post: 


The SSAT Verbal Section: A Recap

We outline the specifics of the SSAT Verbal section in a separate post

In the meantime, here’s a recap of the essentials:

  • 30 minutes /  60 multiple choice questions
  • 2 sections: Synonyms and Analogies

The Upper-Level SSAT will test higher-level vocabulary than the Middle-Level SSAT. While both Verbal sections test students’ vocabulary range, the Analogy section has an extra element of identifying relationships between words.

Synonym Questions

In the Synonyms section, students are given a word in capital letters and asked to find a word or phrase with the closest meaning.

Here’s a sample Synonyms question:

IRATE:

A) angry

B) nervous

C) elated

D) shy

E) thoughtful

Correct Answer: A

Analogy Questions

In the Analogy section, students are given two words that demonstrate a certain relationship.

They are then asked to select the choice that best completes the meaning of the sentence.

Here’s a sample Analogies question:

Gargantuan is to big as:

A) hot is to steamy

B) thirsty is to dry

C) pleasant is to melody

D) clumsy is to coordinated

E) ecstatic is to happy

Correct Answer: E

Explanation: Just as gargantuan means very big, ecstatic means very happy. Their relationship is one of degree. 

Because it involves identifying relationships, the Analogy section is more skill-based than the Synonym section.


7 Tips for Mastering SSAT Vocabulary

Success on the SSAT Verbal section does have a lot to do with strategy. So, if you haven’t done so already, check out our SSAT Verbal Section Strategies post.

But one skill will definitely prove valuable on this section: a strong working vocabulary. At the end of the day, the more words you know, the greater your odds are of succeeding on this challenging section.

How do you master SSAT vocabulary? Follow these tips.

1. Give yourself a generous timeline

Students may be tempted to try to learn 500 new vocabulary words a week as they prepare for the SSAT. This is ambitious and understandable, but we strongly encourage test-takers to allocate as much time as possible to build their SSAT vocabulary bank.

This is because it takes time to acquire new words and recognize them accurately in a variety of contexts.

Set aside a generous timeline for SSAT vocabulary prep--at least three months (during which students should also be preparing for the test’s other sections, too). If you don’t have three months, check out these hacks for building SSAT Vocabulary quickly.

2. Sign up for a word of the day service

Exposure to new terminology is essential when it comes to building SSAT vocabulary. Sign up for a free word-of-the-day service to ensure you’re digesting new words on a daily basis. 

Just make sure to add these to your vocabulary bank (instead of just reading through the email and then forgetting about it)!

Try out Merriam Webster's word of the day email service or the Word of the Day app.

3. Use the words you learn

We can’t emphasize this tip enough! Simply memorizing a word is unlikely to prove useful come test time. 

As you build your vocabulary, integrate the terms you use in daily conversation and writing. Practice crafting sentences of your own that utilize new terms accurately, for example, or consciously using a new word during a dinner table discussion.

Be consistent in this practice, and don’t be shy when it comes to creativity. We’ve had our SSAT students, for example, integrate new terms in songs, poetry, art, screenplays, and more. You can also try integrating SSAT vocabulary terms into your SSAT Writing Sample practice responses. 

In our Top 100 SSAT Vocab Words You Should Know download, you’ll have an opportunity to create your own unique sentences utilizing each word.

4. Read regularly

Reading offers students another channel for vocabulary exposure. It also enables test-takers to boost recognition of terms that they’ve already learned in various contexts.

In fact, that’s the great value of reading when it comes to vocabulary building--it trains your brain to infer meaning based off of context. And putting words in context is essential to success on the SSAT verbal section.

What should you be reading? We encourage students to consider advanced materials, such as journals, newspapers, editorials, nonfiction, and literature. 

The New York Times has an excellent learning section that also includes weekly reading challenges, an excellent opportunity to improve your fluency in current events and vocabulary.

5. Learn and recognize word parts

This is one of the hacks we discuss in our guide to learning SSAT vocabulary with a limited test prep timeline

Learning and recognizing common word parts--suffixes, prefixes, and roots--can give you the capacity to infer general meaning of a new term (even if you’ve never seen it before).

For example, the prefix “ambi-” means “both.” Thus, “ambidextrous” means having the capacity to utilize both your right and left hands equally to complete a task. “Ambivalent” means having mixed feelings about a subject, i.e., being on “both sides of the fence.”

An excellent resource for learning word parts is Merriam-Webster’s Vocabulary Builder. This is a resource we always recommend our SSAT students work with when beginning their prep.

6. Categorize learned words into synonym groups

Sometimes it’s easier to memorize categories of words (as opposed to individual definitions of select terms). After you’ve acquired some new SSAT vocabulary, categorize your new words into synonym groups.

Example categories based off of common SSAT Vocab words include:

  • Positive feelings or qualities (i.e., “elated” and “benevolent”)
  • Negative feelings or qualities  (i.e., “malignant” and “virulent”)
  • Difficulty (i.e., “arduous” or “onerous”)
  • Light (i.e., “translucent” or “lucid”)
  • Dark (i.e., “obscure” or “furtive”)
  • Wordy (“verbose” or “loquacious”)

7. Use flashcards wisely 

Just knowing the definition of a word isn’t apt to get you too far on the SSAT Verbal section. You still need to understand a term's nuance, especially within different contexts.

For this reason, use flashcards (digital or paper) wisely.

When testing your knowledge of a new term, challenge yourself to come up with a unique sentence utilizing that term before flipping that flashcard over and reading the definition.

You might also want to try adding a visual element to your flashcard game, including sketches, images, and colors. Such visual components can aid in memorization techniques.

Download the Top 100 SSAT Vocabulary Words You Need to Know

You can get started on your SSAT Vocabulary practice right now by downloading these 100 SSAT Vocab Words you should probably know.

We’ve analyzed official SSAT practice tests and materials to create this list of the most likely to be tested vocabulary terms. 

Here’s what you’ll get:

  • The top 100 SSAT vocabulary words (based on our research)
  • Precise definitions for every word
  • Opportunities to craft your own custom sentences to solidify knowledge


Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.


SSAT Verbal Strategies

SSAT Verbal Strategies From the Experts

SSAT Verbal Strategies From the Experts

Bonus Material: FREE SSAT Verbal Practice Questions

The Secondary School Admissions Test (SSAT) tests reading, writing, quantitative, and verbal skills.

One of the most challenging sections for SSAT test-takers is the Verbal section, and for good reason! With 30 Synonym and 30 Analogy questions, the Verbal section requires a strong vocabulary and solid reasoning skills.

It also rewards the efficient test-taker. The SSAT Verbal section gives students only 30 minutes to answer all 60 questions.

However, like all standardized tests, the SSAT can (and should) be approached strategically. In this post, we discuss the SSAT verbal strategies you need to succeed on this section. You can apply these strategies right away to our free SSAT Verbal practice questions, which you can grab below:

Here's what we cover:

Note: for the purposes of this post, we will be referring to the Upper-Level SSAT Verbal section.

The SSAT Verbal Section in a Nutshell

On the Upper-Level SSAT, the Verbal section is the 4th section of the test. Here's a quick visual of the entire SSAT format:

SSAT Test Format
Source: SSAT.org

Remember that the SSAT is a virtual marathon of a test. Students are likely to be fairly fatigued by the time they get to the Verbal section! That's why it's doubly important to have some solid strategies in place before getting there.

The SSAT Verbal Section

  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Format: 60 multiple choice questions, divided into Synonyms and Analogies sections of 30 questions each

Synonyms

Students will encounter Synonyms questions first on the SSAT Verbal section. In general, these questions will be arranged in order of increasing difficulty.

What does this mean? The first 10 questions will be generally easier than questions 11-20. Questions 21-30 will likely be the most difficult of the entire set.

For each question, students must choose the answer that has the closest meaning to the word provided. Here is an example SSAT Synonyms question:

SSAT Upper Level Verbal Section_Synonyms
Source: SSAT.org Upper-Level Sample Questions

Analogies 

The 30 Analogy questions will come after the 30 Synonym questions on the SSAT Verbal section. Just like the Synonym questions, Analogy questions are generally arranged in order of increasing difficulty.

An analogy is a comparison of two things.

On an SSAT Analogy question, these two things will have a very specific relationship. Students must determine what this relationship is and select the answer choice that most closely features that same relationship.

Vocabulary is still essential for Analogy questions: students will not necessarily know all of the words in the analogy described and/or the answer choices, especially on higher-difficulty questions.

Here is a sample SSAT Analogy question:

SSAT Verbal Section: Analogies
Source: SSAT.org Upper-Level Sample Questions

General SSAT Verbal Strategies

Before we dive into specific tips for Synonym and Analogy questions, we'll cover some general SSAT Verbal strategies that apply to the section as a whole.

1. Prioritize low-difficulty questions first.

This may sound obvious, but it's a great strategy to use on SSAT Verbal because of the way the section is structured.

Remember that those 30 Synonym questions and 30 Analogy questions are arranged generally in order of increasing difficulty. What's more, students do not get more points for correct high-difficulty questions. Every SSAT Verbal question is essentially worth the same number of points.

What does this mean? SSAT students should spend more time on those easier questions to ensure they are getting those easy points before they navigate harder ones. This can also give them a chance to get their vocabulary brains warmed up for those medium- and high-difficulty questions.

This can be especially important for higher-achieving students who might be more prone to moving too quickly on those initial, easy questions and making careless errors.

We understand that "easy" is a relative term, so be sure to cater to your own personal order of difficulty, tackling those questions that are easiest for you first.

2. Know your guessing strategy.

On the SSAT, students lose 1/4 point for every question they answer incorrectly. They do not lose points for leaving questions blank. That's why we don't necessarily encourage all SSAT test-takers to answer every question on the test, as doing so could hurt rather than help their score!

Because of this, we encourage students to have a solid guessing strategy in place for each SSAT section. You can read more about guessing on the SSAT in our guide to SSAT scores.

3. Use context and connotation.

If you don’t know a word in an answer choice or question, use context (where you may have heard the word before) or connotation (a word's positive or negative charge).

If you see the word jubilation, for example, you might remember that you have seen it in the context of the name of a celebratory Fortnite dance. You may also reason that it has something to do with feeling happy and triumphant, a positive connotation.

Or if you see the word miserly, it might remind you of something miserable, leading you to pick an answer choice with a negative connotation or charge (miserly means a person who is ungenerous with his/her money).

4. Watch out for homonyms.

Homonyms are words with the same spelling but different meanings. If you see foil in an SSAT Verbal question, for example, it could mean a “thin sheet of metal” or “to prevent." Be on the lookout for homonyms in both questions and answer choices.

If you do identify a homonym situation, ask yourself which meaning makes the most sense based on the answer choices. You can and should use SSAT Verbal answer choices to your advantage, which we discuss at greater length in the next 2 sections of this post.

5. Sometimes, you have to pick the best of the “bad” options. 

The correct answer choice might not reflect the direct way you would define the word, which can confuse some students. In these situations, imagine your task is to pick the best of the “bad” options.

Here is a sample question that demonstrates this:

THWART
A) approve
B) facilitate
C) confuse
D) conceal
E) forgive

Correct Answer: C

You may feel pretty confident that “thwart” means preventing something from happening, but that choice doesn’t seem to be listed here.

However, if you go with the word that most closely expresses this idea – “confuse” – you would choose the correct answer.

6. Think like the test-maker, not a test-taker.

This is a tenet we encourage all of our standardized test-takers to embrace. Test-makers write standardized tests with predictable test-makers in mind. In other words, each question will contain traps designed to trick the average test-taker.

Once you can start learning about these specific traps and tricks, you'll start to think like the test-makers themselves. Doing so gives you the upper hand (and often a lot of points!). We'll be discussing ways to think like the SSAT test-makers in the next 2 sections as we cover strategies for Synonym and Analogy questions.

Ready to apply these strategies to some sample SSAT practice questions? Grab our free SSAT Verbal worksheet below.


Approaching SSAT Synonym Questions

Synonym questions appear first on SSAT Verbal (questions 1-30). If you feel more confident with these questions, we recommend beginning with these.

If, however, Analogies are more your jam, we recommend starting with question 31 (the first of the Analogy questions set) and completing the Synonyms set second. Remember: play to your strengths on SSAT Verbal, and prioritize the questions that are easiest for you first.

The key to approaching SSAT Synonym questions successfully lies in remembering that they are just that: Synonym questions.

What do we mean by this?

With Synonym questions, your task is to find the answer choice that is most similar in meaning to the question word.

It's important to remind yourself of this simple fact on each question, as the test-makers love trapping students with answer choices that may be associated with the question word but, in fact, do not share a similar meaning. What's more, a "synonym" is not the same as a straight-up "definition" of a word!

We'll apply these thoughts to the sample Synonym question we mentioned above:

SSAT Upper Level Verbal Section_Synonyms

With this question, students must choose the answer that is most similar in meaning to the word "incognito." This doesn't mean that we're looking for the definition of "incognito," merely a term that most closely matches that definition.

The word "incognito" might suggest someone going undercover, like a ninja in a crowd. Be careful, though: answer choice (D) at first glance looks a lot like "undercover," when, in fact, it means the opposite (uncovered). But the idea of being undercover has a connotation of being hidden from sight, which leads us to answer (C): concealed.

