Writing Strategies Study Guide: Pre-GED Language Arts, Writing (page 6)
The practice quiz for this study guide can be found at:
This article covers GED writing tips and strategies that will help you be successful on exam day. You'll learn to recognize and correct errors in sentence structure, usage, mechanics, and organization, as well as identify the purpose of various parts of an essay.
The GED Language Arts, Writing Exam is composed of two parts: a multiple choice test and a written essay. You have to pass both parts to pass the writing exam. Don't let that get you worried—the good news is that preparing for one part helps you to prepare for the other. And of course, the more you practice the better your score will likely be on both parts of the exam.
The previous chapters have provided you with the core writing information you will need to succeed on the GED Language Arts, Writing Exam. In this chapter, we will briefly review what you have learned. The topics covered include:
- sentence structure
- writing an effective essay
In addition to reviewing what you've learned so far, we will also go over some new GED tips and strategies. Together with the information provided in the last six chapters, these proven tools for exam success will help you prepare for and excel on test day.
Sentence structure basically refers to the order and use of words in sentences. The simple sentence He eats a burger is written with good structure; all the words are in order and the sentence makes sense. The sentence A he burger eats contains the same words, but does not display good structure.
Sentence structure questions on the GED will be a little more difficult than the previous example, but they will be based on the same idea: that there are rules in English which govern where words should be placed in a sentence and how they are used. It's important for you to know what these rules are. The following rules are likely to pop up on part I of the GED Writing Exam.
Subjects and Predicates
The subject is who or what is doing the action in the sentence; the predicate is the verb and everything that comes after it. For example, consider the following sentence:
Only geeks like tests.
In this sentence, geeks is the subject and like tests is the predicate.
A clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a predicate. For example, the phrase when I go to lunch is a clause because it contains a subject (I) and a predicate (go to lunch). The phrase to lunch contains no subject and no verb, so it is not a clause.
There are two different kinds of clauses: independent and dependent. An independent clause is a complete sentence, whereas a dependent clause cannot stand alone as a sentence.
The phrase when I go to lunch is a dependent clause because it does not express a complete thought. Whatever the rest of the thought is, it's definitely necessary to make when I go to lunch a complete sentence.
Because people often speak in incomplete sentences, it can be difficult to tell the difference between a dependent clause and an independent clause. Fortunately, there are a number of clue words that generally come at the beginning of a phrase and tip us off that it's a dependent clause. (The technical name for these clue words is subordinating conjunctions.)
Here are some examples of clue words, or subordinating conjunctions:
Memorize a few of these clue words each day, and by the time you take the test you should be able to recognize a dependent clause pretty easily.
Fragments and Run-ons
A fragment is a part of a sentence, or an incomplete sentence. A run-on is two or more sentences stuck together without proper punctuation. On the GED, fragments will often be dependent clauses, as in the previous example, and you'll be able to recognize them using clue words. At other times they will simply be groups of words lacking either a subject or a predicate. Look for a subject and a predicate in each sentence. If you can't find one, it's a fragment.
On the GED, a run-on often shows up in the form of two independent clauses joined by a comma, instead of separated by a period. For example, you might see a sentence like this:
She agreed to marry him, that made him happy.
There are two complete thoughts here: she agrees to marry him, and that made him happy. They should be two separate sentences, as follows:
She agreed to marry him. That made him happy.
There are a number of words that people commonly mistake for coordinating conjunctions, but which actually require a separate sentence. If you come across any of these words on a GED test question, it's a good chance that you're looking at a run-on:
Active and Passive Voice
Active and passive voice refers to the way you write about the subject and verb. If the subject is known and is doing the action, it's an active voice. If the subject is unknown or is not doing the action, it's a passive voice.
This concept is much easier to understand with an example. Look at the following sentence:
Barry hit the ball.
Barry is the subject and he's the one doing the action. That means the sentence is written in an active voice. What if we write the following:
The ball was hit by Barry.
Now the ball is the subject, but it's not doing anything; something is being done to it. The subject is no longer active, so the sentence is written in a passive voice.
