McGraw-Hill Education ACT 2017 (2016)
Part III. STRATEGIES AND REVIEW
Chapter 7. ACT WRITING TEST: STRATEGIES AND REVIEW
The ACT Writing Test is optional, meaning that students can choose whether to take it. Make your decision based on the requirements of the colleges and universities to which you plan to apply. Nearly all the colleges that our students apply to require scores from either the SAT (which always has an essay) or the ACT with the Writing Test Option. Be sure to check with your schools-of-choice before registering for the ACT. If you take the Writing Test, it will come at the end of the ACT exam. You will have a short break between the ACT multiple-choice sections and the Writing Test.
The Writing Test consists of a “prompt,” which is a brief discussion of a topic to which you must respond, and some blank, lined space in which to write your answer. You will have forty minutes to complete the test. The graders are not looking for long essay answers; they are looking for quality essays.
The Writing Test is scored on a scale of 1–36 plus four “domain scores”: “Ideas and Analysis,” “Development and Support,” “Organization,” and “Language Use and Conventions.” Each of the four domains is scored from 2–12. Please note that your domain scores do not necessarily add up to your scaled writing score. Two professional, trained readers will evaluate your answer. The readers are guided by these descriptions of the domains:
Ideas and Analysis: This domain reflects the candidate’s ability to engage critically with multiple perspectives and generate relevant ideas.
Development and Support: This domain reflects the ability to construct a sound argument that is well supported by examples.
Organization: This domain reflects the ability to organize and express ideas clearly and with purpose while guiding the reader through discussion.
Language Use and Conventions: This domain reflects the use of language following the rules and conventions of style, grammar, syntax, word choice, and mechanics, including proper punctuation.
If you do not take the Writing Test, your Composite Score (overall multiple-choice score) will not be affected, but the separate English Language Arts (ELA) score will not be reported. Please visit www.act.org for more details on the scoring system.
The most important thing to know about this essay is that THERE IS NO CORRECT ANSWER! The readers are looking at the essay as an example of your ability to write a clear, concise, persuasive piece. DO NOT WASTE TIME by trying to figure out which position the test writers want you to choose.
This part of the ACT is designed to measure your writing skills. The test writers specifically choose topics that are probably relevant to high school students, and they even give a couple of different points of view from which to choose. They are looking for essays that have a clear position and support it. The graders will reward you with more points if you stay focused on your main idea throughout your essay and back up your position by giving specific examples and information. You will certainly do well if you have a clear, logical structure and if your language is correct and free of errors in grammar or vocabulary. Don’t take any vocabulary risks when writing this essay. If you are not sure what a word means, don’t use it. It should go without saying, but remember that you should not fill your essay with slang, jargon, or profanity.
There is a great overlap between the English section of the ACT and the Writing Test. If you can recognize proper English and point out common errors on the multiple-choice portion of the ACT, you should be able to avoid making those same errors on the Writing Test.
The essay prompt gives you three different positions on the issue. You will be given some scratch paper for this part of the ACT. Later in the chapter, we will discuss some specific ideas for the best way to use it. Be certain that you do use it. This is not the time to jump in and start writing a stream-of-consciousness, shoot-from-the-hip answer off the top of your head. Even though you do not have time to do a full first and second draft of this essay, make use of the time that is given to you to do some pre-writing. Be sure that you plan out what you are going to say before you actually start writing out your final answer.
At this point in your ACT testing day, you are likely to be somewhat tired. Try to focus on the fact that you are almost finished, and do what you can to keep your focus for the last thirty minutes. In some cases, this essay will be important to people who make admissions decisions at the institutions to which you are applying.
HOW TO PREPARE
As was noted earlier in this book, humans acquire skills through practice. Since the Writing Test is a test of your writing skills, you should practice writing in order to score better. Specifically, you should practice the type of writing that is rewarded by the scoring rubric. The best way to make sure that you are on track is to have someone with experience in this area, someone you trust, give you specific feedback on the good and not-so-good parts of your practice essays. You can gain from reading your own essays and comparing them to a rubric. However, writers tend to develop blind spots when it comes to areas that need improvement in their own essays. It is always a good idea to get a fresh set of eyes to review your work. Most high school teachers would be delighted if a student came to them for help on a practice essay. It does not take long for an experienced grader to give feedback that can be immensely valuable to a student.
Get a “fresh pair” of eyes to review your practice essays. It will not take long for an experienced reader to give you valuable feedback.
THE ESSAY PROMPT
The prompt will be a few sentences long and will mention an issue that can cause some disagreement. It will also include three different positions on the issue and then instructions to take a position on the issue in your essay. The page following the prompt will be blank on both sides, except for a note that says that anything that you put on those two pages will not be scored. This is the “scratch paper” on which you can jot down whatever notes you want to and do some outlining to help keep yourself on track as you write in your answer document.
Four pages of lined answer space follow the blank pages. You are to confine your response to these four pages. It may not sound like a lot of space, but we have found that the students who write the most and complain about not having enough room to finish are usually spending too much time on irrelevant discussion or have needless repetition in their answers. You may use pencil only. No ink is allowed. You should probably write with a medium pressure since, if you don’t press hard enough, your words might not scan. If you press too hard, you will have a hard time keeping your essay neat if you need to erase.
The prompt essentially describes a debate on an issue about which you are likely to have some strong feelings. If you do have strong feelings, you should just stick with your first response to the issue and work from there. If you don’t, the fact that ACT will give you three different responses to the issue that other people have had means that you can just choose one of them as your starting point.
ESSAY WRITING TECHNIQUES
Here are the steps that are likely to result in the best essay that you can write. The steps are laid out so that you can perform them one at a time. This is not the time for “multitasking.” If you were simply to read the stimulus and then try to write your answer out from the beginning to the end on the lined pages, you would certainly be doing several tasks at once. You would be creating the logical structure of your essay, searching your memory banks for vocabulary words, and anticipating counterarguments at the same time that you would be trying to apply the rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling correctly, as well as remembering some good, relevant examples to plug into your essay structure. In short, those students who try to write without planning are setting themselves up for a score that is less than their potential because they are trying to do too many things at one time. Consider the following:
Read the Prompt
It is okay to read the prompt over more than once to be certain that you understand it completely. The test booklet is a resource for you to consume, so don’t be afraid to underline, circle, and so on. The stimulus is short, so reading carefully will not take up much of your time. However, it may save you from making a mistake in responding to the prompt.
For example, many students write essays that argue vehemently against school uniforms when responding to a prompt that mentions school dress codes but never actually mentions uniforms at all. While it is possible to write an essay that takes the idea of dress codes one step further and actually advocates for the dress codes, it reveals a clear misunderstanding of the stimulus to write an essay that argues against something that is never even mentioned.
You must know what the task is before you begin. Rushing through this step can cost valuable points and make some of your hard work worthless.
One or two minutes will probably be sufficient time to read the prompt carefully.
Think about the Prompt
If the topic is something that you have thought about or discussed in the past, then you may already have an opinion. If not, then take a short time to formulate your opinion. This is what these essays are really all about: opinion. That is why there is really no correct or incorrect position to take. The test writers are careful to choose topics that have several sides that can be argued successfully. Remember that one of the characteristics of the rubric is taking a position on the issue. This is not the time to be overly diplomatic. Take a side and defend your choice.
This thinking process should not take very long, a few minutes at most.
Plan Your Essay
Your essay should begin with a clear statement of your position on the issue. There should be no doubt in the reader’s mind about which side you are on from the beginning of your essay. You should use the scratch paper that is provided to outline the structure of your essay, beginning with your position statement.
There is an old saying about effective essays: Tell them what you are going to tell them. “Tell them. Then, tell them what you told them.” In other words, you should have a clear introduction, a body, and a conclusion that echoes the introduction. You may choose to do a traditional five-paragraph essay, but it is possible to write a very effective essay with more paragraphs or fewer.
The planning stage is the most important stage of the essay-writing process. You can take up to 10 minutes to organize your position and examples and still probably have enough time to finish your essay.
Your outline does not have to include complete sentences. It does have to include the ideas that you will put into your final draft. You need to be sure that you have a clear picture of where you are going and how you will get there before you start to write on the answer document.
You will hear some of the other test-takers around you scratching furiously with their pencils from the beginning of the 40-minute period. Sometimes that sound can make you feel like you are falling behind. You are not. Forty minutes is a long time to write two to four pages on a one-paragraph stimulus. The planning stage is the most important stage. Even if you spend 10 minutes on this stage, you will probably still be able to finish on time. Your essay will certainly be better than if you had simply started writing your thoughts with no planning.
Write Your Essay Out on the Answer Pages
You should also remember that there are really four categories of information when you are writing a persuasive essay and the opposing positions are clearly understood:
1. Positive for your position
2. Negative for your position
3. Positive for the opposing positions
4. Negative for the opposing positions
An effective essay uses facts from all four categories. You can think of your position as “correct” and the other positions as “incorrect.” When you write a paragraph that is focused on the “correct” side of the issue, you should mention at least one aspect of your choice that may be seen as a negative by some people. Your essay will be much more persuasive if you do not ignore potential problems with your side of the debate. Of course, you should be sure to mention plenty of positive information in order to overcome the potential downside to which you are admitting.
The same technique can be applied to the part of your essay where you discuss opposing positions. You should admit that the other side of the debate has at least one strong point. Then, follow up with enough discussion of the pitfalls associated with the other side of the argument that your side ends up looking like the clear winner.
This is known as dealing with counterarguments, and it is the most effective way of presenting a persuasive written argument. To do this properly requires certain transition words. There are four basic categories of transition words that you will probably have to use:
Contrast: But, However, On the other hand, Conversely, Although, Even though, etc.
Similarity: Likewise, Similarly, Also, Equally, etc.
Evidence: Since, Because, In light of, First, Second, Third, etc.
Conclusion: Therefore, Thus, As a result, So, It follows that, In conclusion, etc.
An example of a sentence structure that will allow you to deal with these positive and negative categories of facts follows:
The opposition makes a valid point regarding the initial cost of my solution; the truth is that my solution would only cost a few dollars more per user than their option would. Furthermore, it would result in significant maintenance savings over the long run that would more than make up for the slightly higher start-up costs.
This pair of sentences effectively deals in two ways with the potential objection that the other side might raise. First, it reduces the impact of the higher cost of the author’s proposal by pointing out that the difference really is not very large when considered as a cost per user. Then, it points out that the costs will be recaptured in the future through increased savings. In addition, the sentence makes proper use of a semicolon. A semicolon is used correctly when you could erase it and replace it with a period and a capital letter. In other words, the semicolon links two independent clauses, which could stand alone as sentences in their own right. You should use the semicolon when the two sentences are very closely related and are continuing the same thought.
There are many common errors that students make on the ACT Writing Test essay. If you know what to avoid, you will not only be a better writer, but, you will have a much easier time on the multiple-choice English Test. Consider the following:
The scoring rubric awards points for specific examples. Think of the best teachers you have had. They tend to tell you the general concept that they are teaching and then give one or more specific, memorable examples. This strategy works because of the memorable examples.
If you are told that there is no progress without determination and hard work, you might accept the statement as true and you may even remember it. However, you will have a much better chance of fully grasping the idea and remembering it later if you are given a specific example like Thomas Edison, who tried thousands and thousands of different filament materials in his lightbulbs before finally settling on one that gave acceptable light and lasted a reasonable period of time.
Too often, students make broad, general statements in their essays without giving any specific support. Make sure that you provide clear, simple examples of the general statements that you make.
Too Emotional and Opinionated
While it is true that the stimulus will be asking you for an opinion, you should not make the entire essay about your feelings. You should state what your opinion is and then back up your opinion with well-reasoned, logical support. Tell the reader why you feel the way you do rather than just telling how you feel.
Also, exclamation points are rarely appropriate for a Writing Test essay. Smiley faces or other “emoticons” are never appropriate.
Many coaches and teachers have suggested that students apply the K.I.S.S. principle. While there is a slightly less polite formulation, we’ll explain the K.I.S.S. principle as an acronym for “Keep It Short and Sweet.” For example, do not use three words when one will do.
Be sure to explain the connection between the examples that you use and your conclusion. Don’t assume that the grader will agree with your viewpoint regarding the significance of a given fact.
To illustrate, if you want to say, “I do not think that the proposal will work,” do not write, “I believe that my feelings on this matter are correct when I state plainly and clearly that the previously proposed solution to this complicated problem will be somewhat less than completely effective as compared to other potential solutions, which have been brought forth concurrently.”
The graders are not going to be blown away by your amazing ability to use a dozen words to state a plain idea. They are going to be blown away if you are able to make your point cleanly and clearly.
If you are not sure what a word means or whether it would be appropriate to use in your essay, don’t use it. Many an otherwise wonderful essay has been sunk by a word or two used incorrectly, which made the grader start to question the author’s abilities.
For instance, if you were grading an essay that said, “High school students are often condemned for their kindness,” you might know that the author meant to say, “High school students are often commended for their kindness.” But you would still have to note the error and take it into account in scoring the essay.
As mentioned previously in the chapter, the grader has to assign a score to your essay that depends on the grader’s interpretation of the terms in the rubric. In order to help the grader interpret those terms in your favor when he or she is making judgment calls, you should write or print as neatly as you can. Make it easy for the graders to find the good things about your essay that will allow them to give you all of the points that your hard work deserves.
The essay that you must write for the Writing Test is an argument. It is an essay written with the purpose of defending a position. That position is your conclusion, and the support you are offering is evidence for that conclusion. There should be a cause-and-effect relationship between your evidence and your conclusion. In other words, the body of your essay should lead the reader to see the wisdom of your position.
For example, if you are taking the position in your essay that students should be subject to an 11:00 P.M. curfew, do not spend time discussing how you felt about your bedtime when you were seven years old.
Choose relevant examples that are connected to your position in a direct way. One way to do this is to use examples that point out the benefits of your position. For example, “I believe that anyone under the age of 18 should have an 11:00 P.M. curfew on school nights. This is because school starts at 8:00 A.M., which means that most students have to get up at 7:00 A.M., or even earlier. Since students, like everyone, need adequate sleep in order to learn well, an 11:00 P.M. curfew would help students to succeed in school.”
While you may disagree with the conclusion of the above argument, you have to admit that there is a cause-and-effect connection between the evidence presented and the position that the author takes.
There are two components to an argument: evidence and conclusion.
Evidence leads to conclusions. You need at least two pieces of evidence to support one conclusion. So, if you only give one piece of evidence, you must be making an assumption. Logic professors refer to assumptions as “suppressed premises,” which is just a fancy way to say, “unstated evidence.” If you leave too much of your evidence unstated, your argument starts to get weak.
For example, if an essay says, “Curfews are dangerous because what if I have to be somewhere after 11:00?” The reader immediately starts to wonder, “Where could you have to be? What will you be doing?” There are simply too many unanswered questions. If you happen to agree with the position that the writer is taking, you tend to “help” with the assumptions and provide your own examples and answers to the unanswered questions. You might read the statement above and fill in an example from your own life or one that you would consider plausible. The graders at ACT will not do that extra thinking work for you as they read your essay. You have to be aware of the completeness of your essay and try to minimize the unanswered questions.
This essay is supposed to be an example of your command of Standard Written English. The fact is that we often let each other “get away with” language in conversation that is simply not correct for Standard Written English. For example, if a friend uses ain’t or ya’ll in conversation, we would rarely correct him or her. Similarly, we all tend to use the term you when we really are speaking of people in general or people in a certain position, and not referring specifically to the reader or listener.
Avoid being too familiar, colloquial, or humorous in your response to the prompt. Keep the reader interested, but make sure that the overall tone of the essay is formal.
For example: “You could feel the tension in the room when Jeff had a pizza delivered to American History class.” The person making that statement should have said, “I could feel the tension…” or “We could all feel the tension.”
In general, you should try to leave you and me out of your essays. It is acceptable to use a personal example and refer to yourself (using “I”) once or twice. However, some students get carried away and make the whole essay about themselves. The topics are meant to be relevant to high school students in general and usually refer to a policy matter. The stimulus is not an invitation to write a brief autobiography.
In conversation we often try to be inclusive and gender-neutral. The goal of including everyone is an ideal that this author shares. However, English forces us to use a gender-specific pronoun such as he or she or him or her. In conversation, we often ignore the incongruity when someone says, “Whoever forgot their umbrella is going to be sorry.” The statement should be, “Whoever forgot his or her umbrella is going to be sorry.”
One way to be inclusive is to alternate between male and female pronouns throughout your piece. This method can create some confusion for your reader. Another method is to use a plural phrasing rather than a singular phrasing: “Those who forgot their umbrellas are going to be sorry.”
The overall thing to keep in mind is that your essay needs to be a formal document. It is not appropriate to write in the same idiom that you use with friends in informal conversation.
The ACT graders use a scoring rubric when they assign scores to essays. Basically, a rubric is a checklist of characteristics that the grader is supposed to look for when reading your essay. If your essay is more like the one described in the rubric as being a 5 than a 4, the grader will assign your essay a 5. The rubrics are posted on the ACT Web site and listed in ACT publications.
Since everyone knows what is expected, and there is virtually no chance that the grader will know the person who wrote a given essay, the system is reasonably fair. The graders are allowed to give a 6 to an essay that is somewhat less than perfect. The graders know that you have limited time to write, that you are doing this after you have just taken what may be the toughest exam of your life up to now, and that your fatigue and stress levels are likely to be elevated as a result.