Be careful with answer choice (A), which might be tempting for some students. "Lost" is a good example of an answer that is an association but not necessarily a synonym of a question word. Something that is incognito may not be very visible, but this doesn't mean it is lost.

Here are some other tips for approaching SSAT Synonym questions.

1. Put the question word into a sentence of your own.

This is an excellent, tried-and-true way to situate a question word in its context, especially if you don't know the full meaning of a term. Put that word into a sentence, even if it's the most basic sentence you've ever written.

Using the sample question above, that sentence might look like this:

The ninja chose to go incognito, moving casually through the crowd without attracting attention.

In this sentence, we can gather that "incognito" is a behavior or attitude of some kind that the ninja adopts in this crowd. Would it make sense for someone to choose to be "lost"? No! "Lost" is not a behavior or attitude, and the same goes for "replaced" or "distinguished."

Context tells us that the ninja is choosing to be somewhat invisible, so (C) is the best answer yet again.

2. Apply your knowledge of word parts.

Remember all those word parts and roots your teacher taught last year? Those will definitely prove valuable on SSAT Verbal, particularly with those Synonym questions.

Identifying word parts in answer choices and question words can be vital. It can be a straight-up life-saver on those questions full of vocabulary students may not know.

Be on the hunt for specific prefixes, roots, and suffixes that can give at least partial meaning for a term.

For example, if you see the word "benevolent" in a Synonyms question, you might recognize the prefix ben / bene, which means well or good. This has a positive connotation or charge, which can be useful for elimination purposes.

3. "Plug in" your final choice.

Much like plugging the answer to a math question into the original problem to check your work, "plug in" your final choice on a Synonyms question to the sentence you've created.

This serves as a double-check mechanism and a means of catching careless errors. Using the example sentence and question above, this would look like the following:

The ninja chose to go concealed, moving casually through the crowd without attracting attention.

Yes, "chose to go concealed" sounds a bit awkward, but it still fits in meaning and context.

4. On higher-difficulty questions, the weirder the better.

Remember: the SSAT test-makers will create specific traps on each Verbal question designed to trick the predictable test-taker.

What are predictable test-takers likely to do on harder Synonym questions? They are probably not likely to choose an answer they don't know. They will likely avoid those really weird, foreign-looking terms. However, on really tough Synonym questions, these answers can be correct.

Here's an example of this in action, modeled after a sample SSAT.org practice question:

ZEALOUS
A) heartfelt
B) fervent
C) irritating
D) praiseworthy
E) interested

The "weirdest" answer choice here, the one many students are not likely to know, is fervent. This happens to be the correct answer choice.

We do want to offer this tip with a caveat, however: students should still adhere to their established guessing strategy, regardless of the difficulty level of the question. It may still be worth your while to leave a question blank if you generally have no clue about the question word and the answer choices.


Approaching SSAT Analogy Questions

Analogy questions appear second on SSAT Verbal (questions 31-60). If you feel more confident with these questions, we recommend beginning with these.

If, however, Synonyms are more your jam, we recommend starting with question 1 (the first of the Synonym questions set) and completing the Analogy set second.

The key to succeeding on Analogy questions lies in your capacity to identify specific relationships. Each question will provide students with two words that demonstrate a certain relationship. Students must then select the choice that best reflects that relationship, thus completing the meaning of the sentence.

Here's our strategy for approaching an Analogy question on SSAT Verbal:

  1. Identify the specific relationship between the two question words
  2. Search for the answer that shows the same relationship
  3. Eliminate accordingly

Sounds easy, right? Well, not necessarily. It can be really tough to identify a specific relationship, particularly between words you don't know (or only have partial meanings for). Those answer choices will also be chock-full of associative words, terms or pairs that might have a similar connotation but not necessarily similar relationship.

That's where the following tips come into play.

1. Start noticing Analogy categories.

Every SSAT Analogy question presents a specific relationship between the two ideas presented. As you continue to work with these questions, start noticing the various "categories" of these relationships, such as size (one word is smaller than another), time (one thing happens before another), or cause and effect (one thing causes another).

Take a look at this sample Analogy question and see if you can identify the "category" of the relationship presented:

Gargantuan is to big as:
A) hot is to steamy
B) thirsty is to dry
C) pleasant is to melody
D) clumsy is to coordinated
E) ecstatic is to happy

If you guessed a relationship of degree or size, you're correct! Gargantuan is a larger or more extreme version of big. Their relationship is one of degree, making the correct answer (ecstatic is a more extreme version of happy).

"Degree" is an example of just one “category” of relationships you will start to see in the Analogy section. Just as there isn’t a finite list of words on the Synonyms section, there is no complete list of categories for the Analogy section. However, the list below gives some common relationship categories:

  • Location
  • Time
  • Size
  • Material
  • Part and Whole
  • Example and General Category
  • Cause and Effect
  • Synonyms
  • Antonyms
  • Degrees
  • Actor and Action
  • Product and Producer
  • Tool and User
  • Tool and Use

This can be essential as an elimination strategy, too. Once you've identified the category of the relationship, you can eliminate any answer choices that fit other relationship categories.

2. Create a specific relationship sentence for the question words.

Much as we encourage students to put Synonym words into their own sentences, we also recommend crafting a "relationship sentence" for SSAT Analogy question words. You can then eliminate answer choices that don't "fit" the sentence.

When creating this sentence, try to be as specific as possible.

Using the above sample question, for example, a relationship sentence like “If you’re gargantuan, you’re big” is too broad – if you plug in the answer choices, they might all sound right! “Gargantuan is a stronger version of big” is more specific and will lead you to the correct answer.

3. Eliminate answer choices that have no relationship or are "conditional."

The right answer to an Analogy question will demonstrate the specific relationship of the question words. If you can’t establish a relationship between two words, that answer choice is automatically wrong! The same goes for any answer choices that may show a conditional relationship, one that is only true some of the time.

Here’s a sample question that proves this point:

Insult is to offense as:
A) laugh is to joy
B) fabricate is to falsehood
C) injure is to prepare
D) innocent is to child
E) forge is to creation

In choice C, “injure” and “prepare” have no relationship, so you can eliminate C immediately. Similarly, a "child" may be "innocent," but not necessarily 100% of the time (it depends on the child, the definition of innocent, etc.). You can eliminate D as well.

4. Focus on relationships, not synonyms.

It can be really easy, especially if you tackle SSAT Synonym questions first, to start identifying synonyms for the Analogy words rather than relationships. As best you can, remind yourself that your task on this set is to classify the relationship between the words presented and select an answer choice that reflects a similar relationship.

On the plus side, those answer choices that contain synonyms to words in the question are most likely incorrect. So if you do spot some synonyms in the answers, be very skeptical.

5. Think of all possible relationships.

You may find that some questions have multiple reasonable answers. If this is the case, try to think of additional possible relationships between the question words. Here is a sample question that demonstrates this:

Carousel is to horse as:
A) hospital is to waiting room
B) anthology is to story
C) sun is to planet
D) bike is to wheel
E) fleet is to ship

Correct Answer: C

At first glance, you might feel stuck with this question. A “horse” is a “part” of a “carousel.” With this relationship in mind, don’t multiple answer choices here fit the “whole and part” category?

However, if you think of additional ways to specify the relationship, you could reach the correct answer by reasoning that the horses revolve around a carousel just as a planet orbits the sun.

With these tips in mind, let's work through the sample Analogy question mentioned in the first section of this post:

SSAT Verbal Section: Analogies

It will be easiest to craft a relationship sentence with these words. We might say that "an epidemic is the spread of disease." Plugging in the answer choices, we can see that only (A) fits this sentence: "a famine is the spread of hunger." Our answer is (A).


SSAT Verbal Strategies: Study Tips

Now that you have some great SSAT Verbal strategies in place, it's time to talk study tips. What's the best way to prepare for success on the SSAT Verbal section? Here are our top recommendations.

1. Prioritize learning word roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

We've already highlighted the value of applying your knowledge of word roots, prefixes, and suffixes to words you don't know on Synonym and Analogy questions.

Knowing word parts can also make your SSAT study plan so much more efficient and robust: in many cases, learning just one word part can help you identify 10+ new vocabulary terms!

You can find many lists (some SSAT-focused) of these word roots, prefixes, and suffixes online or in books that focus on vocabulary building. Searching Quizlet for online SSAT vocabulary lists or investing in a Merriam-Webster Vocabulary Builder book are good places to start.

2. Make flashcards.

Flashcards can be an excellent tool for solidifying new vocabulary and word parts. Quizlet is a favorite online flashcard site for many students. Otherwise, there’s nothing wrong with old-fashioned notecards.

Review these flashcards regularly. If you are a visual learner, try integrating colors or images into your flashcards for improved memorization. For an extra challenge, come up with a unique sentence for every word you review or identify synonyms (using other vocabulary terms!) for the word in question.

3. Don’t try and memorize 500 words at once

You won’t remember them! It is better to focus on 5-10 words at a time (ideally, per week), and keep coming back to vocab sets for review.

More importantly, be sure you are also using those words that you’re learning. Integrate new words into school assignments and personal practice to make them a concrete part of your vocabulary. (Hint: you can also use these words when practicing your SSAT Writing Sample response.)

4. Read widely

Reading can introduce you to a wide variety of new words to supplement your vocabulary building. Aim to digest advanced reading materials, such as higher-level nonfiction texts, editorials and articles, and journal pieces.

More than any other section, the SSAT Verbal section depends on you slowly but surely improving your vocabulary in a consistent fashion.

In this way, studying for the SSAT Verbal section is like putting money in a piggy bank: it might feel like you’re getting nowhere with the little contributions you make each day, but as long as you keep putting in time, you’ll see a big reward in your score going up after a few months.


Download PrepMaven's SSAT Verbal Practice Questions

There you have it -- the SSAT Verbal strategies designed to give you the greatest success on this challenging section. However, the power of these strategies lies in practice, so be sure to apply them regularly to actual SSAT practice questions.

You can do this right now by downloading our free SSAT Verbal Practice Questions worksheet.

SSAT Verbal Practice

With this worksheet, you'll get:

  • 10 Synonyms practice questions
  • 10 Analogies practice questions
  • Answers & explanations


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay. She is a Master tutor at Princeton Tutoring.


Complete Guide to ACT and SAT Grammar Rules_PrepMaven

Your Complete Guide to the 13 ACT and SAT Grammar Rules

The 13 ACT and SAT Grammar Rules You Need to Know

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s ACT and SAT Grammar Workbook ( 100+ Practice Questions )  

Both the ACT and the SAT are interested in your ability to apply certain English grammar rules.

The good news, however, is that these exams only test 13 foundational rules. 

In this post, you'll find these 13 grammar rules tested regularly on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language. We explain these rules as simply as possible, and without grammar jargon.

Plus, we include links to other detailed posts that elaborate on individual concepts, provide strategies for approaching certain questions, and walk you through guided examples from official practice tests.

You’ll also be able to download free practice worksheets for every single grammar rule, which include practice questions, additional guided examples, and answers and explanations.

If you want all of these worksheets in one place, simply grab our ACT and SAT Grammar Workbook below.

Here's what we cover in this post:


ACT and SAT Grammar in a Nutshell

First things first: let's talk about what you can expect from the ACT and the SAT in terms of grammar questions.

Where Will I See Grammar Questions on the ACT/SAT?

Students can expect to directly apply their knowledge of English grammar on the following 2 sections:

  • ACT English
  • SAT Writing & Language

ACT English is the first section of the ACT exam and contains 75 questions to be completed in 45 minutes. SAT Writing & Language is the second section of the SAT test and contains 44 questions to be completed in 35 minutes.

As we mention in the introduction to this guide, proficiency in English grammar can also be helpful on the essay portion of either test, as essay graders assess writers' application of English conventions when scoring.

How Many Grammar Questions Will I Encounter?

Not all questions on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language concern grammar.

Both tests include questions that we like to call Expression of Ideas questions, which test students' understanding of context, vocabulary, logical connection of ideas, and the expression of an author's purpose.

These can take a little more time than basic grammar questions and can be more challenging.

We've analyzed officially released ACT and SAT practice tests to come up with an approximation of how many rote grammar questions you'll see on each test.

Grammar Questions on the ACT Grammar Questions on the SAT
~36-40 (out of 75 total questions) ~18-22 (out of 44 total questions)

Notice how grammar questions account for approximately 50% of the questions on both ACT English and SAT Writing & Language (give or take a few percentage points).

What does this mean? Students need more than proficiency in English grammar to earn a competitive score on both sections.

How Will I Know If It's a Grammar Question?

One of the most important things SAT and ACT test-takers can do on any section of the test is to identify the type of question in front of them. This can be vital for applying strategies and sidestepping typical SAT and ACT tricks.

On ACT English and SAT Writing & Language, you know you're navigating a grammar question if you see any of the following changing in the answer choices:

  • Punctuation (including type and placement)
  • Verb tense and form
  • Pronouns
  • Prepositions
  • Idiomatic phrases and words

For example, take a look at the following sample question taken from an officially released ACT practice test (#1). Most especially, try to identify what differs between the answer choices.

Verbs on the SAT and ACT_Sample Question The fact that the form of the verb build changes in the answers indicates that this is a Grammar question. Verbs are a commonly tested English grammar concept on both tests.