Generally speaking, you should use the active voice, rather than the passive voice, when you write. The GED will likely include some questions that test your ability to identify the passive voice and to change it to an active voice.
Throughout the history of the English language, people have developed conventional ways of speaking that enable them to understand each other. These conventions are referred to as usage. On the GED, usage questions commonly test the following concepts:
- verb conjugation
- verb tense
- subject-verb agreement
To conjugate a verb means to change its form so that it matches its subject correctly. For example, if your subject is the dinosaur and the verb is want, you would change the verb to wants to make it match the subject in the sentence, as in The dinosaur wants to eat fruit.
Although it may seem pretty easy to catch the error in the sentence, The dinosaur want to eat fruit, sentences that test your knowledge of verb tenses on the GED can be a little trickier. They will often contain multiple verbs separated by other words, like this:
The children are hungry and, thanks to their mom, is about to have a snack
The verb is is incorrectly conjugated; the subject, children, is plural, and therefore the verb should be plural too. The verb are matches the plural subject. The corrected sentence is:
The children are hungry and, thanks to their mom, are about to have a snack.
Verb tense refers to the time in which an action occurs: past, present, or future. Most verbs have a different form for each tense. For example, the verb drink looks different if you're referring to the past, drank, than if you're referring to the future, will drink.
The GED is mostly concerned with your ability to keep tenses consistent. In other words, if you start a sentence with a verb in past tense, you should probably continue to use the past tense throughout.
As previously mentioned, a subject and verb are said to agree when they are either both plural or both singular. Usually, to make a noun plural you add an -s, and to make a verb plural you take an -s away. For example:
The dog growls.
The dogs growl.
On the GED, you're likely to see questions that will test common errors in subject-verb agreement. Here are a few common mistakes to watch out for:
- doesn't/don't. Incorrect: He don't want to go. Correct: He doesn't want to go.
- wasn't/weren't. Incorrect: The pens wasn't in the drawer when I looked. Correct: The pens weren't in the drawer when I looked.
- there's/there are. Incorrect: There's a lot of people here. Correct: There are a lot of people here.
- here's/here are. Incorrect: Here's the instructions. Correct: Here are the instructions.
In reference to writing, the term mechanics refers to the little things that make your writing look like it should: capitalization, spelling, and punctuation. Using correct mechanics may not change the substance of your writing; that is, a word may mean the same thing whether it's capitalized or not. Correct mechanics will change how your writing is perceived.
You probably remember that in English, all proper nouns are capitalized. But you may sometimes have trouble remembering what a proper noun is. The following list includes many common nouns that should always be capitalized.
- People's first, middle, and last names and initials: Bob Jones, T. Davis, Jay Lynn Jackson
- Names of specific places: Austin, Mississippi, Afghanistan, Rohnert Park
- Brand names: Band-Aid, Starbucks, McDonald's
- Days of the week and holidays: Sunday, Monday, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day
- Months of the year: August, September, October
- Titles of books, movies, TV shows, etc., with the exception of short prepositions or articles that are not the first word: War and Peace, Desperate Housewives, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Most nouns in English are not capitalized, so it would be next to impossible to write a list of all types of nouns that shouldn't be capitalized. There are, however, several types of nouns that are commonly capitalized by mistake. Here are a few to remember:
- Words that refer to people's titles (doctor, secretary, president), unless they immediately precede the person's name: my doctor, Doctor Jones, Secretary of State Roberts, the president, President Obama
- Names of general places: our city, the next town, seven continents, a park
- General product names: bandage, coffee, fast food
- Seasons of the year: fall, winter, spring, summer
The general rule here is that unless you're referring to a specific person, place, or thing, the noun should not be capitalized.
Good spelling skills are a lifelong pursuit. There is no fixed set of rules that you can memorize in order to know how to spell every word in the English language. Fortunately, the GED tends to test the same words over and over again—short, common words that people misspell all the time. Here's a list of some you should definitely know how to use:
Much more than spelling, punctuation in English tends to follow a fixed set of rules. The problem is that the list of rules is half a mile long. Fortunately, for the purposes of the GED you will only need to know what each punctuation mark means and a few basic rules for how it is used.
