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Writing: Frequently Confused Words — Video Lesson

David shows you how to approach a Frequently Confused Words question on the SAT Writing and Language test. Created by David Rheinstrom.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] Let's get going on question 42. This is from a passage about fulgurites, also known as petrified lightning. "Aboveground power lines are often struck by lightning, causing power outages, but the affects of lightning on buried power lines were not investigated until the 1990s." And our choices here are: A, no change, so affects of, B, affects from, C, effects of and D, effects by. So we're being asked to choose between two different words that sound alike, affect and effect. This is a frequently confused words question. If a question like this shows up on your official SAT, there will only be one of them. Now, these questions come in one of two flavors. Either you have to choose between two sound alike words, like affect or effect, or than and then, or you'll have to choose between two words with similar meanings but different uses, like less and fewer. And you'll either know these or you won't. My top tip for questions like these is don't worry. There are many kinds of frequently confused word pairs, and ones that show up on previous tests don't usually show up again that often. And we don't think it's the best use of your time to study them for the SAT. There are simply too many word pairs that might show up, and it will only be a single question. So when it comes to affect versus effect, there is one helpful thing to remember. On the SAT, affect is almost always a verb and effect is almost always a noun. So what is the word doing here? Is it being used as a verb or a noun? The affects of lightening on buried power lines, that's being used as a noun, like special effects of lightening. So right there, we can cross out the two affects options. So that's A and B. So that leaves us with effect of and effects by. So let's plug in our remaining choices and see which one follows conventional usage. So the effects of lightning on varied power lines, that sounds pretty conventional to me. Or the effects by lightning on buried power lines, that doesn't feel like correct usage of that expression. So that leaves us with C. Our answer is effects of. But if I didn't know the difference between affect with an A and effect with an E, I would just guess, not worry about it too much and reserve my time for other questions in this section. So our strategy, if you notice you're looking at a frequently confused word question, if you know the correct word for the context, great, congratulations. Use your knowledge to eliminate the wrong choices and select the answer. But if you don't know which word to choose, then eliminate choices that contain other errors so that you can narrow down the options and then make your best guess. We've got a quick guide on the website all about frequently confused words. It's even got a list of many commonly confused word pairs, but again, I would say, don't worry. You've got this.