On the other hand, take a look at what is different about this question, taken from an officially released SAT practice test (#1):

Expression of Ideas question_SAT Writing & Language Did you notice that this has a full question in front of it? And that this question is asking students to consider the choice that provides the most relevant detail?

The differences in the answer choices don't boil down to mere grammar rules. They boil down to ideas, and a student's capacity to figure out which is "relevant" in context, given the author's ideas. This is an Expression of Ideas question.

Note: even though the CollegeBoard describes the SAT Writing & Language section as a test that assesses your ability to fix mistakes, plenty of grammar questions are correct as written! The same goes for ACT English. That "NO CHANGE" option is just as viable an answer choice as all the others.

We discuss the 13 ACT and SAT grammar rules you'll need to know to succeed on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language next.


The 13 ACT and SAT Grammar Rules You Need to Know

As we mentioned earlier, students don't need to memorize every single English grammar rule to feel confident on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language.

These tests are only interested in a finite list of grammar concepts. What's more, these grammar concepts are tested in very predictable, limited ways.

That's why we won't elaborate everything there is to know about Verbs, for example, or the nuanced difference between a colon and a semicolon in this guide. While interesting and useful, such details aren't necessarily relevant for the purposes of the ACT and SAT.

The rules as we present them here are simplified and efficient, designed to give you the information you need to know to answer an ACT or SAT grammar question correctly. We discuss each concept in-depth in individual blog posts, linked throughout.

Complete Guide to ACT and SAT Grammar Rules_PrepMaven (1)

So, without further ado, let's get started. We begin with the most heavily tested grammar concepts and work our way down from there.


ACT and SAT Grammar Rules: Punctuation

Punctuation is by far the most common English grammar concept that appears on both the ACT and the SAT.

Based on our analysis of officially released ACT and SAT practice tests, we've crafted a breakdown of the number of punctuation questions students can expect on either test:

Punctuation Questions on the ACT Punctuation Questions on the SAT
12-16 5-7

Most punctuation questions on SAT Writing & Language and ACT English actually test something more foundational than your knowledge of punctuation rules: your capacity to correctly identify incomplete and complete sentences. We've written an entire post on this--that's how important this skill is for SAT and ACT test-takers!

You can also download this free worksheet for additional practice in identifying incomplete/complete sentences. We'll reference complete and incomplete ideas often in the following 7 punctuation rules.

For now, here's a general breakdown of the difference between the 2 sentences:

Complete Sentences Incomplete Sentences

Have:

  • subject
  • verb
  • full expression of an idea

Don't have:

  • subject
  • verb
  • and/or full expression of an idea

Your knowledge of this difference will be vital for the majority of the following rules. Let's dive into those 7 punctuation rules you need to know for the SAT and ACT now.

Rule #1: You can only join 2 complete sentences with a period, a semicolon, or a comma + FANBOYS conjunction.

Let's say that you've identified two complete sentences in an ACT or SAT punctuation question, as in this example here:

It’s not that people are disinterested

in climate 12 change, many would

argue that citizens are very interested in

the planet’s gradual warming.

A) NO CHANGE

B) change; many

C) change many

D) change

"It's not that people are disinterested in climate change" is a complete sentence (it has a subject, a verb, and the full expression of an idea); the same goes for "many would argue that citizens are very interested in the planet's gradual warming," for the same reasons.

At this point, it's time to choose the punctuation that is appropriate for combining 2 complete sentences: a semicolon, period, or a comma + FANBOYS conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

On the SAT or ACT, you will never have to choose between one of these three options (i.e., a semicolon versus a period). In fact, if you see a semicolon and a period in the answer choices--and nothing else differs between those options--you can automatically cross those choices off, as you can't have two right answers.

In the example above, the only permissible answer choice is B, which uses a semicolon to join 2 complete ideas. With this choice, this is how the new sentence would read:

It’s not that people are disinterested in climate change; many would argue that citizens are very interested in the planet’s gradual warming.

You could also write this sentence using a period or a comma + FANBOYS conjunction, as in these two examples:

It’s not that people are disinterested in climate change. Many would argue that citizens are very interested in the planet’s gradual warming.

It’s not that people are disinterested in climate change, for many would argue that citizens are very interested in the planet’s gradual warming.

Rule #2: Use a single comma to join 1 complete sentence with 1 incomplete sentence.

There is only one option for combining a complete sentence and incomplete sentence: a single comma.

Now, if the incomplete sentence is in fact just a phrase (as opposed to a clause, which has a subject and a verb), this could mean we're in the territory of either comma rules or colon rules, which we discuss later on in this post. For example, if your incomplete sentence is a transition phrase, like "on the other hand," chances are, it's time to apply some comma rules! 

The following example asks us to combine an incomplete sentence with a complete one:

In light of the fact that women are still

earning less than men in the workplace, 

31 for example: equity consulting

companies are likely to prove their value in

years to come.

A) NO CHANGE

B) for example; equity

C) for example, equity

D) for example. Equity

"In light of the fact that women are still earning less than men in the workplace, for example" is an incomplete sentence."Equity consulting companies are likely to prove their value in years to come" is a complete sentence.

We can only use a single comma to join 1 incomplete sentence to 1 complete sentence. The only answer choice that has a single comma as a solution is C.

The corrected sentence would thus read as follows:

In light of the fact that women are still earning less than men in the workplace, for example, equity consulting companies are likely to prove their value in years to come.

For more practice with combining sentences on the SAT or ACT, check out our Combining Sentences blog post or download this free Combining Sentences worksheet for practice questions, guided examples, and more. 

Rule #3: Use 2 commas or 2 long dashes to separate non-essential, additional information from the rest of a sentence.

Just as we use parentheses to separate additional information from the rest of a sentence, we can use 2 commas or 2 long dashes to accomplish the same goal.

What is "additional" or "non-essential" information?

This includes anything that is not essential for making a sentence complete (i.e., a subject, verb, or words that contribute to the full expression of an idea), such as descriptive phrases and transition words. Essentially, if you get rid of this information, you'll still have a complete sentence.

Take a look at this example:

Greg and Kevin, the co-founders of PrepMaven, emphasize the importance of character when it comes to college applications.

Can you spot the non-essential information in this sentence? If you guessed “the co-founders of PrepMaven,” you’re absolutely right!

“The co-founders of PrepMaven” is a descriptive phrase that provides more information about the sentence’s subject, “Greg and Kevin.” It is not needed to make the sentence complete. In fact, we could get rid of it and still have a complete sentence!

Greg and Kevin emphasize the importance of character when it comes to college applications.

That's why we can separate "the co-founders of PrepMaven" with either 2 commas or 2 long dashes:

Greg and Kevin, the co-founders of PrepMaven, emphasize the importance of character when it comes to college applications.

Greg and Kevin--the co-founders of PrepMaven--emphasize the importance of character when it comes to college applications.

Rule #4: Place a comma after a transition word or introductory phrase.

A “phrase” is simply a group of words. Phrases are different from clauses, which contain a subject-verb pair (and can be complete or incomplete). An introductory phrase begins a sentence, often providing context, time or location cues, or transitions, as in the following examples:

In 1938

On the other hand

Beneath the sofa 

If you start a sentence with an introductory phrase or transition word, you need to place a comma after it. That's all there is to it!

In 1938, historians were only just starting to comprehend the impact of the changing times.

On the other hand, such precautionary measures are ones we should be taking on a daily basis, not merely in times of crisis.

Beneath the sofa, Lucy found a panoply of forgotten items, including a keyring, dog toy, and grocery receipt.

Rule #5: Separate items in a list with commas.

This tends to be the simplest comma rule for students to remember. 

When listing out items, use a comma to separate each item. On the SAT and ACT, you’ll also need a comma before the and that finishes the list, as in this example here:

Before I leave for the holidays, I need to find a babysitter, submit that annual report, and RSVP for the Christmas party.

In this example sentence, the “items in a list” are actually phrases: find a babysitter, submit that annual report, and RSVP for the Christmas party. We use commas to separate them, including before the “and.” 

For more practice with comma rules on the SAT or ACT, check out our Comma Rules blog post or download this free Comma Rules worksheet for practice questions, guided examples, and more. 

Rule #6: A complete sentence must precede a single long dash or colon.

When it comes to using a colon or single long dash properly, it's particularly important to know what makes up a complete sentence.

That's because of this one important rule: the sentence that precedes a colon or single long dash must be complete.

It doesn't matter what comes after a colon or single long dash, really--incomplete sentence, complete sentence, a phrase, a single word. All that matters is that the sentence that comes before the colon or single long dash is complete. That's it!

Here's an example sentence, written with a colon and a single long dash respectively, that shows this rule in action:

Eighteenth-century female painters were, to no one's surprise, forbidden from painting many "scandalous subjects:" chief among these subjects was the male figure.

Eighteenth-century female painters were, to no one's surprise, forbidden from painting many "scandalous subjects"--chief among these subjects was the male figure.

"Eighteen-century female painters were, to no one's surprise, forbidden from painting many "scandalous objects"" is a complete sentence. Remember: it doesn't matter what comes after the colon or single long dash, as long as that first sentence is complete.

You will never have to choose between a semicolon, period, colon, or single long dash if all are used correctly.

For more practice with colon and long dashes on the SAT or ACT, check out our Colons and Long Dashes blog post or download this free Colons and Long Dashes worksheet for practice questions, guided examples, and more. 

Rule #7: Use apostrophes to show possession with plural and/or singular nouns, and be careful with contractions.

We use apostrophes to show possession and contraction. When it comes to possession rules, keep the following in mind:

  • Add an 's to singular nouns showing ownership
  • Add a single apostrophe to plural nouns showing ownership

Check out these examples of singular noun possession:

  • Dmitri's dreams
  • The cat's favorite window sill
  • The Earth's curvature

How can you tell if a noun is singular? There should be only one of that particular noun. For example, there is only one Dmitri, one cat, and one Earth in the sample phrases above.

Here are some examples of plural noun possession:

  • The books' covers
  • The sidewalks' cracks
  • My teachers' curriculum

Besides the fact that these plural nouns end in "s," you can tell that they are plural because there is more than one of each. From the examples, we know that we are discussing more than one book, sidewalk, and teacher.

What about singular nouns that end in "s," including proper nouns like Chris? You still follow the rule of adding an 's to these nouns. Here's what that would look like:

  • Chris's classes
  • The iris's stamens
  • The sea bass's flavor

We know it feels awkward, but that's the rule! The only exception to this is with proper nouns that have historical and/or biblical associations, like "Moses" or "Jesus." In these instances, all you need to do is add an apostrophe to the end:

  • Moses' leadership
  • Jesus' teachings

You can have a plural noun that doesn't end in "s". What happens if you want to show possession with one of these nouns? All you need to do is treat it like a singular noun: add an 's to the end. Check out these examples:

  • The children's games
  • People's voting habits
  • Women's rights

Finally, although contractions appear relatively infrequently on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language, it's important to know the difference between the following pronouns and similar contractions:

  • its vs. it's
  • their vs. they're
  • your vs. you're
  • whose vs. who's
For more practice with apostrophe rules on the SAT or ACT, check out our Apostrophes blog post or download this free Apostrophes worksheet for practice questions, guided examples, and more. 

ACT and SAT Grammar Rules: Verbs

Verbs are the second most prominent English grammar concept on the ACT and SAT. It always surprises students when they find out that they will only have to apply 2 verbs rules to the SAT and ACT. Verbs are essential components of the English language, and we use them all the time!

However, ACT English and SAT Writing & Language are only interested in your knowledge of two things:

  1. Verb tense
  2. Subject-verb agreement

That's all! In general, students can expect to encounter the following number of Verbs questions per test:

Verbs Questions on the ACT Verbs Questions on the SAT
5-11 2-6

Let's dive into the 2 verbs usage rules you need to know now.

Rule #1: Verb tense must remain consistent

Verb tense refers to the 'time zone' of a verb, indicating when this action, occurrence, or state of being is happening.

In general, the tense of the verb in question must match the tense of the surrounding context.

The surrounding context might mean the sentence itself. It could also mean a part of a sentence or the paragraph as a whole. This is why it is so important to read carefully for context when encountering any Verbs question on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language!

So, if a sentence begins with the phrase "In 1989," we can assume that the tense of that sentence will be in the past, given that 1989 is a year that has already occurred. If a paragraph is discussing an ongoing condition, such as "modern businesses' efforts to maximize workplace efficiency," we can assume that the tense of this paragraph will be, for the most part, in the present.

The key is to mine your context for clues that indicate what the tense standard is, and then ensure that your answer choice matches that tense. Here are some examples of common verb tense "clues" on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language:

  • Another verb in that tense in context (i.e., "studied," "will walk," or "breathes")
  • A time clue (i.e., "In 1989," "last year," or "in the coming decade")
  • A transition word or phrase (i.e., "meanwhile," "lastly," or "at first")

Rule #2: Verbs must match their subjects

This is the heart of subject-verb agreement: verbs must match their subjects!

But what do we mean by "match"? Verbs must match their subjects in form, which is different from tense.

Here's what that generally breaks down to:

  • A plural noun must have a plural verb
  • A singular noun must have a singular verb

A plural noun is a noun that indicates more than one of some thing, idea, or individual: horses, children, mosses. A singular noun indicates that there is only one of some thing, idea, or individual: horse, child, moss.

