The most difficult type of grammatical error to correctly identify on the SAT Writing component is the idiom. By idiom, I don’t mean a colloquial expression that, on the surface, doesn’t make literal sense. For example, “to eat humble pie.” On the SAT, idioms are far less folksy, and far more academic. Basically, certain words or phrases take prepositions. Let’s have a look:
- Preoccupied with
- Dependent on/upon
- Regard as
So why does the word ‘with’ follow preoccupied? Why not, ‘on’ or ‘about.’ The answer is that there is no good answer. Certain words take certain prepositions – it’s random. There is no logic behind it.
And that’s why idioms are so difficult. But that doesn’t mean you should give up. There is a way to study idioms. Indeed, with a little practice you can become very good at idioms. Below are some ways to help you do so.
SAT Idiom Practice Exercises
A great place you will encounter idioms is in SAT practice sets (like the ones we have at Magoosh. The key is not just to think, “oops I missed that stupid idiom question” when you get a problem wrong. Use your mistake as an opportunity to learn. A good place to store all the idioms you encounter is…
Flashcards are great not only for storing idioms, but also for testing yourself. Personally, I’ve moved on from the old paper version (mainly because I have a tendency to misplace physical objects). Quizlet.com is an online flashcard resource. Oh yeah, it’s free – so you have no excuses. And if you are feeling really lazy and/or full of excuses many students have already made SAT idioms flashcards on Quizlet.
Intelligent T.V. – think Mad Men, not Keeping up with the Kardashians – will always employ the correct idioms (these are serious Hollywood writers who would be loath to have anything ungrammatical come from their oh-so urbane characters’ respective throats).
The news (CNN, etc.) will always employ the correct idioms; for those with an intellectual bent, I recommend PBS or NPR (which is radio-based).
By developing your ear, you will have a valuable guide to help you pick up on correct idioms.
Yep, there is nothing like good old-fashioned reading – as long as the reading is of the caliber of your English class (and not a pulp-saga about vampires!). Keep your eyes out for idioms and make note of them by entering them into – yep, you guessed it – Quizlet.com.
By following the suggestions above you should be able to wrap your head – and you ear – around any of the hundred plus idioms that the SAT can throw at you test day.
And don’t forget to take a look at the other posts in this series: