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Lucas Fink

Prepositions in SAT Writing

Sometimes, grammar errors in SAT writing multiple choice questions aren’t rule-based. That is, there are errors in sentences that have nothing to do with what you might’ve learned in an English class. In order to get them right, you have to just know the answer. It’s all about your ear. Ask yourself, “does that sound right?”

This might be the only time in SAT writing multiple choice that I say to go with your gut about an error. Most times, you should be trying to find why something is wrong as it’s written.

But when it’s a preposition that’s underlined, it’s all about your ear.


Idioms and prepositions

You might see prepositions lumped under the category of “idiom” in SAT prep material. That’s not technically wrong, but it’s misleading. Usually, when we say “idiom,” we mean a metaphorical expression or phrasal verb—like “bite the dust” or “cracking up”—that doesn’t convey a clear meaning just from the words we use. Think of how it’d sound to a non-native speaker.

The SAT doesn’t care about that kind of idiom. Instead, the test-makers want to know if you can choose the right preposition to go with words which actually do carry the meaning they’re expected to.  For instance, you might disagree with an idea, but you can’t object with it. Instead, you object to it. Both “disagree” and “object” mean exactly what we expect them to in those phrases. It’s only the preposition that’s weird.


How to answer preposition questions

During your SAT, if you see an underlined preposition, find the words before and/or after that should get paired with it. Pretty often, that means finding the verb or adjective that came before the preposition, like in the “disagree” vs. “object” example above, but sometimes it’s about the words after the preposition, instead.

In the sentence “I’m on my classmate’s phone,” you’d note the word “phone,” and ask whether “on” and “phone” link well together, which they do. Similarly, an actor might appear in a movie, on TVor at a restaurant. In those cases, it’s not about the word “appear,” but about “movie,” “TV,” and “restaurant.”

Whether it’s the word before or after the preposition, you have to find that related word. Then, it’s all about your ear.


About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

4 Responses to “Prepositions in SAT Writing”

  1. Benji says:

    Hi Lucas,

    I have a question on SAT cr materials ( reading comp )
    I did a diagnostic test and scored 750 on CR ( all went to RC wrong answers ). I am gunning for 800, and I have several LSAT RC sections.

    Is it a good fit?
    I did one LSAT section timed. It took me 37 minute and I got 21/27 (-6)

    Should I keep practicing with LSAT passages?

    • Lucas Fink Lucas says:

      Good question! LSAT reading comprehension is pretty good training for high-level SAT scorers, since it’s similar enough and definitely more difficult. But don’t let it *replace* the SAT–in the end, the LSAT is a different test with some different details. You can supplement using LSAT reading comp, but your main studies should still be using material for the test you’re actually going to take 🙂

  2. araban says:

    Hi lucas,

    Is it wise to use GRE text completion and GMAT SC to prepare for SAT?

    • Lucas Fink Lucas says:

      Good question! Both could be good practice, but really only as challenge training for those scoring in the 600+ range on the SAT verbal and writing sections. That’s especially true of the GRE text completions, which are much more convoluted and use more difficult vocabulary than SAT sentence completions. GMAT sentence corrections, on the other hand, are a bit more similar to what you see on the SAT, although more difficult, and are pretty good high-level practice for the test. If you’re not already scoring very highly on SAT writing and verbal, I wouldn’t recommend using either. Stick with SAT material instead 🙂

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