Now, even though we don't always think of verbs in terms of their singularity or plurality, a verb will change form depending on whether its noun is plural or singular. Take a look at the following examples to see this in action:

  • The horses run across the field.
  • The horse runs across the field.
  • These mosses are hard to identify.
  • This moss is hard to identify.

In the first two examples, the plural noun (horses) matches the plural verb (run), while the singular noun (horse) matches the singular verb (runs). Run and runs are different verb forms.

In the second two examples, the plural noun (mosses) matches the plural verb (are), while the singular noun (moss) matches the singular verb (is). Are and is are different verb forms.

Now, our ears are pretty good at "hearing" when subject-verb agreement is off. Notice, for example, how "wrong" these phrases sound when you read them out loud or in your head:

  • Horses runs across the field.
  • The moss stick to the tree.
  • Mary deliver the book to her friend.
  • Cross-contamination are common.

These all sound "wrong" to our ears because the agreement is incorrect. You can apply the same test to verb and subject combinations on the ACT or SAT, and eliminate those that clearly don't sound "right."

Note: The SAT and ACT both love to cram in a bunch of words between a subject and its verb to confuse students. That's why it's so essential to practice identifying a sentence's subject and its associated verb correctly, which we discuss in our Verbs blog post and worksheet.

For more practice with verbs on the SAT or ACT, check out our Verbs blog post or download this free Verbs worksheet for practice questions, guided examples, and more. 

ACT and SAT Grammar Rules: Pronouns

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. We use pronouns so that we don't have to say the same noun over and over again in a sentence or paragraph. That's what makes them so useful!

Of course, there are several different types of pronouns, and for the purposes of ACT and SAT grammar, it will be important to know the basic difference between the most common types, outlined in the chart below.

Subject Pronoun Object Pronoun Possessive Adjective Possessive Pronoun Reflexive Pronoun
I me my mine myself
you you your yours yourself / yourselves
we us our ours ourselves
they them their theirs themselves
she her her hers herself
he him his his himself
it it its n/a itself

Pronoun questions do not appear as frequently as, say, punctuation questions on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language. Take a look at the following estimate of Pronoun questions that appear on each test, based on our analysis of officially released practice tests:

Pronoun Questions on the ACT Pronoun Questions on the SAT
2-5 1-5

Yet knowledge of pronouns is still vital! Luckily, for the purposes of the ACT and SAT, pronoun usage essentially boils down to just one rule, which we discuss below.

Rule #1: A pronoun must match its noun and stay consistent in context.

This might sound fairly obvious, but it holds a lot of meaning on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language. 

A pronoun must match its noun in both type and form. For example, an object pronoun (me, you, us, them, her, him, it) must replace a noun that functions as a direct object. The same goes for subject pronouns, possessive adjectives, possessive pronouns, and reflexive pronouns.

Here's a list of pronouns and their nouns (called antecedents) that demonstrate this correlation:

  • people's voices --> their voices
  • Give the gift to Roger  --> Give the gift to him
  • I don't know anything about trigonometry --> I don't know anything about it
  • Ms. Lutz is teaching the class --> she is teaching the class
  • This book is Susan's --> This book is yours

All of the pronouns in these examples match their nouns (antecedents) in type and form. We wouldn't replace, for example, "people's" with "hers" or "trigonometry" with "them."

One of the most common pronoun mistakes confuses object pronouns for subject pronouns, as in the following incorrect sentences:

  • Her and I plan on traveling to Uruguay soon.
  • Mr. Banks, whom is teaching the class, has a wide range of advanced degrees.

In these sentences, the writer is erroneously using an object pronoun in place of a subject pronoun. If you ever are unsure about the difference, simply replace the pronoun with a noun to test it out:

  • Kate and I plan on traveling to Uruguay soon --> Kate = "she" --> She and I plan on traveling to Uruguay soon.
  • Mr. Banks is teaching the class. --> Mr. Banks = "who" --> Mr. Banks, who is teaching the class, has a wide range of advanced degrees.

We talk further about the difference between subject and object pronouns, especially who vs. whom, in our Pronouns blog post.

What do we mean by a pronoun staying "consistent"? In general, if you start out with one pronoun in a sentence, you have to stick with it. This is especially important when using the pronouns you and one.

For example, this is an example of pronoun inconsistency (which would be incorrect on the SAT or ACT):

If you keep walking for about five blocks, one will spy a curious sight.

Both "you" and "one" in this sentence technically refer to the same general individual, but we need to use one or the other (not both). Here is a correct version of this sentence that shows pronoun consistency:

If you keep walking for about five blocks, you will spy a curious sight.

One More Pronouns Tip

ACT English and SAT Writing & Language love testing students' knowledge of the difference between contractions and possessive pronouns. Make sure you know these differences!

Here are some commonly confused contractions and possessive pronouns:

  • they're vs. their vs. there
  • its vs. it's
  • whose vs. who's
  • your vs. you’re
For more practice with pronouns on the SAT or ACT, check out our Pronouns blog post or download this free Pronouns worksheet for practice questions, guided examples, and more. 

3 Rarely Tested ACT and SAT Grammar Rules

We do see some miscellaneous grammar topics tested on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language. While these are rarely tested, sometimes appearing in just one question per exam, they are still worth reviewing.

These topics come down to just 3 grammar rules, outlined below.

Rule #1: Modifiers must be placed correctly.

A "modifier" refers to a word or group of words that provide more information about a certain subject. In most Modifier questions on the SAT or ACT, a modifier is a descriptive phrase that provides additional details about a subject, often appearing at the start of a sentence.

Here are some examples of modifying phrases that might offer further details about a specific subject:

walking down the street

bespectacled and grimacing

associated with ancient tradition

In general, modifiers and modifying phrases must be right next to whatever it is they are modifying! Take a look at these sample sentences that use the modifying phrases above:

Walking down the street, my friend and I took in the gorgeous sunset.

Bespectacled and grimacing, the professor made his way to the lectern.

Associated with ancient tradition, the practice of ancestral worship appears in many cultures.

In all of these examples, the modifying phrases are placed directly next to the subject they are modifying. Misplaced modifiers are called "dangling modifiers," and these incorrectly modify a subject. Here are the same examples written with dangling modifiers:

My friend and I took in the gorgeous sunset, walking down the street. 

The professor made his way to the lectern, bespectacled and grimacing.

The practice of ancestral worship appears in many cultures, associated with ancient tradition.

Technically, due to the misplacement of modifiers, these sentences declare that it is the sunset that is "walking down the street," the lectern that is "bespectacled and grimacing," and the cultures that are "associated with ancient tradition." In reality, the friends are walking down the street, the professor is bespectacled and grimacing, and the practice of ancestral worship is associated with ancient tradition.

Modifiers appear every so often on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language, and generally with higher frequency on the ACT. 

Rule #2: Utilize the appropriate idiom, when applicable.

An "idiom" is a fixed component of a language. Idioms are often hard to translate into other languages, like the English phrase it's raining cats and dogs. It can be equally difficult to learn an idiom in another language--most language learners must simply memorize these turns of phrase.

Idioms do appear on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language, but in very specific ways. Yes, these questions are often easier for native English speakers, but that doesn't mean they aren't fair game for all test-takers, regardless of English proficiency.

That's because Idiom questions on the ACT and SAT generally have to do with the following:

  • prepositional phrases
  • homonyms

Prepositions help show relationships between places, things, people, ideas, time, and more. Here's a list of the most commonly used prepositions in the English language.

on

at

with

of

before

without

in

to

at

by

into

toward

behind

against

for

as

from

about

around

after

Small, functional words, prepositions are easy to overlook. However, many prepositions are idiomatic, especially when associated with certain adjectives and verbs. Take a look at these phrases, for example, that must be connected with one specific preposition.

  • accustomed to
  • protest against
  • associated with
  • curious about 
  • necessary for
  • at last
  • in general
  • as a means of
  • by all means
  • from time to time

These are all fixed idiomatic phrases. We wouldn't say, for example, "associated on" or "curious into." Much like subject-verb agreement, our ears can often tell when an idiomatic phrase is incorrect, but it's also vital to ensure your familiarity with some of these commonly tested idioms as they can be easy to breeze by!

The SAT and ACT are also interested in your capacity to distinguish between certain homonyms, words that sound the same but have key differences in meaning. Here are some very common homonyms that have appeared on official SAT and ACT tests. Notice how some of these have already appeared in our discussion of apostrophes and pronouns:

  • affect vs. effect
  • than vs. then
  • fair vs. fare
  • whose vs. who's
  • its vs. it's
  • their / there / they're
  • your vs. you're

Rule #3: Apply parallel structure for comparisons or items in a list.

Parallelism isn't just a concept that appears in math. It also concerns grammatical structure, especially with respect to comparisons or lists.

To apply parallel structure, ensure that items in a comparison or list are in the same form, category, and/or number.

In this next example, the verbs in the list all have the same form (-ing):

Desmond spends his days at the library photocopying, transcribing, and cataloguing articles.

Here, the nouns in the list are all singular, reflecting parallelism in number:

Someday I hope to invest in a car, a retirement account, and a rental property.

Lastly, in this comparison, notice how the sentence compares nouns that are the same "category:" i.e., the "car enthusiasts of this show" and "those" of "past events." This is parallel structure, too, as it's technically grammatically incorrect to compare things that do not follow the same cateogry.

The car enthusiasts at this road show, however, seemed far less interested than those of past events.

For more practice with these 3 miscellaneous grammar rules on the SAT or ACT, check out our 3 Rarely Tested Grammar Rules on the SAT and ACT blog post or download this free Rarely Tested Grammar Rules on the SAT and ACT worksheet for practice questions, guided examples, and more. 

Now You Know These 13 ACT and SAT Grammar Rules...What Next?

We've covered the 13 ACT and SAT grammar rules you need to know to succeed on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language. What happens now?

We strongly encourage students to spend time working through our individual blog posts for each grammar concept discussed here, as these delve even deeper into the nuances of these rules, especially as they appear on the SAT/ACT:

Students can also download free worksheets for these topics, which include guided examples of official test questions, practice questions, explanations, and more. Find download links in this post.

Otherwise, grab a copy of our ACT and SAT Grammar Workbook that includes all of these worksheets in one single PDF.

SAT and ACT Grammar Workbook

With this workbook, you’ll be able to:

    • Keep these 13 grammar rules all in one place
    • Work through additional guided examples for each question type
    • Practice 10+ questions per grammar concept (that’s 100+ total questions, all free!)
    • Check your performance with detailed answers and explanations


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay. 

 


ACT and SAT Grammar Rules_ Transition Words

ACT and SAT Grammar Rules: Transition Words

ACT and SAT Grammar Rules: Transition Words

Bonus Material:PrepMaven’s Transition Words Worksheet with FREE Practice Questions 

Both the ACT and the SAT test your ability to identify and use transition words correctly.

The good news about transition words is that most students are actually already familiar with them. 

Most high school English teachers encourage their students to use transition words like however or furthermore in classroom essays.

We're here to demystify transition words as they are tested on both the SAT and the ACT. 

We walk you through sample questions and a key strategy for approaching these. Plus, we give you access to our free Transition Words worksheet, which includes guided examples, free practice questions, and more.

Grab a copy of this below.


Where You'll See Transition Words on Each Test

As we've discussed in other posts, the ACT and the SAT are very different tests. That's why we encourage students to devote their studying time to the one most likely to give them their highest score.

If you're not sure which test is right for you, you can ask yourself these five questions to find out right now.

Because the ACT and SAT are different exams, they each test English grammar rules in different ways. This is reflected quite simply in the names of the sections that test grammar on these two tests.

ACT test-takers will apply their knowledge of English grammar rules and writing strategy to the ACT English test. SAT test-takers, however, will do so on the SAT Writing and Language test.

Regardless, both sections care about transition words. ACT English and SAT Writing & Language both directly assess a student's ability to identify and use transition words effectively.

Yet knowledge of transition words can be helpful on other sections of these tests.

Both the SAT and ACT include an optional essay, for example. Using effective transition words in your essay response can help you organize ideas and produce a logical, coherent response.

Identifying transition words in reading passages on ACT Reading or SAT Evidence-Based Reading can also be helpful in quickly comprehending the structure and reasoning of an author's argument.

So, in sum, your knowledge of transition words will help you on these sections:

ACT

  • English*
  • Reading
  • Essay

SAT

  • Evidence-Based Reading
  • Writing & Language*
  • Essay

*These sections most overtly test a student's knowledge of transition words and their appropriate usage.


ACT and SAT Grammar Rules: What Are Transition Words?

So what exactly are transition words anyways?

Transition words do exactly what they sound like they do: they create transitions between ideas in writing. With transition words and phrases, we can show relationships between ideas quickly and easily.

You likely already use transition words in the academic writing you do for your high school English, composition, and/or language courses.

As a refresher, though, here is a table of the transition words and phrases high school students are most familiar with:

for this reason regardless nonetheless also/too in addition on the other hand
in fact therefore so furthermore finally hence
however for example last whereas and eventually
moreover thus indeed next previously in conclusion
first/second/third despite consequently nevertheless yet as a result

Now, it's important to note that each transition word will show a specific relationship between ideas. The word "however," for example, will show a contrast of some kind, while the word "furthermore" shows similarity.

Identifying the relationship a transition word shows can be essential when it comes time to answering transition word questions on the ACT and SAT.

