By Kim Lifton
Nationally, the SAT is scheduled for March 9; the ACT is slated for April 13. Both the ACT and SAT include timed writing tests. Are you ready?
Wow has been teaching writing preparation for standardized tests for many years, and we score the essays. As you can imagine, we see quite a few common, avoidable mistakes.
You should know these tests are as much thinking tests as writing tests, designed to evaluate how quickly you can organize your thoughts and get a first draft down on paper. Yes, you will need to use your time wisely and express your thoughts clearly. But, you’ll also need to follow the rules of written English without the help of Internet tools or an old-fashioned dictionary.
With that in mind, watch out for common errors: subject-verb agreement, punctuation, capitalization and verb tenses. Here are some of the grammatical reasons our students lose points on the practice tests given during our workshops.
- Too many simple words and sentences. Pay attention to diction and syntax. You can play it too safe. Choosing too many simple words and sentences can cost you points. Graders do not want to read an essay with 20 simple sentences and elementary vocabulary. Practice using compound and complex sentences, and then include some of each in your writing.
- Stretching too far: Some students make mistakes when they use complex words and sentences. Only use words you know. You can mix up sentence variety with simple commas if you are not comfortable with more complex sentence structures. Semi-colons are great; use them if you know how to do so correctly. If you are not sure, don’t try it on this test.
- Poor spelling: Allow time to proofread your essay. While an occasional misspelling will be forgiven, be careful. We’ve taken away points when students write “there school” rather than “their school or use “to many” instead of “too many.” Don’t use the word “exacerbate” if you cannot spell it; “worsen” will do. We have seen “discriminate” spelled “discrimate” and “discrimivate.” Be careful. Proofread. Pay attention.
- Sentence fragments: “Too many requests for transfers” is not a complete sentence. “There are too many requests for transfers” is a sentence, as is “Too many students request transfers.” Make sure you have a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb) in every sentence.
There’s no need to stress out. You might bring up your score a point or two if you practice timed writing with ACT essay prompts and pay attention to detail before you take the test. Looking for practice prompts? Check out our website or sign up for a workshop.
Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, which teaches college-bound students and graduate students how to write college admissions essays and personal statements; Wow also runs Ace the ACT Writing Test workshops, and can set up private workshops on request. For information, go to Wow Writing Workshop.