The grammar section of the SATs is probably the most frustrating part of the entire exam.  Unlike the Math or Reading components, where the correct answer can be found through clever use of the formula sheet or a close examination of the passages, grammatical questions require rote memorization of rules.  There are plenty of students who are strong writers who underperform on this section because they were never taught particular idioms or usage guidelines. Many of those students just learned to write around their blind spots.  Unfortunately, that isn’t a possibility on this section. To succeed here, you need sit down and target grammatical areas which you have yet to master. Here are some of the primary grammatical rules that the SAT will test, and how to approach each.

Consistency in Verb Tenses

A paragraph should only use be written in as few tenses as possible.  So, make sure that the tense given is the same throughout the passage you have to correct.  Most students can do this with ease because the passage often won’t make sense otherwise. One caveat to these questions is the usage of the present historic tense.  It is technically correct to describe events that happened in the past by using the present tense, so long as the writer is consistent. If an entire paragraph describes Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt, it could be correct to write “Napoleon forces are defeated by the British army in 1803.”  Just make sure that the entire section maintains the same tense.

Misplaced Modifiers

This question is by typified by the Groucho Marx quote, “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know.”  The problem with this sentence is that it’s unclear what “in my pajamas” is modifying. To fix it, “in my pajamas” should follow “on morning”. Thus, the sentence would read “One morning, in my pajamas, I shot an elephant.”  However, this is a particularly egregious example. Sometimes, it can be more nuanced. Consider the sentence “People who eat fast food often are made ill.” Does this sentence mean that people who eat fast food many times are sick or that people who eat fast food are usually sick?  There’s no way to tell because of the modifier’s ambiguous placement! You want modifiers to be as close to the subject or verb which they’re changing as possible. It helps to take a Marxist approach to these questions: would it be possible to comedically misinterpret them?

Subject Verb Agreement and Antecedents

This is one of the easier rules to learn.  Verbs need to conjugate their subject. This something that most people intuitively know how to do.  One spot of trouble, however, is that if a subject is plural then the following verb should be conjugated as such.  But, there are some nouns such as “group” which describe multiple people but are singular in nature. The sentence “The Senate Rules Committee describe parliamentary procedure during each legislative session” is incorrect because the noun (The Senate Rules Committee) is one unit, even though there are many members.  So, the verb should be “describes.”


Additionally, a verb needs to make sense given the subjects it’s describing.  To give an example, consider the sentence “Sprinting to the finish line, the marathon was won by John.”  The first phrase (Sprinting to the finish line) is actually describing the marathon. As in, the marathon sprinted rather than the racer!  Make sure that the opening clause is describing the first subject to get these questions right.


When I was taking the SATs, this was far and away my least favorite type of question.  You’re asked whether a preposition fits the corresponding verb. There are many degrees of nuance to this.  For instance, the word “feed” can take both the prepositions “by” and “with” or none at all. For example, let’s say we’re talking about a farmer who gives his cow grain.  If you were to say “The cow was fed by grain” that would mean the cow was being given food by grain. e.g. Imagine a large anthropomorphic bushel of wheat giving a cow food.  Rather, you want to say “The cow was fed with grain.” There’s no hard and fast rule for idiomatic questions. To make matters worse, the College Board doesn’t provide a list of tested idioms.  The best way to prepare for these is to write down a verb and the corresponding preposition on a flashcard whenever you see one of these questions on a practice test.

Run-on Sentences

The bane of English teachers and students alike.  You can’t use a comma to combine two sentences. “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse.” isn’t correct because there is no word linking the two independent clauses.  Simply adding a “that” or semicolon is sufficient to fix the problem. Make sure that there’s a linking word (or “copula” if you want to be fancy) and you’re good to go.


Sentences need to be constructed so that they maintain the same grammatical structure from start to finish.  For example, the sentence “The doctor gave us a checkup, took our blood and weight” needs a verb before “weight” to maintain the parallel structure.  Analyze the sentence’s internal logic before answering these questions to make sure that you pick the right answer.

There are a few other niche questions types on the grammar section, but this covers the bulk of them.  Master these types of questions and you’ll be on your way to a perfect score in no time. Don’t forget to apply what you learned to the essay section and your personal essay!