College PrepSATSAT Writing

SAT® Writing: Word Choice and Diction Errors

What Is a Diction Question?

Diction and word choice error questions test your ability to assess the meanings of words in various circumstances. You will be asked to pinpoint flaws in word choice from a segment of the text. These incorrect words often look or sound like the correct word choice. You will have to select the correct replacement for the underlined word.

What Types of Errors Should I Look Out For?

Keep an eye out for words that are used in unconventional or awkward ways.  The goal of the Writing test is to assess your abilities spotting errors and correcting them. These questions will rely on your ability to spot words that are almost right and choose a correct replacement. The underlined word will likely sound like the proper word choice but be spelled differently and, therefore, have an improper definition for the usage.

An Example From a College Board® Practice Test:

You will see that questions are labeled within the text by bracketed numbers. The number and the underlined word correlate to question 16 in the example below. The answer choices rely on your ability to recognize a flawed, awkward, or unconventional use of the word “vacated.”

Example:
Kingman, however, [16] vacated from that tradition in a number of ways, most notably in that he chose to focus not on natural landscapes, such as mountains and rivers, but on cities.

16. Select an answer.
A. NO CHANGE
B. evacuated
C. departed
D. retired

To answer this question, you would need to assess the surrounding contexts and decide if the word “vacated” is being used accurately.

List of Common Word Choice Errors

The following words are commonly misused in the Writing section. Sometimes they are incorrect because their definition is inappropriate for the circumstances. Sometimes they have been misspelled, which changes the definition. You may also come across words that have similar meanings but differ in their connotations. Check out the list below, and consider how interchanging these common word choices would be regarded as an error.

Alter and altar
Alternate and alternative
Complacent and complicit
Counsel and council
Edition and addition
Except and accept
Effected and affected
Expand and expend
Illusion and allusion
Knew and new
Heard and herd
Lie and lay
Lightening and lightning
Latter and later
Maybe and may be
Meet and meat
Medal and metal
Minor and miner
Need and knead
Passed and past

Patience and patients
Peak and peek
Persecute and prosecute
Plane and plain
Principle and principal
Presents and presence
Pour and pore
Quiet and quite
Raise and raze
Rein and rain
There and their
There and their
Threw and through
To and too
Visual and visible
Wave and waive
Week and weak
Which and witch
Whole and hole
Where and wear

UWorld’s SAT Prep Course has thousands of sample questions and practice tests where you can practice recognizing flaws in word choice. These questions require attention to detail. Our prep course and practice exams offer you exposure to these question types before testing to familiarize yourself with their format and level of difficulty.