SAT Prep

words words words

Some of the hardest SAT multiple-choice Writing questions involve diction, or an author’s choice of words. These questions usually appear in the Identifying Sentence Errors and have seemingly perfect grammar. The problem, however, is a word or phrase that just doesn’t make sense. Consider an example: 



26. The purpose of the Heimlich Maneuver, which was


     named after American physician Henry Heimlich, is to


    force air from the lungs, thus dislodging and expelling 

                        B                                    C            

    the airway abstractionNo error

                         D                    E

 Many students will mistakenly choose “No Error” for this question. They checked the verbs for agreement, tense, and form in (A) and (C) and the idiom in (B). There is noun agreement in (D), so the only option is (E), No Error. But look again at choice (D). Is abstraction the right word? It means the general idea. Does the Heimlich dislodge and expel the general idea? No, of course not! It dislodges and expels a blockage or obstruction. Abstraction and obstruction look similar but they have very different meanings.

Diction errors tend to occur in the higher level difficulty Identifying Sentence Errors questions. Before selecting “No Error” for any test question, do a quick check of all of the underlined words to make sure they are the right word for the sentence.

Smart test takers will be on the lookout for the following word pairs used incorrectly:

  • conscious/conscientious                                            
  • exacerbate/exasperate
  • incredible/incredulous                                 
  • ambivalent/ambiguous
  • gambit/gamut                                                  
  • moral/morale
  • proceed/precede                                                         
  • homing in/honing in
  • inequity/iniquity                                                            
  • elegant/eloquent
  • antidote/anecdote                                                       
  • appraise/apprise
  • torturous/tortuous                                                      
  • affection/affliction
  • abduct/abdicate                                                            
  • reflective/reflexive
  • climatic/climactic                                                           
  • bountiful/boundless
  • decisive/divisive                                                            
  • revoke/revolt
  • broach/brooch                                                
  • expedient/expeditious
  • genus/genius                                                   
  • imperial/imperious
  • irrelevant/irreverent                                    
  • motif/motive
  • systematic/systemic                                     
  • dilute/delude
  • flaunt/flout                                                                      
  • reticent/reluctant
  • vicious/viscous                                 
  • restive/restful
  • compass/compress                                       
  • indigenous/indigent
  • ingenious/ingenuous                                    
  • insensible/insensitive
  • corroborate/collaborate                                            
  • endemic/epidemic
  • dissemble/disassemble                               
  • deprecate/depreciate
  • descry/decry                                                    
  • engender/endanger
  • circumvent/circumnavigate/circumscribe/circumstance
  • sustain/retain/maintain                                             
  • regardless/irregardless
  • abstraction/obstruction                               
  • accede/exceed
  • access/excess                                                  
  • apathy/empathy
  • allude/elude                                                     
  • allusion/illusion
  • elicit/illicit                                           
  • eminent/imminent
  • unanimous/anonymous                                             
  • defer/refer
  • uninterested/disinterested                                      
  • connotation/denotation

Need more help? This list came from The PowerScore SAT Writing Bible. Check it out for over 270 more examples of common errors on the SAT.