Evaluating sentence in Sentence Correction

In Sentence Correction if only a few words are highlighted, then your task is to make sure those few words make sense and flow properly with the non-underlined portion. If, however, the entire sentence is underlined, you have to make changes to any part of the sentence. The overarching theme is that the whole sentence has to make sense. This means that you can’t get bogged down in one portion of the text, you have to evaluate the entire thing. If some portion of the phrasing is good but another contains an error, then you must eliminate that choice and find and answer that works from start to finish.

Let’s look at a topical Sentence Correction problem and look for how to approach entire sentences:

Selling two hundred thousand copies in its first month, the publication of The Audacity of Hope in 2006 was an instant hit, helping to establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president.

A) Selling two hundred thousand copies in its first month, the publication of The Audacity of Hope in 2006 was an instant hit, helping to establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president.
B) The publication in 2006 of the Audacity of Hope was an instant hit: in two months it sold two hundred thousand copies and helped establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president.
C) Helping to establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president was the publication of The Audacity of Hope in 2006, which was an instant hit: it sold two hundred thousand copies in its first month.
D) The Audacity of Hope was an instant hit: it helped establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president, selling two hundred thousand copies in its first month and published in 2006.
E) The Audacity of Hope, published in 2006, was an instant hit: in two months, it sold two hundred thousand copies and helped establish its author, Barack Obama, as a viable candidate for president.

An excellent strategy in Sentence Correction is to look for decision points, significant differences between one answer choice and another, and then make decisions based on which statements contain concrete errors. However, when the whole sentence is underlined, this becomes much harder to do because there might be five decision points between statements, and each one is phrased a little differently. You can still use decision points, but it might be simpler to look through the choices for obvious errors and then see if the next answer choice repeats that same gaffe (not a giraffe).

Looking at the original sentence (answer choice A), we see a clear modifier error at the beginning. Once the sentence begins with “Selling two hundred thousand copies in its first month,…” the very next word after the comma must be the noun that has sold 200,000 copies. Anything else is a modifier error, whether it be “Barack Obama wrote a book that sold” or “the publication of the book” or any other variation thereof. We don’t even need to read any further to know that it can’t be answer choice A. We’ll also pay special attention to modifier errors because if it happened once it can easily happen again in this sentence.

Answer choice B, unsurprisingly, contains a very similar modifier error. The sentence begins with: “The publication in 2006 of the Audacity of Hope was an instant hit:…”. This means that the publication was a hit, whereas logically the book was the hit. This is an incorrect answer choice again, and so far we haven’t even had to venture beyond the first sentence, so don’t let the length of the answer choices daunt you.

Answer choice C, “helping to establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president was the publication of The Audacity of Hope in 2006, which was an instant hit: it sold two hundred thousand copies in its first month” contains another fairly glaring error. The relative pronoun “which” must refer to the word right before the comma. In this case, that would be the year 2006, instead of the actual book. Similarly to the first two choices, this answer also contains a pronoun error because the “it” after the colon would logically refer back to the publication instead of the book as well. One error is enough, and we’ve already got two, so answer choice C is definitely not the correct selection.

Answer choice D, “The Audacity of Hope was an instant hit: it helped establish Barack Obama as a viable candidate for president, selling two hundred thousand copies in its first month and published in 2006” sounds pretty good until you get to the very end. The “published in 2006” is a textbook dangling modifier, and would have been fine had it been placed at the beginning of the sentence. Unfortunately, as it is written, this is not a viable answer choice (you are the weakest link).

By process of elimination, it must be answer choice E. Nonetheless, if we read through it, we’ll find that it doesn’t contain any glaring errors: “The Audacity of Hope, published in 2006, was an instant hit: in two months, it sold two hundred thousand copies and helped establish its author, Barack Obama, as a viable candidate for president.” The title of the book is mentioned initially, a modifier is correctly placed and everything after the colon describes why it was regarded as a hit. Holistically, there’s nothing wrong with this answer choice, and that’s why E must be the correct answer.

Overall, it’s easy to get caught up in one moment or another, but it’s important to look at things globally. A 30-word passage entirely underlined can cause anxiety in many students because there are suddenly many things to consider at the same time. There’s no reason to panic. Just review each statement holistically, looking for any error that doesn’t make sense. If everything looks good, even if it wasn’t always ideal, then the answer choice is fine. It’s important to think of your legacy, that means getting a score that lets you achieve your goals.