I recently encountered someone who, after many years of hearing tutors advise students to “pick the shortest” answer on ACT English and SAT Writing, decided to see how often that option actually was correct. After going through a bunch of ACTs, she discovered that the shortest answer was in fact correct only a relatively small percentage of the time. She was quite incensed about this fact, and took it as evidence that students should not be encouraged to select their answers based on length.
Now, for a tutor who advises a blunt, just-pick-the-shortest-answer-if-you’re-not-sure approach, this is a reasonable criticism.
Otherwise, however, I think it misses the point.
Fundamentally, “shorter is better” is a general guideline; it is not intended to be an ironclad rule for choosing answers. If the shortest answer were indeed always correct, even just on rhetoric questions, then SAT and ACT grammar would be far too easy to game, and many more students would receive high scores than is actually the case. (more…)
Dashes are a form of punctuation that is pretty much guaranteed to show up on both the ACT® English Test and the multiple-choice SAT® Writing Test. Because they tend to be used more frequently in British than in American English, they are typically the least familiar type of punctuation for many students. That said, they are relatively straightforward.
Dashes are tested in three ways. The first is extremely common, the second less common, and the third rare.
1) To set off a non-essential clause (2 Dashes = 2 Commas)
In this case, dashes are used exactly like commas to indicate non-essential information that can be removed without affecting the basic meaning of a sentence. If you have one dash, you need the other dash. It cannot be omitted or replaced by a comma or by any other punctuation mark. This is the most important rule regarding dashes that you need to know.
Incorrect: John Locke–whose writings strongly influenced The Declaration of Independence, was one of the most important thinkers of the eighteenth century. (more…)
Note: I’m addressing this issue in part because a colleague informed me that it’s popped up in regards to my books on Reddit. If anyone comes across those questions, feel free to direct people here.
Among the simplest and most straightforward grammatical rules students studying for the SAT or ACT often learn is two commas are often used to signal non-essential information: words, phrases, and clauses that are not central to the essential meaning of a sentence, and that can be crossed out without affecting its basic grammatical structure.
The problem, of course, is that commas can be tested in many ways, and that two commas can be present in a given section for numerous reasons. Now, much of the time, two commas in an underlined section will in fact signal non-essential information, but if you’re aiming for a very high Writing/English score on the SAT or ACT, you also need to understand when this is not the case. (To read about information that is non-essential click here.) (more…)
Not to long ago (5/30/18), I happened to post the following Question of the Day on Facebook:
It wasn’t that long ago that putting food in liquid nitrogen was something you’d only see in a high school science class, but it’s also becoming a mainstay of modernist cooking. It’s odorless, tasteless, and harmless because it’s so cold (–320.44°F to be exact), it boils at room temperature and evaporates out of your food as it rapidly chills it.
A. NO CHANGE
B. tasteless, and harmless, and because
C. tasteless and harmless, because
D. tasteless, harmless and because,
Note: this exception is addressed in the 4th edition of The Ultimate Guide to SAT® Grammar and the 3rd edition of The Complete Guide to ACT® English, but it is not covered in earlier versions.
Both SAT Writing and ACT English focus test two specific aspects of the who vs. whom rule.
1) Who, not whom, should be placed before a verb.
Incorrect: Alexander Fleming was the scientist whom discovered penicillin.
Correct: Alexander Fleming was the scientist who discovered penicillin. (more…)
“Clause” is one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot in discussion about grammar. It’s one of those words that students often hear but whose meaning they tend not to be 100% sure of.
It’s certainly possible to study for the SAT®/ACT®/GMAT® without knowing the exact definition of a clause, but understanding what clauses are and how they work can make things a whole lot easier. (more…)