SAT Tip

SAT Tip: Ignore Prepositional Phrases


SAT Tip: Ignore Prepositional Phrases

Photograph by Carmen Martinez Banus/Getty Images

This tip on improving your SAT score was provided by Shaan Patel at Veritas Prep.

The SAT requires students to process lots of information quickly. So a key approach to beat the test is to cut through the extraneous material and focus only on what’s important. One way to do this on SAT Writing questions is to ignore prepositional phrases.

Grammar errors on the SAT are almost never found in prepositional phrases. A preposition is essentially anything a squirrel can do to a log. A squirrel can go above, across, against, around, behind, beneath, beside, between, by, in, inside, into, near, on, onto, out of, outside, over, through, toward, and under a log. A few prepositions that don’t follow the squirrel rule include about, at, for, of, and with.

The following SAT example demonstrates how ignoring prepositional phrases can help identify grammar errors on the SAT Writing section. For this type of question the goal is to correct the grammatical mistake (if there is one) in the underlined portion.

The main purpose of the research experiment by Professor Balkin in the organic chemistry department is to discover more efficient energy sources and to develop cost-effective production methods.

(A) The main purpose of the research experiment by Professor Balkin in the organic chemistry department is

(B) The main purposes of the research experiment by Professor Balkin in the organic chemistry department is

(C) The main purpose of the research experiment by Professor Balkin in the organic chemistry department is that they will be able

(D) The main purposes of the research experiment by Professor Balkin in the organic chemistry department are

(E) The main purpose of the research experiment by Professor Balkin in the organic chemistry department are

Here we can ignore the following prepositional phrases:

The main purpose of the research experiment by Professor Balkin in the organic chemistry department is to discover more efficient energy sources and to develop cost-effective production methods.

The simplified sentence now reads:

The main purpose is to discover more efficient energy sources and to develop cost-effective production methods.

By examining the simplified sentence, we realize that there’s an “and” at the end of the sentence. This indicates that there are two purposes of the experiment: “to discover more efficient energy sources” and “to develop cost-effective production methods.” Therefore, the correct sentence should read “main purposes are.”

Eliminate answer choices (A), (C), and (E) because they all contain “purpose” rather than “purposes.” And eliminate (B) because it incorrectly pairs the plural subject “purposes” with the singular verb “is.” Only answer choice (D) correctly pairs “purposes” with “are.”

Filling sentences with distracting prepositional phrases is a common ploy SAT test writers use to confuse students. Ignore prepositional phrases on SAT Writing multiple-choice questions to avoid getting bogged down by unnecessary information.

Shaan Patel is the director of SAT programs at Veritas Prep, the author of McGraw-Hill’s best-selling book SAT 2400 in Just 7 Steps, and the owner of a perfect SAT score.

For more SAT advice from Veritas Prep, watch “The Biggest SAT Test Prep Secret”


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