Ah yes… Option (E), aka “No error,” aka the bane of most people’s existence on Error-Identification.
First, an overview:
One of the most important things to understand about “No error” questions is that, for the most part, they are actually testing the exact same rules that questions that do contain errors are testing — it’s just that the constructions happen to be used correctly. That means if a verb is underlined but agrees with its subject and is used in the proper tense, there’s already a decent chance that the answer is (E).
Likewise, if “it(s)” or “they/their” is underlined and agrees in number with its antecedent, there’s also a pretty good chance that the answer is (E). If a collective noun (country, city, jury, team, agency) is involved and checks out agreement-wise, there’s an even better chance that the answer is (E) — at least on everything up to about #27; on the last few questions, all bets tend to be off.
Beyond that, however, there are a couple of other “clues” that tend to signal that the answer is (E). I do mention them in The Ultimate Guide to SAT® Grammar, but what I didn’t realize when I wrote the book was that not only are those particular constructions correct, but their presence also suggests that the entire sentence in which they appear is correct.
I happened to mention these “rules” when I was tutoring tonight and (horror of horrors!) realized that I had never posted them online. Now, I couldn’t possibly give one of my own students that little advantage without offering it to everyone else as well, so here goes, along with my standard disclaimer that these are *general* patterns and that, as always, the College Board is free to break its own “rules” as it so pleases.
1) Long since
As I wrote about in a post long since archived in my Study Guides section, this is a favorite “trick phrase” that ETS likes to employ. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, but it sounds vaguely odd, as if there could or should be something wrong with it, and so a lot of people tend to think it’s an actual error.
2) Preposition + which
Again, this is another construction that lots of people tend to think sounds somewhat “off.”
For example: Because apricots and spinach are two of the most common foods in which large doses of iron are found, they are often recommended to patients who suffer from vitamin deficiencies.
Even though the above sentence might strike you as a bit awkward, there is nothing wrong with it. If you encounter the bolded construction or a similar one (by which, for which, from which, etc.) on the SAT, not only is it virtually guaranteed to be correct, but the entire sentence is also probably correct as well.
3) “That” used as part of a subject
This is another constructions that a lot of peopl find strange, but it’s actually just a reduced form of “the fact that,” and it’s fine.
It always takes a singular verb.
For example: That union members and labor leaders must come together and find an effective solution for ending the strike is beyond dispute.
(For the record, this construction was used in a question that contained an actual error elsewhere in the sentence on the January (?) 2012 test, but it was also the last question of the section. If it shows up earlier, the sentence is likely to be ok.)
There is, of course, no guarantee that you’ll these constructions, but if you do happen to spot one of them, you’ll at least know not to make yourself crazy looking for an error in the rest of the sentence — especially if there’s nothing too obviously wrong.