Taylor Swift’s “Fifteen” champions the idea that young heartbreaks heal. It’s a catchy song with a positive message. It’s also grammatically flawed, containing an example of singular/plural pronoun disagreement: “’Cause when you’re fifteen and somebody tells you they love you/You’re gonna believe them.” The Princeton Review, wanting to connect with teens and seem relevant, recently used this lyric as an example of incorrect grammar in its prep materials. Only they made a big mistake: they misquoted it.
One Swifty (as Swift’s fans affectionately call themselves) took to Tumblr to rail against the botched lyric. Alerted of the situation, Swift herself was unhappy about the Princeton Review’s grammatical attack and was quick to point out that by getting her words wrong, they effectively undermined their claims to test prep accuracy. The Princeton Review owned up to its error by apologizing on Twitter, proclaiming its love of Swift, and offering two free tickets to a fan of her choosing.
So: as an SAT student or a parent of an SAT student, what’s the take away from all of this? Aside from don’t mess with TSwift and her kingdom?
While pronoun agreement figures into the SAT, in the past ten years, there have been zero questions on actual SAT exams that required a student to know that “somebody” is singular. That’s right. Zero questions.
The other major takeaway is that you shouldn’t buy a test prep book that erroneously quotes song lyrics in lieu of real SAT questions. Stick with College Board materials. The College Board creates and owns every actual SAT question and lets you practice with them in The Official SAT Study Guide. Companies like Barron’s, McGraw Hill, and Kaplan only offer unofficial SAT material. How are students new to the SAT equipped to discern which practice questions are indicators of material they may or may not see on an actual exam? If you want to use the most relevant material, you use the College Board book – not a Princeton Review book.
Yes, Swift’s grammar in that lyric (along with the grammar of countless song lyrics by countless artists) is technically incorrect. But should she be held accountable to pronoun agreement in a song? Just like E. E. Cummings took liberties with punctuation to propel the poetic line, songwriters often ignore grammar conventions for the sake of rhythm, cadence, and rhyme. Swift, who has sold more than 40 million records and presumably is not sitting for the SAT next fall, has the freedom to buck convention in the pop realm. The Princeton Review, however, is accountable to convention. Its sole goal is to prepare students for a rigorous exam that rewards only accuracy.
The Princeton Review can’t even quote a song lyric correctly. Perhaps TSwift said it best: “You had one job, test people. One job.”