Powerful PREPositions

Matt Larriva
Aug 12, 2013
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It must be boring to be a SAT writer. They must test the same errors every time, in the same quantity, and in the same method. In fact they have almost no room for creativity or change from test-to-test. If they did, then the tests would fail to be standardized. Perhaps no subject better illustrates this fact than the preposition errors.

First, a preposition is a word that describes the relationship between two other words. The cat sat on the duck. We succeeded in sailing. There are literally hundreds of prepositions, and there is no rhyme or reason to why certain ones pair with certain verbs. Why would you be angry with someone but mad at them?

This lack of logic is part of what makes the SAT preposition errors hard to spot. However, we know that prepositions will be tested. In fact, we even know the number of times preposition errors will occur per Writing Error ID section: 2. Now we said the SAT writers were constrained in their test-making process, but how constrained? Well, on the last 3 released CollegeBoard-released SAT tests, the preposition errors have occurred between questions number 22 and 28 on the first writing section. If that weren’t enough repetition, the two preposition questions usually occur within 2 questions of each other.

The reason this pattern persists is because the SAT places trickier questions further back. Because preposition errors are hard to spot, they must live in the hard-question-section: near the back. And because they need to be tested twice, there’s not much room for them to exist other than very close to each other.

Even though it seems likely that you could identify the preposition errors while blindfolded, we’d like to conclude with a simple trick to help you: take them out of context. Preposition errors always seem obvious when you put them in a new sentence.  Take this SAT Preposition error for example:

Although the two boys seemed similar, they were actually quite different than one another.

Does than sound right? Maybe, or maybe not. But try to place that phrase in another sentence:

You are so different than me.

Dogs are so different than cats.

Being different than my friends  is hard.

Do those sentences sound a little off? That’s because they are, and you’ve correctly identified a preposition error. The word “different” takes the preposition “from.” But it’s enough to know that “different than” is wrong. That’s all we’re asked for.

So remember, keep an eye out for prepositions between numbers 20 and 30, and take them out of context to make sure you’ve spotted an error. Watch the points stack up, and good luck.