The Revising/Editing sections of your ELA test can actually be really fun, especially if you think of the section as a logic game. An important key to beating this part of the test is to remember that the test writers are not evaluating how good you are at remembering facts—they are evaluating your ability to think critically about a text and to bring your best logical skills to bear on a piece of writing.
You get to show off your critical thinking in the most obvious way in the questions that ask you to identify a sentence with an error. You might be tempted to think that you are doomed to struggle with sentences which contain an error if you can’t remember dates, or you aren’t as versed in the minute details of history or social science. Don’t despair! This particular part of the test will make you think that you need to be strong in those areas, but don’t fall for the trick. Keep your logical head about you and think about the structure of what is written. Follow these steps when approaching ELA questions that ask you to pick out an error:
Step One: Read the question first. This step might seem counter-intuitive—aren’t we supposed to read each passage carefully as the first step? No! Our concern is rocking this test, not spending time reading details that aren’t going to help us. So, we are going to come to each section of reading prepared. How do we prepare best for the passage? We have to know what sort of question we’re working with.
Step Two: Read the answer choices second. Are the answer questions specific to certain phrases in the text, or are they asking about sentences one, two, three, and four?
Step Three: Once we know the question, and what answers to be on the lookout for, approach the text looking for the structure of what is written. Underline phrases that are unfamiliar, and make a note of anything that doesn’t ring true or make sense to you. The structure of sentences will reveal which one contains the error.
Now that we have these steps in hand, let’s take an example that the test writers provide so you can see what I mean. Here’s an example from the SHSAT manual:
Read this paragraph.
(1) Established in 1946, the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) contains the most prominent collection of historical aircraft in the world. (2) As one of the many museums and landmarks of the Smithsonian Institution, millions of people from around the world visit NASM each year. (3) Over the years, NASM has undergone several renovations and major reconstruction to accommodate more visitors and exhibits. (4) In addition to being a popular Washington, D.C., tourist destination, NASM is home to a research center for terrestrial and planetary science.
Which sentence should be revised to correct a misplaced modifier?
- sentence 1 B. sentence 2 C. sentence 3 D. sentence 4
When we apply the steps, we get the following results:
Step One: the question asks us to identify a misplaced modifier. The error we are looking for is not, then, a matter of fact. This affirms that we’re looking for a structural, logical error.
Step Two: the answer choices are whole sentences only. That means if we have two sentences that seem to contain an error, we have to use further logical thinking to see which sentence can best be revised by making changes to a modifier. With that information, we can evaluate the text.
We can read the text top to bottom, while identifying confusing text. Sentence one seems structurally sound. Since the question asks us to alter a modifier, we don’t have to worry about whether the date 1946 is correct; we’re looking for a deeper problem. So, is it problematic to say that the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) contains the most prominent collection of historical aircraft in the world? Not. We would expect a national museum of air and space items to contain some of the most prominent aircraft, so just in virtue of the natural meaning of these words, we’re going to accept sentence one as sound.
Moving on to two. Here’s a hint: sentences that begin with “as”, “such as”, or “just as” are already set up to be logically problematic, since what they qualify must typically immediately follow. What we need to do is see what “as” in this sentence qualifies, and then whether it succeeds in the sentence. This sentence reads, “As one of the many museums and landmarks of the Smithsonian Institution, millions of people from around the world visit NASM each year.” The phrase “As one of the many museums” logically indicates NASM, but this sentence is set up so that the “as” actually qualifies “millions of people”. We’ve found our correct answer already! Sentence two in virtue of its structure contains an error. It would need to be rewritten to be correct, something like, “As one of the many museums and landmarks of the Smithsonian Institution, NASM is visited by millions of people from around the world each year.”
We have the correct answer, but because we are scholars, we’re going to do our due diligence with sentences three and four and make sure that we have the best answer. There isn’t anything logically worrisome about three, since it only suggests that the museum has needed many alterations over the course of time so it can allow for even more visitors. And, sentence four is problematic only if we are worried about interpretation—if you think NASM is only popular, for example, compared to something else (e.g., it might be popular compared to a D.C. sandwich shop, but less popular than the D.C. Zoo), you might think the beginning of sentence four could be wrong. Or, you might not know if NASM in fact is a research center that includes work on terrestrial science, for example. But, remember that the question is asking us about a modifier within a sentence. Even if we remain worried about particular facts or connotations of words within a sentence, sentence four does not contain a modifier that could be changed to strengthen it logically, so it can’t be the correct response.
The result is that we have confirmed that sentence two is our correct choice. Even more, we’ve confirmed that working our steps will both save time and lead to the correct response!