Take a look at this table, which groups the words and phrases from the previous table into general relationship categories:

Contrast Similarity / Addition Cause-and-Effect Sequence
however furthermore for this reason first
regardless in fact therefore second
on the other hand moreover consequently third
despite for example as a result finally
nonetheless indeed so previously
whereas and in conclusion next
nevertheless also/too thus eventually
yet in addition hence last

Viewing transition words in terms of the relationship they are trying to show can be helpful when preparing for these questions on the SAT or ACT.


How Transition Words Are Tested on the ACT and SAT

When you encounter a transition words question on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language, chances are you'll have to demonstrate the following:

  1. Your knowledge of the transition words in question
  2. Your ability to identify the relationship between the ideas in question
  3. Your capacity to choose the right transition word to reflect this relationship

Yes, this sounds like a lot, but our strategy for approaching transition words questions simplifies things significantly.

How do you know you're dealing with a transition word/phrase question?

Easy!

You'll see standard transition words in the answers, as you can see in this sample question from an officially released ACT.org practice test:

ACT and SAT Grammar Rules_Transition Words      

Most students are likely familiar with the transition words that appear in this question: however, additionally, for example, and similarly. In fact, most of them appear in the tables above! The tricky part (which we discuss in the next section) lies in choosing the right one based on the relationship shown in context.

Transition words tend to appear slightly more frequently on the ACT English section than they do on SAT Writing & Language, but numbers can fluctuate. Here's a general comparison of frequency based on our analysis of officially released ACT and SAT practice tests:

Transition Words Questions on the ACT Transition Words Questions on the SAT
3-7 1-5

Remember: transition words are tested directly on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language. Knowledge of them is useful (but not directly tested) on the Reading and Essay sections of both tests.


Our Strategy for Transition Words

Transition words questions may seem complicated, especially because they require a fair bit of textual analysis. This strategy, however, is designed to simplify the process and help you arrive at the right answer every time.

When you see a transition words question, follow these steps:

  1. Categorize the transition words in the answers
  2. Read for full context
  3. Identify the relationship between the ideas presented
  4. Eliminate accordingly

We'll apply this strategy to the sample ACT question mentioned in the prior section:

ACT and SAT Grammar Rules_Transition Words

1. Categorize the transition words

The four transition words in the answer choices here are similarly, for example, additionally, and however. Let's categorize them based on the relationships they show.

Similarly, for example, and additionally all demonstrate similar or additional ideas. The outlier here is however, which shows contrast. Right away, our attention should go to answer choice J, but let's work through the rest of the strategy just in case.

2. Read for full context

It's essential to read for full context so that we understand the ideas the writer is linking.

The first sentence of this passage describes how six-sided snowflakes generally form. The second sentence describes a certain kind of snowflake that isn't six-sided and has confused a bunch of scientists for a long time.

3. Identify the relationship between the ideas presented

The two sentences clearly describe two different kinds of snowflakes. In fact, one is so different and rare that it has "confounded scientists for years."

The relationship here is one of difference or contrast.

4. Eliminate accordingly

The only answer choice that reflects a different or contrasting idea is J, however. We can confidently cross off everything except J.

Here's how the new sentence would read: The rare "triangular" snowflake, however, confounded scientists for years because it apparently defied the basic laws of chemistry." That sounds great!

Note: There are some cases where a transition word is not necessary. This is a common trap on the ACT, which sometimes includes an answer choice that doesn't have a transition word in it. For these questions, it's vital to first read for full context and determine if a transition word is necessary before working through the other answers.


Download Our Transition Words Worksheet

Ready to apply what you know about transition words to test-like questions? Download our free Transition Words worksheet for additional practice!

Transition Words Worksheet

With this worksheet, you’ll get: 

  • A recap of the rules we discussed in this post
  • Guided examples of questions from official practice tests
  • Practice questions with detailed answers/explanations 


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.


SAT and ACT Punctuation_ Colons and Long Dashes

SAT and ACT Punctuation: Colons and Long Dashes

SAT and ACT Punctuation: Colons and Long Dashes

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s Colons and Long Dashes Worksheet with FREE Practice Questions

ACT English and SAT Writing & Language test punctuation rules more than any other grammar concept. These rules include colons and long dashes. 

While colons appear relatively frequently on both tests, long dashes are a bit rare. 

However, both colons and long dashes share some common ground, which is why we're discussing them in one post.

Before you keep reading, we recommend that you check out these posts first (if you haven't done so already), as we reference their concepts quite a bit in this article:

We also encourage you to download our free Colons and Long Dashes worksheet so you’ll have practice questions on hand before diving in. Grab it below.

Here is what we'll cover in this post on colons and long dashes:


SAT and ACT Punctuation: Colons and Long Dashes

Where can you expect to apply your knowledge of colons and long dashes on the SAT or ACT?

As a reminder, both exams directly test students' proficiency in English grammar concepts on the following 2 sections:

  • SAT Writing & Language
  • ACT English

Punctuation is, by far, the most commonly tested English grammar concept on both of these sections. Here's what you can expect to see in terms of the number of SAT and ACT punctuation questions on either test, based on our analysis of officially released practice tests:

Punctuation Questions on the ACT Punctuation Questions on the SAT
12-16 5-7

Remember that the ACT English section is longer than SAT Writing & Language, with 75 questions (as opposed to 44 questions). Get insight into the way these tests are structured in our ACT Format and The 5 SAT Sections: What You Need to Know posts.

We do want to stress that your knowledge of English conventions can be helpful on one other section of both tests: the Essay portion.

While the SAT/ACT Essay is optional, if you do decide to take it, essay graders will be giving a general assessment of your grammar skills on the page. Demonstrating proper usage of colons, long dashes, apostrophes, semicolons, and commas can only help you get closer to a competitive essay score!

If you're reading this post, you've likely already settled on one of these two college entrance exams.

However, if you're still on the fence about whether or not to take the SAT or the ACT, ask yourself these 5 questions. Remember that all U.S. colleges and universities accept either ACT or SAT scores from applicants, and have no "preference" for one standardized test over another. (There are a few test-optional schools, though.)


Colons in a Nutshell

As we mentioned in the introduction to this post, we encourage our students to read these articles first before proceeding with this section about colon rules:

Why do we recommend this? Well, colon usage on the SAT and ACT basically boils down to your ability to identify complete and incomplete sentences.

For a quick recap, here's a visual that breaks down the difference between an incomplete sentence and a complete one:

Complete Sentences Incomplete Sentences

Have:

  • subject
  • verb
  • full expression of an idea

Don't have:

  • subject
  • verb
  • and/or full expression of an idea

The #1 Colon Rule You MUST Know

When it comes to using a colon properly, it's particularly important to know what makes up a complete sentence. That's because of this one important colon rule:

The sentence that precedes a colon must be complete.

It doesn't matter what comes after a colon, really--incomplete sentence, complete sentence, a phrase, a single word. All that matters is that the sentence that comes before the colon is complete. That's it!

Other Colon Considerations

There are 2 other things to keep in mind when it comes to colon rules.

We want to point out that most students are likely familiar with this definition of a colon, as per their English classes:

A colon comes before a list, explanation, or elaboration.

This is definitely true. But when it comes to SAT and ACT punctuation questions, students only have to be on the lookout for a complete sentence to the left of that colon.

What's more, some students wonder if they'll have to choose between a colon, a semicolon, or a period on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language. But here's the deal:

You'll never have to choose between a colon, semicolon, or period on SAT Writing & Language or ACT English if all are used correctly in the answer choices.

(If used properly, these differ only in terms of style and/or emphasis, which is not tested on the SAT or ACT.)

That means that there are essentially 3 things to keep in mind when it comes to colons. (Hint: we recommend writing these down on flashcards!)

  1. A colon must come after a complete sentence.
  2. It typically precedes a list, explanation, or elaboration (but this isn't directly tested).
  3. You won't ever have to choose between a colon, semicolon, or period if all are used correctly.

Examples

Here are 3 example sentences that demonstrate proper colon usage:

The treasure trove contained a startling array of both riches and detritus: old bank receipts, rare gems, crumbling seashells, a stack of manuscripts, pendants and bracelets, and even a gold coin.

Based on these facts, some might conclude that Shakespeare was, in fact, the opposite of who he was allegedly acclaimed to be: not an original writer but, rather, a clever plagiarist.

Eighteenth-century female painters were, to no one's surprise, forbidden from painting many "scandalous subjects:" chief among these subjects was the male figure.

Notice how all three of these have a complete sentence before the colon, which contains a subject, a verb, and the full expression of an idea.


Colons: Guided Example

We'll apply these colon rules now to a sample SAT punctuation question from an officially released SAT practice test (#3).

Guided Example: SAT Punctuation Question

SAT/ACT Punctuation: Colons Example

 

 

 

 

It's always important to read the full context of any question you encounter on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language. The full sentence that contains the underlined portion for question #29 is as follows:

Take Bartlett pears, for instance, unless they are treated with exactly the right amount of 1-MCP at exactly the right time, they will remain hard and green until they rot...

This is a long sentence! However, by skimming our answer choices, we can see that the question wants us to focus on only one portion of this sentence: namely, the punctuation surrounding "for instance."

Critical thinkers might notice here that "for instance" is a transition phrase. We know from our discussion of comma rules that transition phrases require 1-2 commas, depending on where they appear in the sentence. At the very least, we'll want a comma before the "for." This helps us eliminate answers C and D.

How do we decide between A and B? Let's apply our knowledge of complete and incomplete sentences. "Take Bartlett pears, for instance" is a complete sentence. So is "unless they are treated...them again." We know from the rules of Combining Sentences that we can't combine 2 complete sentences with just a comma, so B is our answer.

Notice how this question required knowledge of all of the following rules:

  • Using a comma with transition phrases/words
  • Comma splices (you can't combine 2 complete sentences with just a comma)
  • You must have a complete sentence before a colon

This is very typical of SAT and ACT punctuation questions, which often test more than one rule in a single question!

Your can apply your knowledge of colons right now by working through the practice questions in our free Colons and Long Dashes worksheet.


Long Dashes in a Nutshell

The first thing to know about long dashes is that they are not the same as hyphens! We use hyphens to join two words together, as in the following examples:

  • star-crossed lovers
  • bad-tempered instructor
  • a custom-built home

Long dashes have a very different purpose. We use long dashes (--) on only 2 occasions:

  1. To indicate a change in tone, an elaboration, or new thought (single long dash)
  2. Offset additional, explanatory, and/or descriptive information (two long dashes)

Let's talk about Rule #1 first, as it can be the most challenging for students to grasp.

Long Dashes: Rule #1

It is possible (and yes, we've seen this rule tested on both exams) to use a single long dash to indicate a change in tone or new thought. In this way, a single long dash functions exactly like a colon.

And the rule with colons? A complete sentence must come before a colon. The same applies to the single long dash: it must be preceded by a complete sentence!

Here's an example of a single long dash functioning much like a colon. Notice how the sentence that comes before the long dash is a complete sentence and that what comes after the long dash is a new thought or elaboration.

That's just it--we don't know all of the answers to the questions of the universe.

To test for proper use of the single long dash, see if you can replace it with a colon. If you can (i.e., if that sentence on the left of the punctuation is complete), then the single long dash is permissible. This is the similarity between long dashes and colons that we referenced earlier on in this post!

Long Dashes: Rule #2

You can use two long dashes to separate additional information from the rest of the sentence, much like a set of parentheses or a pair of commas.

This is why knowledge of comma rules can be helpful for comprehending long dash usage: one of the essential comma rules tested on the SAT and ACT involves using two commas to separate descriptive, non-essential information from the rest of the sentence.

Two long dashes function in exactly the same way! Take a look at the following sentence, written once with long dashes and a second time with commas:

The pier to the left of the canoe house--reputed to be haunted by a restless ghost--is a popular destination for tourists.

The pier to the left of the canoe house, reputed to be haunted by a restless ghost, is a popular destination for tourists.

There is no grammatical difference between these two sentences! However, on the SAT and ACT, you will never have to choose between two long dashes and two commas if both options utilize correct punctuation.

Pro tip: Always hunt for a long dash in the non-underlined portion of a passage if you see a long dash in one of your answer choices. This could be a good sign that you're dealing with this second rule.


Long Dashes: Guided Example

Let's apply our knowledge of long dashes to the following question from an officially released ACT practice test (#1).

Guided Example: ACT Punctuation Question

SAT and ACT Punctuation - Colons Example

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this question, we see a long dash in our answer choices. What's the first thing we should do? Check for a long dash in the non-underlined portion of this sentence! This can help us determine if we'll need to apply Long Dashes Rule #2.

Context does show another single long dash. Here's how the full sentence reads as written:

An author, lecturer, filmmaker, and a fierce advocate for elephants--which face a daunting array of threats to their survival, from droughts to human encroachment Moss is widely considered an expert on the social behavior of these creatures.

This is a long sentence, but don't let that dissuade you from what's actually happening here. The sentence contains a descriptive clause, "which face a daunting array of threats to their survival, from droughts to human encroachment," that provides more information about "elephants."

Without this clause, here is how the sentence reads:

An author, lecturer, filmmaker, and a fierce advocate for elephants, Moss is widely considered an expert on the social behavior of these creatures.

This context tells us that we need punctuation to offset the descriptive clause ("which...encroachment") from the rest of the sentence. A second long dash will do nicely here, given that we already have one in the sentence! Our answer choice is B.


Download Our Colons and Long Dashes Worksheet

Remember: colons and long dashes are often tested in combination with other punctuation rules on the SAT and ACT.

It’s thus critical to feel confident in applying these rules in practice. You can do this right now with our free Colons and Long Dashes worksheet.

Colons and Long Dashes on the SAT/ACT

With this worksheet, you’ll get: 

  • A recap of the rules we discussed in this post
  • Guided examples of questions from official practice tests
  • Practice questions with detailed answers/explanations 


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.


Apostrophe Rules on the SAT _ ACT

The 3 Apostrophe Rules You Need to Know for the SAT/ACT

The 3 Apostrophe Rules You Need to Know for the SAT/ACT

Bonus: PrepMaven’s Apostrophe Rules Worksheet with FREE Practice Questions

You only need to know 3 apostrophe rules to succeed on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language.

What's more, apostrophe questions are relatively rare on both tests.

Yet your fluency in apostrophe usage can get you that much closer to a competitive score on these sections. Remember: every point matters.

In this post, we walk you through the 3 simple apostrophe rules tested on the ACT/SAT. We also give you access to our Apostrophe Rules Worksheet, which includes guided examples, free practice questions, and explanations.

You can download this worksheet below now.

Here’s what we’ll be covering in this post:


Apostrophe Usage in a Nutshell

We use apostrophes in the English language to show one of 2 things:

  1. Contraction
  2. Possession

Contraction

Most students are fairly comfortable using contractions because they appear frequently in casual speech. Contractions are compressions of two words, as in the following examples:

  • couldn't (contraction of could and not)
  • won't (contraction of will and not)
  • I'd (contraction of and would)
  • there's (contraction of there and is)
  • it's (contraction of it and is)

Why do we use contractions? They can be useful for shortening and simplifying speech, although many high school English teachers encourage their students to avoid using contractions in academic writing.

With contractions, apostrophes serve as a visual indicator of the "bridge" between the two words.

Apostrophe Rules on the SAT _ ACT (1)

Possession

We also use apostrophes as a way of showing ownership or possession. Apostrophes serve as visual indicators of who or what is the "owner" and who or what is the "possession."

Here are a few examples of possession in action:

  • Margot's thesis project --> the owner is "Margot" and the possession is the "project"
  • The children's book section --> the owner is "children" and the possession is "book"
  • The students' questions --> the owners are "students" and the possession is "questions"
  • The Jones' yard --> the owners are "the Jones" and the possession is "yard"

Notice how the possession always appears after the owner in these examples.

It's also possible to show ownership by using possessive pronouns like their, my, or her. We discuss possessive pronouns (and other kinds of pronouns!) in our comprehensive Guide to Pronouns on the ACT and SAT post.


Apostrophes and the SAT/ACT

Students will encounter apostrophe questions on these 2 sections:

  • ACT English
  • SAT Writing & Language

As we've mentioned in our other grammar posts, however, knowledge of apostrophe rules can be helpful elsewhere, such as the optional essay section on both tests. Essay graders will be checking for effective use of English conventions in your response, so proper grammar can help you achieve a higher essay score.

Apostrophe questions appear relatively infrequently on both tests, although they are still worth preparing for. Here's a breakdown of what you can expect to see on either test:    

Apostrophe Questions on the ACT Apostrophe Questions on the SAT
1-2 0-2
*Based on analysis of officially released ACT and SAT practice tests

When you do see an apostrophe question on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language, you'll largely have to worry about possession rules. Your knowledge of contraction is only tested in one very specific way, which we discuss in the next section.

How can you tell that you're dealing with an apostrophe question? You will likely see contractions and/or apostrophes in the answer choices!


The 3 Apostrophe Rules You Need to Know

Now it's time to take a deep dive into the 3 apostrophe rules you'll need to know for ACT English and SAT Writing & Language. 

Rule #1: Its vs. It's

This may sound like an obvious rule to some students, but both the SAT and ACT are very likely to test your knowledge of the difference between "its" and "it's." 

The difference is that "its" is the possessive form of the pronoun "it," while "it's" is a contraction that really means "it is."

its it's

the possessive form of "it"

The dog wagged its tail.

the contraction of "it is"

I think it's going to rain today.

If you see its, it's, and/or both of these in your answer choices, read carefully! We recommend reading "it's" as "it is" to help with your elimination process on these types of questions.

Rule #2: Add 's to singular nouns showing ownership

To show ownership with a singular noun, simply add an 's to the end of that noun. This is likely to be the easiest possession rule for students to remember.

Check out these examples of singular noun possession:

  • Dmitri's dreams
  • The cat's favorite window sill
  • The Earth's curvature
  • My mother's phone calls
  • The podcast's listeners

How can you tell if a noun is singular? There should be only one of that particular noun. For example, there is only one Dmitri, one cat, one Earth, etc., in the sample phrases above.

Rule #3: Add a single apostrophe to the end of plural nouns ending in "s"

If you're showing ownership with a plural noun that ends in "s," all you need to do is add an apostrophe to the end of that noun. Here are some examples of plural noun possession:

  • The books' covers
  • The sidewalks' cracks
  • My teachers' curriculum
  • The mountains' peaks
  • The computers' hardware

Besides the fact that these plural nouns end in "s," you can tell that they are plural because there is more than one of each. From the examples, we know that we are discussing more than one book, sidewalk, teacher, mountain, and computer.

Not every plural noun ends in "s," however, and it's possible to have a singular noun that ends in "s." We discuss what to do in these scenarios below.

Singular Nouns Ending in "S"

What about singular nouns that end in "s," including proper nouns like Chris? You still follow the rule of adding an 's to these nouns. Here's what that would look like:

  • Chris's classes
  • The iris's stamens
  • The sea bass's flavor
  • James's preferences
  • Nicholas's parents

We know it feels awkward, but that's the rule! The only exception to this is with proper nouns that have historical and/or biblical associations, like "Moses" or "Jesus." In these instances, all you need to do is add an apostrophe to the end:

  • Moses' leadership
  • Jesus' teachings

However, don't worry about this exception--it won't be tested on the ACT or the SAT.

Plural Nouns That Don't End in "S"

Yes, you can have a plural noun that doesn't end in "s"! What happens if you want to show possession with one of these nouns? All you need to do is treat it like a singular noun: add an 's to the end.

Check out these examples:

  • The children's games
  • People's voting habits
  • Women's rights
  • Sheep's wool
  • The phenomena's relevance

In the next section, we'll discuss how to apply these 3 apostrophe rules to SAT Writing & Language and ACT English punctuation questions.

You can apply this 4-step strategy easily to the practice questions included in our free Apostrophes Worksheet.


Apostrophe Rules: Our 4-Step Strategy for Applying Them

When you encounter an apostrophes question on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language, follow these strategic steps:

  1. Read the full context
  2. Identify if you're dealing with a case of contraction or possession
  3. If possession, identify who/what is owning who/what & apply apostrophe rules
  4. If contraction, eliminate rule-breakers and plug in your final choice

We'll apply these steps to 2 sample apostrophe questions from an ACT and SAT official practice test.

Example 1: ACT Apostrophe Question

ACT Punctuation_Apostrophes Question
Source: ACT Official Practice Test #1

1. Read the full context

The apostrophes in the answer choices indicate that we will most likely have to apply our knowledge of apostrophe rules to this question. The full context tells us more about Jones, an individual who became a strong advocate of a particular movement.

2. Identify if you're dealing with a case of contraction or possession

This may seem tricky, but close analysis of the answer choices and underlined portion indicate that we're dealing with possession. Three of the answer choices contain the possessive noun movement's and two contain possessive forms of the noun advocates.

3. If possession, identify who/what is owning who/what & apply apostrophe rules

Context tells us that movement is the "owner" of advocatesMovement is a singular noun, so we will need to add an 's to the end to show proper possession: movement's. We can now eliminate answer choice J.

Some of our answer choices have apostrophes associated with the plural noun advocates, but advocates in this context does not "own" anything. We can eliminate answers F and G and choose answer H.

Here's how the corrected sentence would look: Jones, however, became one of the movement's most powerful and controversial advocates.

Example 2: SAT Apostrophe Question

Source: CollegeBoard SAT Official Practice Test #1

SAT Punctuation_Apostrophes Question

1. Read the full context

The answer choices indicate that we might have to apply our knowledge of apostrophe rules, as two of the answers include apostrophes. The word "major" also appears in different forms, so we might have to apply additional grammar rules (a common case on both ACT English and SAT Writing & Language).

Context tells us that this sentence describes philosophy majors and their professional pursuits.

2. Identify if you're dealing with a case of contraction or possession

This is a bit of a trick question, as close analysis of the sentence in question tells us that we are dealing with neither contraction nor possession! That's because students is simply a plural noun and does not "own" anything. The phrase majoring in philosophy is describing these particular students.

We can immediately cross off answers A and D, as these both have apostrophes in them. The appropriate form of major is majoring, as majoring in philosophy is describing the students. Our correct answer is B.

Some of you might be thinking, Hold up--why is this an apostrophes question? It's an apostrophes question because it does require knowledge of apostrophe usage, even if we didn't end up choosing an answer choice with an apostrophe! In fact, this is very typical of ACT English and SAT Writing & Language questions.


Download PrepMaven’s Apostrophes Worksheet

If you want test-like practice with apostrophe rules, we've got you covered. 

Our free Apostrophe Rules worksheet has everything you need to solidify the apostrophe rules and 4-step strategy discussed in this post.

Apostrophes_SAT and ACT Grammar

Here’s what you’ll get:

    • A recap of the apostrophe rules and 4-step strategy discussed in this post
    • Guided examples of apostrophes questions from official practice tests
    • 10 FREE test-like practice questions with detailed answers/explanations 


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay. She is a Master tutor at Princeton Tutoring.


Comma Rules on the SAT_ACT

The 3 Comma Rules You Need to Know for the SAT/ACT

The 3 Comma Rules You Need to Know for the SAT/ACT

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s Comma Rules Worksheet with FREE Practice Questions

Punctuation is one of the biggest English grammar categories tested on both the ACT and the SAT.

In this post, we take a deep dive into one of the most common types of punctuation that appear on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language: commas.

We’ve already discussed the rules for using commas when it comes down to combining incomplete and/or complete sentences.

But there are 3 more comma rules to cover, which we discuss in this post.

We also give you a chance to apply these rules in practice with our free Comma Rules Worksheet, which includes practice questions, guided examples from official practice tests, and answers/explanations.

Grab it below.

Here’s what we cover in this post:


ACT/SAT Comma Questions in a Nutshell

Students will encounter punctuation questions on the following sections of both tests:

  • ACT English
  • SAT Writing & Language

Remember: punctuation is one of the most heavily tested English grammar concepts on either test. Students can encounter as many as 18 punctuation questions on ACT English (out of 75 questions) or 7 on the SAT (out of 44 questions).

Punctuation Questions on the ACT Punctuation Questions on the SAT
12-16 5-7

In general, ACT and SAT punctuation questions boil down to two things: combining sentences and comma rules. 

So if you haven’t done so already, please check out our foundational posts on Identifying Complete and Incomplete Sentences and Combining Sentences

Comma rules won’t necessarily be tested in every SAT or ACT punctuation question. Yet knowledge of comma rules can be vital for nearly all punctuation questions, as the ACT and SAT both love to include commas in incorrect (as well as correct!) answer choices. 

How can you tell that you’re dealing with an ACT or SAT punctuation question?

The answer choices hold the key. A typical punctuation question will have different types of punctuation in the answer choices, including any of the following:

  • Semicolons
  • Colons
  • Periods
  • Commas
  • Long Dashes
  • Parentheses (rare)
  • Apostrophes

Take a look at this sample ACT English question to see this in action:

Comma Rules On the SAT/ACT
Source: Official ACT Practice Test #1

Our answer choices here include a comma, semicolon, colon, and long dash, which indicates that this is a classic punctuation question!

More overt comma rules questions on the SAT or ACT are likely to just have commas in the answer choices, as in this question here:

SAT and ACT Comma Rules Example Question
Source: CollegeBoard Official SAT Practice Test #1

Notice how the key difference in the answer choices here lies in the placement and quantity of the commas. This is a clue that we’re dealing with a straight-up comma rules question.


Review: Comma Rules and Combining Sentences

When it comes to combining sentences, commas can be used in 2 specific ways:

  1. With a FANBOYS conjunction to join 2 complete sentences
  2. By itself to join 1 incomplete and 1 complete sentence

FANBOYS conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so

If you’re a bit foggy on the differences between complete and incomplete sentences, here’s a brief recap.

Complete Sentences Incomplete Sentences

Have:

  • subject
  • verb
  • full expression of an idea

Don't have:

  • subject
  • verb
  • and/or full expression of an idea

We strongly recommend that you hone your ability to identify sentences before you spend serious time digesting comma rules.

For now, here are some examples of 2 complete sentences joined by a comma + FANBOYS conjunction:

Mina wanted to go to Hawaii for spring break, yet she knew she would need the extra time to complete her research project.

The majority of members supported the new law, so it passed quickly.

Please leave your shoes by the door, for my father is very particular when it comes to clean floors.