- A comma (,) indicates a brief pause. Example: Jackie, my oldest sister, got a job yesterday.
- A semicolon (;) is used to divide two complete sentences with a pause shorter than a period. Example: Jackie is my oldest sister; I don't get along with her.
- A colon (:) introduces a list or an explanation. Example: I have three sisters: Jackie, Celia, and Tyler.
- A dash (—) is used to indicate a long break for emphasis. Example: My oldest sister and I used to fight—a lot.
- A period (.) stops a sentence at the end of a complete thought. Example: Jackie is my oldest sister.
- An exclamation point (!) stops a sentence with emphasis. Example: I'm sick of fighting!
- A question mark (?) is used to indicate a question. Example: Do you fight with your sisters?
Among all punctuation marks in the English language, the comma interests the GED test developers most. They want to know that you can use a comma when it's needed and leave it out when it's not. The following is a list of common comma uses:
- when you're combining two complete sentences with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, etc.)
- Example: I don't like grammar, but I have to learn it for the test.
- when you're writing a list of three or more related words.
- Example: The president is focused on the economy, health care, and the war in Afghanistan.
- when you're using a quotation.
- Example: Who originally said, "All that glitters is not gold"?
- when you're giving the reader extra information that's unnecessary to the sentence.
- Example: Jackie, my oldest sister, got a job yesterday.
- when you're writing a date.
- Example: Today is November 14, 2009.
Organization refers to placing sentences and paragraphs in order so that the reader can best understand what you're trying to say in your writing. An organized paragraph typically includes one topic sentence, placed either at the beginning or at the end of the paragraph, and a few supporting sentences. An organized essay includes an introduction with a strong thesis statement, two or more body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
There are several common ways of organizing supporting sentences and paragraphs in an essay. Three of the most common are:
- chronological order
- order of importance
- cause and effect
Chronological order is the order in which things happen in time; in other words, what happens first, next, and last. If you were telling a story, giving instructions, or relating an event in your essay, you would probably do well to write in chronological order.
A common mistake made by beginning writers is to skip around in time. For example, when telling about a football game, one might write:
Our team got a touchdown! The running back got the ball at the 48 yard line and ran it all the way to the end zone. The coach told the quarterback to go long, but instead he handed it off to the running back.
As you can see, this is not the order in which things actually happened; that is, it's not written in chronological order and may be confusing to some. A more organized way to write the paragraph would be as follows:
- The coach told the quarterback to go long, but instead he handed it off to the running back at the 48 yard line. Then the running back ran the ball all the way to the end zone. At last our team got a touchdown!
Telling what happens first, next, and last—in that order—helps the reader keep track of what you're writing about.
Order of Importance
To organize your writing based on order of importance means to put sentences or paragraphs in order from most to least important, or from least to most important. For example, let's say you're telling a coworker about your rotten weekend. Three terrible things happened to you: you lost your hat, you stubbed your toe, and you were very ill. Assuming that your illness is the most important event and losing your hat is the second most important event, you might tell the story like this:
This was a terrible weekend. I stubbed my toe so badly that now I can hardly walk. Even worse, on Saturday night I lost my hat. Worst of all, when I came home Saturday night I got violently ill!
On the GED, you'll be expected to know when sentences or paragraphs are in the wrong order. Look for key words like more/most, worse/worst, better/best, etc., to determine what order things should be in.
Cause and Effect
Cause and effect is an organizational style that either puts the entire cause of an event first, and then the effect, or vice versa. The key to this method is to be sure that the two are entirely separated and clear. For example, let's say you got in a car wreck because a deer ran out in front of you. You might write something like this:
(1) Last week, I had to get my front bumper replaced. (2) I also had to get my windshield replaced and the front tires realigned. (3) All this trouble came into my life because I ran into a deer last Monday.
As you can see, the two sentences describing the effect are together at the beginning of the paragraph, while the sentence describing the cause is at the end. The paragraph would not be as well organized if you moved sentence (3) in front of sentence (2), thereby interrupting the organizational flow.
