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8 Grammar Tips to Help Kids on the SAT

Teens biting their nails over this portion of the College Board exam? Or simply looking for tricks to brush up on the ol' English? Get help here!

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1. Leaking Oil: Misplaced modifiers

I call the first rule "Leaking Oil" to give students a stark visual. More technically, the rule deals with modifiers that point to the wrong noun in the sentence. Misplaced modifiers.

For example: Leaking oil, the mechanic fixed the car.

Clearly, it's the car, not the mechanic, that has the oil leak. When a sentence has a subordinated lead-in like this, I tell students to make sure that the first noun after the comma points back to the action being described. The sentence should read: Leaking oil, the car was fixed by the mechanic.

To put this concept into play with SAT-style questions, consider the following examples and choose the best way to improve the sentence:

  • Working overtime, the industrial facility was populated by hundreds of technicians.
  • The industrial facility, working overtime, had hundreds of busy technicians.
  • Technicians, busy at the industrial facility, would be working overtime.
  • The busy technicians at the industrial facility were the ones who worked overtime
  • Working overtime, busy technicians populated the industrial facility.

In the first two, it should be the workers, not the facility, doing the work. The third answer is unnecessarily conditional – and fourth has the gratuitous phrase "were the ones." Only the final option has the correct noun – busy technicians – following the introductory lead-in.

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