How to tackle sentence and paragraph sequence questions on the SAT


SAT 1The style questions on the writing and language section of the SAT can often be the most difficult. While you’re working to memorize your grammar and punctuation rules, it is also essential to develop strategies to tackle each type of style question.

One of the trickiest style questions on the test regards determining the order of sentences in a paragraph, or paragraphs in a passage. Let’s look at the steps you can take to approaching a sentence sequence question:

1. If you’re being asked to shift the place of a sentence in a paragraph, make sure to reread the paragraph without the sentence in question.

For example, if you’re tasked with determining a spot for sentence four, read sentences one, two, three, and five. This will give you a clue as to whether anything seems to be missing from the paragraph. This will also prevent you from getting attached to the original order of the sentences.

2. Next, read the sentence that has been removed.

  • Does the sentence have any pronouns? He, she, they? Make sure that it is clear what the pronoun is referring to—this could affect whether this sentence comes first or goes towards the end of the paragraph.
  • Do you notice any words or phrases that could indicate a shift in main idea? Despite, even though, regardless? This could be a transition sentence, so it would go in between two sentences that seem to be drawing different conclusions.
  • Does this sentence feel like it’s transitioning from the previous paragraph or to the next paragraph? Sometimes you’ll need to read a little bit from the two paragraphs surrounding the paragraph in question to make sure that you have full context, and to clarify whether you’re dealing with an introductory or concluding sentence.

3. Now that you have an idea of the shape of the paragraph alone, and you’ve surveyed the isolated sentence to determine its purpose, you should have a better idea of how to fit the sentence back into the paragraph.

You can use the same general steps to deal with paragraph sequence questions, but with a few adjustments:

  • Use the topic (first) sentences and concluding sentences of each paragraph—not including the one you’re being asked to move—to determine the overall structure of the passage. Rereading the entire passage can be time consuming and is unnecessary. You want each concluding sentence to lead seamlessly into the following topic sentence.
  • If it helps, write brief notes next to each paragraph to summarize main purpose. You want to have a logical sequence of ideas throughout the passage. Once again, you shouldn’t need to reread the entire passage to determine main purpose—allow the topic and concluding sentences to orient you.

Originally from Connecticut, Elizabeth graduated cum laude from Harvard College with a BA in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and a language citation in German. While at Harvard, she participated extensively in the performing arts scene, earning the David McCord Prize for Unusual Artistic Talent, the Doris Cohen Levi Prize in Musical Theater, and an Office for the Arts at Harvard Developing Artist Fellowship. When not performing, Elizabeth enjoyed classes in animal diversity—especially entomology!—and even spent a summer researching octopuses in Naples, Italy thanks to a Weissman International Internship Program grant. After college, Elizabeth moved to New York City to pursue a performing arts career and is now pursuing an MFA through the NYU graduate acting program.

Work with Elizabeth L.!

Over the past four years, Elizabeth has worked with students of all ages on both test prep and general academic support. She specializes in the ACT, SAT, SSAT/ISEE, high school biology, and high school mathematics. She also works with students on college essay writing and on homework and study skills. Elizabeth prides herself on being able to adapt her teaching style in response to her students’ needs.

Read some of Elizabeth's other blog posts below!

Mastering the SAT Reading Section

Tackling unfamiliar problems on the SAT math sections 

Confronting commas on the SAT writing and language section.