Writing an Effective Essay
The first step in writing an effective paragraph or essay is to first brainstorm, or quickly write down every idea that comes to mind on the topic. The second step is to choose the strongest of these ideas for use in your essay. The third step is to put them into an effective outline.
An effective essay has three parts:
- an introduction
- a body (made up of at least two paragraphs)
- a conclusion
The introduction to an essay should do three things: catch the reader's attention, introduce the subject, and state the main idea of the essay in the thesis statement. The thesis statement is typically the first or last sentence of the paragraph, and should respond directly to the question posed by the prompt.
The body of the essay should include at least two paragraphs that develop the argument stated in the thesis statement. Each body paragraph should contain a topic sentence, which states the main idea of the paragraph. Remember, the topic sentence is generally the first sentence of the paragraph, and is followed by two or three supporting sentences.
The conclusion is the final paragraph of the essay. It should restate the main idea of the essay, bring the subject to a close, and provide the reader with a sense of closure. A good conclusion will leave the reader with a clear idea of what the essay was about, as well as elicit an intellectual or emotional response.
Ten Tips to Improve Your Score on the GED Writing Exam
Now that you've reviewed the information you'll be expected to know for the GED writing exam, let's go over a few tips to help you earn the highest score possible.
Tip #1: Know Before You Go
Don't waste valuable time and brain energy getting to know the GED on test day. Know what to expect before you go! Read the instructions for each part of the test several times before exam day, and memorize how much time you'll have for each part of the test.
Tip #2: Time Yourself
Practice timing yourself while taking practice sections of the test. The more you get used to being timed, the less likely you'll run out of time on test day.
Tip #3: Write by Hand
In the age of computers and cell phones, we almost never write anything by hand. As a result, the muscles in our hands get weak from lack of practice. Buff them up! Practice writing things by hand so that your hand won't get tired while you're working on your essay.
Tip #4: Read Good Writing
We'd like to say that the more you read, the better your writing will be, but that's not always true. A lot of material that's available to read today, such as blogs and e-mails, is quite poorly written. Read good, reputable newspapers and books to hone your skills.
Tip #5: Use Flash Cards
Use index cards to study for the GED whenever you have some spare time. Jot down core writing concepts and practice until you have them down cold.
Tip #6: Practice Brainstorming
Brainstorming can be a difficult skill to master, but once you've learned how to do it, your writing should improve significantly. As always, practice is key—check the newspaper headlines for a list of topics, and brainstorm for a few minutes each day on a topic that interests you.
Tip #7: Trust Yourself
When you're writing the essay, don't be afraid to use examples from your own personal experience as supporting material. Your experiences and observations about the world are valid. Write about them with authority!
Tip #8: Check Back
While you're writing your outline, check back with the prompt from time to time to make sure that you haven't gotten off topic. It's much easier to correct yourself in the outline stage than after you've started writing.
Tip #9: Leave Space
Leave extra space between lines when you're writing the essay so that it will be easier to add or change things later on. Of course, if you've written and followed a good outline, there shouldn't be too much to revise.
Tip #10: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
We could make the argument that everything is important on the GED, but the truth is that some things are more important than others. Here's a list of small stuff on the GED that, while important, is not likely to make or break your score:
- Handwriting. Don't spend a lot of time trying to show perfect handwriting. As long as your writing is legible, it's fine.
- Spelling. Don't worry too much about the spelling of homonyms like there/their/they're, or the spelling of long, difficult words like onomatopoeia. Concentrate on content.
- Conclusion. If there's one section of the essay where test graders will cut you a little slack, it's the conclusion. Spend more time on the introduction and body paragraphs; they're more important.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Okay, so we said 10 tips. Consider this one as a bonus. The most important thing you can do to improve your score on the GED Language Arts, Writing exam is practice. Practice writing essays, spelling homonyms, and finding commas that are out of place on websites and in newspaper advertisements. The more time you spend working on your writing, the better your score will be. Good luck!
The practice quiz for this study guide can be found at:
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