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SAT Prep Tip: Ignore Prepositional Phrases

Students studying SAT prepThe 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 shows how ignoring prepositional phrases can help identify grammar errors on the SAT Writing section.

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.”

SAT test question writers often fill sentences with distracting prepositional phrases to confuse students. Ignore prepositional phrases on SAT Writing multiple-choice questions in order to avoid getting bogged down by unnecessary information.



Shaan Patel

Shaan Patel is the founder of Prep Expert Test Preparation (formerly 2400 Expert), a #1 bestselling SAT prep author, an MD/MBA student at Yale and USC, and winner of an investment deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on ABC's Shark Tank. He raised his own SAT score from average to perfect and teaches students his methods in an online SAT prep class.