Writing Exam Tips and Strategies: GED Test Prep (page 4)
One of the myths about writing is that either you have writing talent, or you don't. True, some people have a special gift for effective writing. But good writing is a skill, and like other skills, it is something that everyone can learn.
Throughout this article, you will review the structure of the writing exam and specific tips you can use to improve your score on the test. Read this article carefully, and then review your notes from the whole GED Language Arts, Writing section.
The GED Language Arts, Writing Exam in a Nutshell
The GED Language Arts, Writing Exam consists of two parts. Part I (75 minutes) will ask you 50 questions about sentence structure, usage, mechanics, and organization. These questions will be drawn from informational passages, business documents such as memos, and how-to texts. You will be asked the best way to correct or revise sentences or paragraphs.
Part II (45 minutes) will ask you to write an essay of about 250 words (four to five paragraphs). Your essay prompts may ask you to write a narrative essay (tell a story), a persuasive essay (argue a point of view), or expository essay (explain or describe your response to a question). Essays are scored holistically, taking into account the overall effectiveness of the essay.
Sentence structure refers to the way we put words together in sentences. Chapter 11 reviewed the building blocks of sentences: subjects, predicates, and objects; independent and dependent clauses; sentence boundaries; parts of speech; and parallel structure.
Approximately one-third of the questions on Part I will be about sentence structure. Here are some tips for tackling questions about sentence structure:
- Look for words that signal relationships and make connections: subordinating conjunctions, coordinating conjunctions, and conjunctive adverbs. These words help describe the relationship between ideas and determine sentence boundaries and punctuation.
- Look carefully at word order. Are modifiers close to the things they modify?
- Look for grammatical patterns. Is there—or should there be—parallel structure at work in the sentence?
- Consider sentence combining possibilities. Could sentences be combined effectively?
- If you suspect a sentence fragment, isolate that sentence and see if it makes sense on its own. If not, it probably needs to be combined with another sentence or revised to be complete.
- If you suspect a run-on sentence, look at each clause. Is it independent? If so, is there strong enough punctuation or connecting words between the clauses?
Another third of the questions on Part I will be about usage: the rules that govern the form of the words we use and how we put those words together in sentences. Chapter 12 reviewed the usage rules you should know for the exam. Here are some specific tips for questions about usage.
Because verbs are the driving force in every sentence, and because verbs can take so many different forms, you can be sure that many usage questions will be about verbs. Here are five tips to help you prepare for those questions:
- Memorize irregular and troublesome verb forms.
- Remember that verbs should be consistent in tense.
- Make sure that verbs agree with their subjects.
- Make sure the correct helping verbs are used to convey the intended meaning.
- Use infinitives and gerunds correctly.
To remember singular indefinite pronouns, note that someone, anyone, everyone, and no one all contain the word one. One, of course, is singular. Indefinite pronouns beginning with some, any, every and no are all singular.
When it comes to agreement, think of sentences as a scale with subjects on one side and verbs on the other, or with antecedents on one side and pronouns on the other. The subjects and verbs need to agree in order for the scale to be balanced. Likewise, the pronouns need to agree with their antecedents to balance the scale.
It's so easy to make a mistake with pronouns and contractions because we show possession of nouns with an apostrophe (Ralph's car).With pronouns, however, possession does not require an apostrophe. If you get confused, think of a possessive pronoun that doesn't get confused with contractions, like my or our. These do not have apostrophes; other possessive pronouns shouldn't, either.
And here's one way to remember to use that when referring to things: Both words begin with the letter t.
If prepositional idioms tend to give you problems, try writing sentences with the idioms to give yourself extra practice. Create a worksheet for yourself or someone else who may also need extra idiom review.
About one-fourth of the questions on Part I will be about mechanics: the rules that govern punctuation, capitalization, and spelling. Chapter 13 reviewed punctuation guidelines, rules for correct capitalization, and spelling for contractions and possessive pronouns as well as homonyms. Here are some specific tips for handling questions about mechanics.
Remember that punctuation marks are used to separate sentences, show the relationships between ideas, reveal tone, and clarify meaning. Each punctuation mark has a specific function and should only be used in specific situations. Take the time to memorize the uses for each punctuation mark. Here are some tips to help you learn them:
- Pay attention to how punctuation is used as you read. Now that you know the rules, the more you see them in action, the easier it will be to remember them.
- Write your own sentences with each punctuation mark and each comma rule. Notice how punctuation can change the impact and meaning of sentences.
- Teach the punctuation rules to someone else.
When capitalization is the issue, ask yourself whether the word in question is specific or general. If it is a specific person, place, or thing, then it probably should be capitalized. Remember, in this regard, specific means particular or individual, not detailed. For example, a poodle is a specific type of dog, but it is not capitalized because it doesn't refer to a specific (individual or particular) dog. Rover, however, should be capitalized because Rover is a specific (particular, individual) dog.
Whenever you come across a question with a contraction, read it as two words. If it doesn't make sense, then you need a possessive pronoun, not a contraction. Eliminate the apostrophe.
Unfortunately, the only thing you can do to prepare for questions about homonyms is to memorize the correct meanings and spellings. Try using mnemonic devices to remember which word is which. For example:
stationary vs. stationery: Remember that "stationery" is the one to write on because it's spelled with an "er" like the letter you are writing.
Finally, a smaller portion of the questions on Part I will be about organization: how writers arrange their ideas. Chapter 14 reviewed essay structure and organizational patterns, effective paragraphs, and transitions. When you encounter a question about organization, these guidelines can help you identify the correct answer.
- Identify the organizational pattern. How are the ideas in the passage or paragraph organized? Then consider: Is there any sentence or paragraph that seems to be out of place in the pattern?
- Identify the main idea of the paragraph or passage. What thought holds the paragraph or passage together? Is there a topic sentence expressing that thought? Then consider: Is there any sentence (or portion of a sentence) that doesn't fit under the controlling idea?
- Look for transitions in the paragraph or passage. Are there strong transitions leading you from one idea to the next? Would the paragraph or passage be more effective if more (or more appropriate) transitions were added?
Part II: The Essay
Chapter 15 described the steps you should take to write well on an essay exam. You learned that when you must write under pressure, good planning and time management are the keys to success. At test time, remember this guideline for using your time on the exam:
- time (10–15 minutes): planning
- time (20–25 minutes): writing
- time (10–15 minutes): revising and editing
The following tips can help you write a successful essay for the GED Language Arts, Writing Exam:
- Make sure you understand the prompt. What kind of essay are you being asked to write?
- Make sure you directly answer the prompt. Remember, you will receive a zero if you do not write on the assigned topic.
- Remember that you only have 45 minutes, so it's important not to waste any time. If you are stuck and can't seem to get started, try freewriting or another brainstorming technique. This will help you get some ideas down on paper and get your thoughts flowing.
- Remember that in a brainstorm, there's no such thing as a stupid idea; write down anything that comes to mind. When you're ready to outline, you can eliminate ideas that don't fit.
- On Part II, it's important to write for a general audience. That means two things:
- You must provide context for your readers. Don't assume that your readers know what you know. For example, if you are writing about your favorite film, you must provide some essential information about that film for your readers, including the basic plot and characters.
- You must use an appropriate level of formality. Avoid jargon (technical or specialized language) and slang. Don't try to use big words just to sound more intelligent. Often, simple words are the most clear and effective. Besides, you may end up misusing vocabulary and saying things you don't mean.
- Make sure you have a clear purpose. Know what you want to accomplish in your essay. What is your goal? Before you begin to write, draft a thesis statement. Remember that a thesis must say something about the subject.
- Remember that first impressions count. Get your reader's attention and state your thesis clearly in your introduction.
- Remember that writing is a process, and that effective planning is perhaps the most important part of that process. Plan your essay carefully. Use your outline to organize your ideas and make sure you have provided strong and sufficient support. If you don't have at least two supporting ideas, you should rethink your essay. If you are making an argument, use order of importance (least to most important) to organize your ideas.
- Make sure to provide strong transitions throughout your essay. Use transitional words and phrases to connect sentences and ideas.
- Remember that style is important. When you revise:
- Try to make a few word choice changes so that your writing has more impact. Use precise, vivid verbs and nouns.
- Check for wordiness and redundancy. Don't repeat yourself or use bulky constructions such as in this day and age (today is more concise and appropriate).
- Be sure you have some variety in sentence structure. If your essay has a sing-songy or monotonous rhythm, combine sentences and add introductory phrases so that your sentence patterns are more diverse.
- Even if you have only a few minutes left at the end of the exam, take the time to review what you have written. If you make only one or two minor corrections, you have still made an improvement in your essay.
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