And here are examples of 1 incomplete sentence and 1 complete sentence linked by just a single comma. 

On the way to the hospital, the taxi driver regaled us with tales of his own mother’s longstanding battle with ovarian cancer.

Although she longed for some time alone, she ended up having to participate in most of the group activities organized for the conference.

Walking near the harbor, Daniel glimpsed white buoys bobbing far out near the horizon line.

The 3 comma rules we’ll be discussing next are in addition to these 2 rules associated with combining sentences. (Yes, that means that, in total, there are only 5 essential comma rules you’ll need to know for the purposes of the ACT or SAT!)


The 3 Comma Rules You Need to Know for the ACT/SAT

There are 3 additional comma rules you’ll need to know for ACT English and SAT Writing & Language. The good news is that most students are already familiar with these rules, even if they might feel a bit rusty.

In addition to combining sentences, commas:

  1. Separate items in a list (including before the “and”)
  2. Appear after introductory phrases or transition words
  3. Offset non-essential or additional information from the rest of the sentence

We’ll walk through each rule below.

Comma Rule #1: Separate Items in a List

This tends to be the simplest comma rule for students to remember. 

When listing out items, use a comma to separate each item. On the SAT and ACT, you’ll also need a comma before the and that finishes the list, as in this example here:

Before I leave for the holidays, I need to find a babysitter, submit that annual report, and RSVP for the Christmas party.

In this example sentence, the “items in a list” are actually phrases: find a babysitter, submit that annual report, and RSVP for the Christmas party. We use commas to separate them, including before the “and.” 

Comma Rule #2: After Introductory Phrases

A “phrase” is simply a group of words. Phrases are different from clauses, which contain a subject-verb pair (and can be complete or incomplete).

An introductory phrase begins a sentence, often providing context, time or location cues, or transitions, as in the following examples:

In 1938

On the other hand

Beneath the sofa 

If you start a sentence with an introductory phrase or transition word, you need to place a comma after it. 

In 1938, historians were only just starting to comprehend the impact of the changing times.

On the other hand, such precautionary measures are ones we should be taking on a daily basis, not merely in times of crisis.

Beneath the sofa, Lucy found a panoply of forgotten items, including a keyring, dog toy, and grocery receipt.

Comma Rule #3: Offset Non-Essential Information

This is often the more challenging of these 3 comma rules, as it can be tough for students to identify ‘non-essential’ information in a given sentence.

What do we mean by non-essential or additional information in a sentence? Isn’t everything in a sentence technically essential and necessary?

From a grammatical perspective, sentences can contain non-essential information. Yet we define non-essential here as anything not needed to make a sentence complete

Such information often comes in the form of descriptive phrases, which offer additional information or details about the subject. You can think about these phrases as words you could easily separate from the sentence using a pair of parentheses.

Example

Take a look at this example:

Greg and Kevin, the co-founders of PrepMaven, emphasize the importance of character when it comes to college applications.

Can you spot the non-essential information in this sentence? If you guessed “the co-founders of PrepMaven,” you’re absolutely right!

“The co-founders of PrepMaven” is a descriptive phrase that provides more information about the sentence’s subject, “Greg and Kevin.” It is not needed to make the sentence complete. In fact, we could get rid of it and still have a complete sentence!

Greg and Kevin emphasize the importance of character when it comes to college applications.

That’s actually one way you can test if two commas are actually separating a descriptive phrase or non-essential information from the rest of the sentence. Simply cross off that phrase and see if you still have a complete sentence. If yes, you can safely use those 2 commas; if no, you likely don’t need those commas (or they are being used incorrectly).

So, in sum, you can use 2 commas (like tiny parentheses) to separate non-essential information from the rest of the sentence. Here are 3 more example sentences that show this rule in action:

This rule, while valuable, does not seem to get to the heart of the issue.

Many beginning medical practitioners, most of whom work an astounding number of hours each week, aren’t aware of the fact that they may be offering subpar care later on in the day.

My first real mentor, a fly-shop technician in Denver, taught me what it actually meant to wade into a river and wait for a fish to bite.

Ready to apply these 3 comma rules to sample questions? You can find practice questions, guided examples from official tests, and more in this free Comma Rules worksheet.


Strategy for Applying Comma Rules on the ACT/SAT

Once you’ve identified an ACT or SAT punctuation question, follow these steps to efficiently arrive at the correct answer:

  1. Scan the answers and read for full context
  2. Check for incomplete/complete sentences and eliminate accordingly
  3. Apply other comma rules to remaining answers, if applicable
  4. Eliminate rule-breakers

Remember: it’s not uncommon for the SAT or ACT to test all of the comma rules that we’ve discussed in this post in one single question. 

That’s why it’s important to first apply your knowledge of combining sentences to a punctuation question (i.e., identify if the question is asking you to link two ideas together) before you check for comma rules. 

Let’s apply these steps to one of the sample questions from above.

Example 1

SAT and ACT Comma Rules Example Question
Source: CollegeBoard Official SAT Practice Test #1

1. Scan the answers and read for full context

In the answer choices, we see a semicolon, colon, and commas. Context tells us that the underlined portion is part of a list describing the types of individuals collaborating to find a solution to an issue.

2. Check for incomplete/complete sentences and eliminate answers accordingly.

As we’ve identified that this underlined portion is part of a list, we know that we’re dealing with an incomplete sentence, technically. 

Yet that word “list” should trigger an alarm in your brain--remember comma rule #1? Commas separate items in a list!

We can thus cross off anything that doesn’t have a comma in it, which include A and B. (Remember: semicolons can only join 2 complete sentences, and colons must come after a complete sentence.)

3. Apply comma rules and eliminate rule-breakers

No comma rule tells us that we must have a comma after “and,” only before it. We can cross off D. Our correct answer must be C.


Download Our Comma Rules Worksheet

It’s time to apply your knowledge of comma rules to actual test-like practice questions so you can be extra prepared for Test Day. 

You can do this right now by downloading PrepMaven’s Comma Rules Worksheet.

Comma Rules_SAT and ACT Grammar

With this worksheet, you’ll get: 

  • A recap of the comma rules and strategy discussed in this post
  • Guided examples of comma rules questions from official practice tests
  • 10 FREE test-like practice questions with detailed answers/explanations 


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.


ACT and SAT Grammar Rules_ Pronouns

ACT and SAT Grammar: Pronouns

ACT and SAT Grammar: Pronouns

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's Pronouns Worksheet with FREE Practice Questions

Pronouns appear with relative frequency on both ACT English and SAT Writing & Language.

We use pronouns all the time in everyday speech and writing. 

These helpful words help reduce redundancy in sentences. However, as straightforward as pronouns may seem, they can be tested in unfamiliar ways on the SAT and the ACT!

In this article, we'll take a deep dive into the pronoun rules that will prove essential for your SAT Writing & Language or ACT English success.

You’ll find 2 guided examples using official practice test questions. 

Plus, we give you access to our free Pronouns worksheet, which includes additional practice questions, guided examples, and answers/explanations. Grab this below.

Here's what we cover:


ACT and SAT Grammar: Where You'll See Pronouns

Both the SAT and the ACT are interested in your ability to use basic English conventions.

You'll encounter specific pronoun questions on the following 2 sections of each test:

  • ACT English
  • SAT Writing & Language

It's hard to pinpoint exactly how many pronoun questions will appear within each of these sections, as standardized as these tests are. However, we've analyzed all of the officially released ACT and SAT practice tests out there and derived an estimate of how many of these questions you can expect per exam:

Pronoun Questions on the ACT Pronoun Questions on the SAT
2-5 1-5

In general, we tend to see more pronoun questions on the ACT than on the SAT.

Keep in mind that each test is likely to test your knowledge of pronoun questions in different ways (because they are, at the end of the day, different tests). Yet the strategy for Pronoun Questions we discuss in this post will still apply to either exam.

It's important to note that your knowledge of pronoun rules can be helpful on one other section of the test: the optional essay portion. Essay readers will be assessing your English conventions usage, so fluent handling of pronouns can only help you achieve a higher essay score on the SAT or ACT.

How do you know if you're dealing with a Pronouns question? You'll likely see different pronouns in the answer choices, as in this question here:

ACT and SAT Grammar_Pronoun Questions

 

 

 

 

 

 

We'll walk you through how to approach this question and solve it correctly later on in this post.


Pronouns in a Nutshell

What exactly is a pronoun?

A pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun. We use pronouns so that we don't have to say the same noun over and over again in a sentence or paragraph. That's what makes them so useful! Their primary goal is to reduce redundancy and add a touch of versatility to the English language.

ACT and SAT Grammar Rules_ Pronouns (1)

Most students are familiar with the following subject pronouns, for example:

  • you
  • she
  • he
  • it
  • they
  • we

When addressing a friend, instead of saying that friend's name repeatedly, you might use "you" to refer to your friend and "I/me" to refer to yourself:

Hey, Darian, could you please fill me in on what I missed in lecture today?

Of course, there are several different types of pronouns, and for the purposes of ACT and SAT grammar, it will be important to know the basic difference between the most common types, outlined in the chart below.

Subject Pronoun Object Pronoun Possessive Adjective Possessive Pronoun Reflexive Pronoun
I me my mine myself
you you your yours yourself / yourselves
we us our ours ourselves
they them their theirs themselves
she her her hers herself
he him his his himself
it it its n/a itself

Remember: you'll never be tested on the proper English grammar name for a given rule or part of speech. But you will most definitely be tested on your ability to apply those rules and/or identify those parts of speech.

There are 2 other pronoun categories that will be useful to understand for the SAT and the ACT:

  • who versus whom
  • that versus which

We'll discuss the usage rules for these categories in the next section.


The Pronoun Rules You Need to Know

As we've mentioned in our ACT and SAT grammar posts, you don't need to know every single rule associated with each principle we discuss. That's why we'll be outlining the pronoun rules here that you need to know for the SAT and ACT--not all the pronoun rules in the universe!

Here's what you need to know.

Rule #1: A pronoun must match its noun

This might sound fairly obvious, but it holds a lot of meaning on ACT English and SAT Writing & Language. In fact, this rule informs the first step of our pronoun questions strategy (outlined in the next section).

A pronoun must match its noun in both type and form. For example, an object pronoun (me, you, us, them, her, him, it) must replace a noun that functions as a direct object. The same goes for subject pronouns, possessive adjectives, possessive pronouns, and reflexive pronouns.

Here's a list of pronouns and their nouns (called antecedents) that demonstrate this correlation:

  • people's voices --> their voices
  • Give the gift to Roger  --> Give the gift to him
  • I don't know anything about trigonometry --> I don't know anything about it
  • Ms. Lutz is teaching the class --> she is teaching the class
  • This book is Susan's --> This book is yours

All of the pronouns in these examples match their nouns (antecedents) in type and form. We wouldn't replace, for example, "people's" with "hers" or "trigonometry" with "them."

One of the most common pronoun mistakes confuses object pronouns for subject pronouns, as in the following incorrect sentences:

  • Her and I plan on traveling to Uruguay soon.
  • Meredith and him are dating.

In these sentences, the writer is erroneously using an object pronoun in place of a subject pronoun. If you ever are unsure about the difference, simply replace the pronoun with a noun to test it out:

  • Kate and I plan on traveling to Uruguay soon --> She and I plan on traveling to Uruguay soon
  • Meredith and Darrel are dating --> Meredith and he are dating

Rule #2: Who vs. Whom

Both ACT English and SAT Writing & Language are likely to contain at least one question that tests your knowledge of the difference between who and whom. For good reason, too--even professionals commonly confuse these pronouns!

The difference is actually relatively simple:

Who is a subject pronoun, while whom is an object pronoun.

Basically, you should use who anytime you are referring to the subject of the sentence (the person who is "doing" the verb). You should use whom whenever you are referring to the object of the sentence (someone who is receiving the action of the verb).

If you are unsure, you can always replace "whom" in the sentence with an object pronoun to test it out. We recommend "them" or "him" as these object pronouns end in m (making it easier to remember). It can also be helpful to rearrange parts of the sentence as you test out the pronoun usage.

Here are 2 example sentences that require either "who" or "whom:"

  • Ms. Lutz, _____ is teaching the class, received her doctorate from Oxford University.
  • Kate, with _____ I am traveling to Uruguay, is fluent in Spanish.

With the first, it's clear that "Ms. Lutz" is teaching the class. We need a pronoun that replaces "Ms. Lutz," which is a subject. This means we need to use "who."

Here's how the new sentence would read: Ms. Lutz, who is teaching the class, received her doctorate from Oxford University.

With the second sentence, it's clear that the narrator is traveling with Kate to Uruguay. "Kate" here is a direct object, so we need an object pronoun to fill in the blank: "whom."

Here's how the new sentence would read: Kate, with whom I am traveling to Uruguay, is fluent in Spanish.

Rule #3: That vs. Which

We use the terms that and which frequently. What's the difference?

First, both are used to refer to objects, not people. You can only use "who" or "whom" to refer to people.

For the purposes of the SAT and ACT, the difference comes down purely to punctuation: which generally has a comma in front of it, while that does not require a comma or any intervening punctuation. Here are two examples that make this clear:

He told me that I would have to drop a class in order to maintain my grades.

Cooper Park, which is just a half mile from campus, is a popular destination for students and dog-walkers.

Rule #4: Differentiate between contractions and possessive pronouns

ACT English and SAT Writing & Language love testing students' knowledge of the difference between contractions and possessive pronouns. Make sure you know these differences! Here are some commonly confused contractions and possessive pronouns:

  • they're vs. their vs. there
  • its vs. it's
  • whose vs. who's

Remember: write out the contraction to see if it fits the context (i.e., "it's" is the same as "it is"). If not, cross it off and go for a pronoun or other option.

Rule #5: Maintain pronoun consistency

In general, if you start out with one pronoun in a sentence, you have to stick with it. This is especially important when using the pronouns you and one.

For example, this is an example of pronoun inconsistency (which would be incorrect on the SAT or ACT):

If you keep walking for about five blocks, one will spy a curious sight.

Both "you" and "one" in this sentence technically refer to the same general individual, but we need to use one or the other (not both). Here is a correct version of this sentence that shows pronoun consistency:

If you keep walking for about five blocks, you will spy a curious sight.

The strategy we discuss in the next section is designed to help you apply these rules in an efficient manner, regardless of the type of Pronouns question you're navigating.


Pronoun Questions Strategy

When you encounter a pronouns question, we recommend that students follow these simple steps:

  1. Identify the noun the pronoun is replacing
  2. Classify that noun (type and form)
  3. Eliminate accordingly
  4. If needed, differentiate between contractions and pronouns

We will apply these four steps to the next 2 guided examples.

You can also get a jumpstart and apply these steps to the practice questions in our Pronouns Worksheet, which you can grab below.


Guided Examples: Pronoun Questions

Let's take a look at this sample SAT pronoun question, mentioned earlier in this post. This is taken from the CollegeBoard's Official SAT Practice Test #1.

Guided Example #1: SAT Pronoun Question

ACT and SAT Grammar_Pronoun Questions

Identify the noun the pronoun is replacing

We can see that all of the pronouns in our answer choices are possessive pronouns. There are no contractions, so we won't be using step 4 of the strategy.

The underlined portion comes before the word lifetime, so we need to scan our context to see whose lifetime this is referring to. The noun that replaces this pronoun is students.

Classify that noun (type and form)

Students is a third-person plural noun.

Eliminate accordingly

We can cross off anything in our answer choices that isn't third-person plural. This eliminates A (first-person plural), B (third-person singular), and C (third-person singular). Our correct answer is D.

Guided Example #2: SAT Pronoun Question

Let's look at another sample pronoun question, also taken from the CollegeBoard's Official SAT Practice Test #1.

Identify the noun the pronoun is replacing

Looking at our answer choices, we can quickly tell that this is a "who vs. whom" question. It also appears to be a subject-verb agreement question, as we see "use" and "uses" in different answer choices.

Let's start with the pronoun situation first. Context tells us that who/whom must refer to people, directly before the underlined portion.

Classify that noun (type and form)

People is a plural noun. In context, it functions as a subject.

Eliminate accordingly

Because people functions as a subject, we can eliminate our answer choices that contain whom, which is an object pronoun. Cross off A and B.

People is a plural noun, which means we want to use a plural verb (subject-verb agreement). Use is the plural verb here. We can eliminate answer choice C and select D as our answer.


Download PrepMaven’s Pronouns Worksheet

Now it's time for you to apply our strategy for approaching concise questions on the SAT and ACT to some practice questions. 

You can do this right now with our free Pronouns worksheet.

ACT and SAT Grammar_Pronouns

With this worksheet, you get:

  • A recap of the rules and strategy discussed in this post
  • Guided examples of pronoun questions from official practice tests
  • 10 FREE test-like practice questions with detailed answers/explanations 


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.


Combining Sentences_ ACT and SAT Punctuation Rules

ACT and SAT Punctuation 101: Combining Sentences

ACT and SAT Punctuation 101: Combining Sentences

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s Combining Sentences Worksheet with FREE Practice Questions

Most punctuation questions on the SAT/ACT test your ability to identify complete and incomplete sentences

Once you’re fluent in distinguishing these two types of sentences, you're all set to learn about the punctuation needed for combining them!

Those are the rules we'll be discussing in this post. Plus, we walk you through guided examples using official practice test questions. 

We also give you access to our Combining Sentences worksheet, which includes additional practice questions and explanations.

Grab this below before we get started.

Here's what we cover:


Complete & Incomplete Sentences in a Nutshell

We discuss the difference between complete and incomplete sentences at great length in our Complete and Incomplete Sentences post

For now, here's a helpful chart for breaking down the difference between these two types of sentences:

Complete Sentences Incomplete Sentences

Have:

  • subject
  • verb
  • full expression of an idea

Don't have:

  • subject
  • verb
  • and/or full expression of an idea

Identifying whether an idea is complete or incomplete on the SAT or ACT can be challenging, which is why we encourage students to practice honing this skill before they learn and memorize punctuation rules. 

When you encounter an ACT or SAT punctuation question, it's always important to read for full context. Doing so can help you determine if you are dealing with a combining sentences question or if you'll have to apply your knowledge of comma rules.

Giving the answer choices a quick scan can also clue you into what type of punctuation question you're dealing with.

For example, if you see a bunch of commas at different places in your answers, that's a good sign it's a comma rules question! If you see a mix of colons, semicolons, long dashes, and commas, this is probably a combining sentences question.

Here is our strategy for approaching punctuation questions that involve combining sentences (incomplete, complete, or both):

  1. Read the full context
  2. Focus on one idea or sentence at a time
  3. Look for the 3 components of a complete sentence
  4. Write down whether it's incomplete or complete

What we'll discuss next is what to do after you've completed step 4 of this strategy. Now it's time to talk punctuation rules!


ACT and SAT Punctuation Rule #1: Combining Complete Sentences

Let's say that you've identified two complete sentences in an ACT or SAT punctuation question, as in this example here:

It’s not that people are disinterested in

climate change, many would argue that

citizens are very interested in the planet’s

gradual warming.

A) NO CHANGE

B) change; many

C) change many

D) change

"It's not that people are disinterested in climate change" is a complete sentence, as it has a subject ("it"), a verb ("is"), and a full expression of an idea. The same goes for the second sentence, "many would argue that citizens are very interested in the planet's gradual warming," which has a subject ("many"), verb phrase ("would argue"), and full expression of an idea.

At this point, it's time to choose the punctuation that is appropriate for combining 2 complete sentences.

When combining 2 complete sentences, you can ONLY use one of the following:

  • semicolon
  • period
  • comma + FANBOYS conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

On the SAT or ACT, you will never have to choose between one of these three options (i.e., a semicolon versus a period).

In fact, if you see a semicolon and a period in the answer choices--and nothing else differs between those options--you can automatically cross those choices off, as you can't have two right answers.

In the example above, the only permissible answer choice is B, which uses a semicolon to join 2 complete ideas. With this choice, this is how the new sentence would read:

It’s not that people are disinterested in climate change; many would argue that citizens are very interested in the planet’s gradual warming.

You could also write this sentence using a period or a comma + FANBOYS conjunction, as in these two examples:

Period

It’s not that people are disinterested in climate change. Many would argue that citizens are very interested in the planet’s gradual warming.

Comma + FANBOYS conjunction

It’s not that people are disinterested in climate change, for many would argue that citizens are very interested in the planet’s gradual warming.

Two More Tips About Semicolons

Remember: semicolons only like to hang out between 2 complete sentences. Yet, occasionally, they can come before a transition word like "however," "nonetheless," or "moreover."

This is perfectly acceptable, as long as that transition word has a comma after it. We'll use the same example from above to show this rule in action:

It’s not that people are disinterested in climate change; indeed, many would argue that citizens are very interested in the planet’s gradual warming.

Notice how the semicolon in this sentence comes before a transition word, "indeed," which is followed appropriately by a comma.

Additionally, FANBOYS conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) never follow a semicolon. If you see this as an option in an answer choice, you can always cross it off!


ACT and SAT Punctuation Rule #2: Combining Complete & Incomplete Sentences

What happens when you need to combine a complete and incomplete sentence, as in this example here?

In light of the fact that women are still

earning less than men in the workplace,

for example: equity consulting companies

are likely to prove their value in years to

come.

A) NO CHANGE

B) for example; equity

C) for example, equity

D) for example. Equity

"In light of the fact that women are still earning less than men in the workplace, for example" is an incomplete sentence, as it has a subject ("women") and a verb phrase ("are still earning") but lacks a complete expression of an idea. "Equity consulting companies are likely to prove their value in years to come" is a complete sentence, as it has a subject ("companies"), verb ("are"), and full expression of an idea.

There is only 1 real option for combining a complete sentence and incomplete sentence:

  • a single comma

Now, if the incomplete sentence is in fact just a phrase (as opposed to a clause, which has a subject and a verb), this could mean we're in the territory of either comma rules or colon rules.

For example, if your incomplete sentence is a transition phrase, like "on the other hand," chances are, it's time to apply some comma rules! 

Let's apply this rule to the example above. The only answer choice that has a single comma as a solution is C. The corrected sentence would thus read as follows:

In light of the fact that women are still earning less than men in the workplace, for example, equity consulting companies are likely to prove their value in years to come.

Notice how the answer choices have a period and a semicolon in them--you can automatically cross these off as you can't have 2 correct answers!

Get a jumpstart on applying these rules in practice with our Combining Sentences worksheet, which includes practice questions, guided examples, and more.


Guided Examples

Let's apply these rules to 2 sample questions, both taken from official SAT and ACT practice tests. As a refresh, this is our full strategy for approaching a combining sentences question on the SAT or ACT:

  1. Read the full context
  2. Focus on one idea or sentence at a time
  3. Look for the 3 components of a complete sentence
  4. Write down whether it's incomplete or complete
  5. Identify appropriate punctuation and eliminate rule-breakers
Joining 2 Complete Sentences Joining 1 Incomplete + 1 Complete Sentence 
  • semicolon
  • period
  • comma + FANBOYS conjunction
  • a single comma

Example 1: SAT Punctuation Question

ACT and SAT Punctuation: Combining Sentences Example
Source: CollegeBoard Official SAT Practice Test 1

1. Read the full context

It's always important to read more than just the underlined portion of a question on ACT English or SAT Writing & Language. The full idea here establishes a cause and effect relationship: people should continue to produce Greek yogurt safely because of its health benefits.

Context also tells us that there are 2 sentences to be joined here.

2. Focus on one idea or sentence at a time

We'll focus on these 2 sentences individually: "because consumers reap the nutritional benefits of Greek yogurt and support those who make and sell it" and "farmers and businesses should continue finding safe and effective methods of producing the food".

3. Look for the 3 components of a complete sentence

The 3 components of a complete sentence are a verb, subject, and full expression of an idea.

The first sentence ("because...it") has a subject ("consumers") and a verb ("reap") but lacks a full expression of an idea due to the word "because" at the beginning.

The second sentence ("farmers...food") has a subject ("farmers and businesses"), verb ("should continue"), and complete expression of an idea. 

4. Write down whether it's incomplete or complete

The sentence starting with "because" is incomplete. The one beginning with "farmers" is complete.

5. Identify appropriate punctuation and eliminate rule-breakers

We can only use a single comma to join an incomplete sentence to a complete sentence. We can eliminate answer D.

The word "because" at the start of the first sentence means that the words "therefore" and "so" would be redundant and unneeded, so we can cross off answer choices C and A. This leaves us with answer B.

Here's how our corrected sentence would read:

Because consumers reap the nutritional benefits of Greek yogurt and support those who make and sell it, farmers and businesses should continue finding safe and effective methods of producing the food.

Example 2: ACT Punctuation Question

ACT and SAT Punctuation Rules: Combining Sentences
Source: ACT.org Official ACT Practice Test #1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Read the full context

This question is a bit more challenging, just because there's so much more happening in context. The key is to read carefully, however, and try not to get sidetracked by all of those long dashes.

Context tells us that certain "untruths" aren't that important given that the autobiography in question doesn't focus on Mother Jones' life.

2. Focus on one idea or sentence at a time

We'll focus on these 2 sentences individually: "These untruths ultimately matter very little" and "the autobiography isn't about the life of Mary Harris Jones."

3. Look for the 3 components of a complete sentence

The 3 components of a complete sentence are a verb, subject, and full expression of an idea.

The first sentence has a subject ("untruths"), verb ("matter"), and full expression of an idea. So does the second, with its subject ("autobiography"), verb ("isn't"), and full expression of an idea.

4. Write down whether it's incomplete or complete

Both sentences are complete.

5. Identify appropriate punctuation and eliminate rule-breakers

We can use any of the following to join 2 complete sentences:

  • semicolon
  • period
  • comma + FANBOYS conjunction

This means we can cross off every answer except F! Remember that we can't have a FANBOYS conjunction after a semicolon or a period, which is why we can eliminate G and H, and a single comma can only join an incomplete sentence to a complete sentence.


Download PrepMaven's Combining Sentences Worksheet

Now that you know the essential rules for combining sentences on the ACT and SAT, it’s time for some test-like practice!

Apply your new knowledge to the FREE practice questions in our Combining Sentences worksheet.

Combining Sentences_SAT and ACT Punctuation

With this worksheet, you’ll get: 

  • A recap of what we discussed in this post
  • Guided examples of punctuation questions from official practice tests
  • 10 practice questions with detailed answers/explanations 


Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.