Additionally, neatness is not specifically mentioned. However, the colleges to which you are applying will have access to your essay. This means that the people who are deciding on your applications may take your neatness into account. It also may have an impact on the graders as they assign a score to your essay. Since the scale runs from 1 through 6, there are some fine distinctions between say, a 4 and a 5. That difference could be important to the admissions personnel whom you are trying to impress. Nevertheless, the rubric descriptions of these two scores are very similar to each other. The difference between a 4 and a 5 could hinge on how the grader interprets words like well-developed (5) and adequate (4) or, what exactly makes an error “distracting.”
So, make it easy on your grader to interpret those differences in your favor. Keep your essay neat and your handwriting legible. Nothing in the rules prevents you from printing rather than writing in cursive. So, if your printing will be easier for graders and admissions officials to read than your cursive, then by all means print.
We have decided not to include a detailed description of the entire rubric and how each point level is described. Suffice to say that a 1 or a 2 usually indicates to graders and colleges that the person who wrote the essay either did not put forth a reasonable effort or is probably incapable of handling even basic college writing tasks. A 3 or 4 score means that the grader sees some fairly solid basic skills, but that there is plenty of room for improvement, and a 5 or 6 means that the author appears to be ready for challenging college-level work.
Keep in mind that the scores that are assigned by the graders are based on the essay only. The graders do not get to see your ACT multiple-choice scores. They just assign a point value to the essay and move on to the next one. They are not making comments on your worth as a human being or even your intelligence or ability. They are just giving feedback regarding how the essay stacks up to the rubric.
Colleges are likely to make use of the scoring information in different ways. You should do thorough research of the colleges to which you are applying to find out how they interpret ACT results.
SIMPLIFIED ESSAY SCORING RUBRIC
While each of the domains is scored on a scale of 2–12, that score reflects the total of two graders who each score on a scale of 1–6. So, in the following rubric, 6 is the best score available from an individual grader.
Score of 6: Demonstrates Effective Skill
Ideas and Analysis—Critically discusses multiple perspectives. Displays subtlety and precision. Provides context and discusses underlying assumptions.
Development and Support—Integrates skillful reasoning and illustration.
Organization—Unified in purpose and focus. Effectively uses transitions.
Language Use—Skillful and precise word choice. Sentences varied and clear. Effective voice and tone. Any minor errors in grammar, usage, or mechanics do not impair understanding.
Score of 5: Demonstrates Well-Developed Skill
Ideas and Analysis—Productively engages multiple perspectives. Addresses complexities and underlying assumptions.
Development and Support—Mostly integrated, purposeful reasoning and illustration. Capable.
Organization—Mostly controlled by unifying idea. Logical sequencing. Consistent transitions.
Language Use—Precise word choice. Mostly varied sentence structure. Any minor errors in grammar, usage, or mechanics do not impair understanding.
Score of 4: Demonstrates Adequate Skill
Ideas and Analysis—Engages multiple perspectives. Clear in purpose. Analysis recognizes complexity and underlying assumptions.
Development and Support—Clear reasoning and illustration.
Organization—Clear structure. Ideas logically grouped and sequenced. Transitions clarify relationships between ideas.
Language Use—Conveys clarity. Adequate word choice, sometimes precise. Clear sentences with some variety in structure. Appropriate style choices. Errors rarely impede understanding.
Score of 3: Demonstrates Some Developing Skill
Ideas and Analysis—Responds to multiple perspectives. Some clarity of purpose. Limited or tangential context. Somewhat simplistic or unclear.
Development and Support—Mostly relevant, but overly general or simplistic. Reasoning and illustration somewhat repetitious or imprecise.
Organization—Exhibits basic structure. Most ideas logically grouped. Transitions sometimes clarify relationships between ideas.
Language Use—Basic and only somewhat clear. Word choice occasionally imprecise. Little variety in sentence structure. Style and tone not always appropriate. Distracting errors that do not impede understanding.
Score of 2: Demonstrates Weak or Inconsistent Skill
Ideas and Analysis—Weak response to multiple perspectives. Thesis, if any, shows little clarity. Incomplete analysis.
Development and Support—Weak, confused, disjointed. Inadequate reasoning (circular, illogical, unclear).
Organization—Rudimentary structure. Inconsistent and unclear. Misleading transitions.
Language Use—Inconsistent, unclear, imprecise. Sentence structure sometimes unclear. Voice and tone inconsistent and inappropriate. Distracting errors sometimes impede understanding.
Score of 1: Little or No Skill
Ideas and Analysis—Fails to generate an intelligible argument. Unclear or irrelevant attempts at analysis.
Development and Support—Claims lack support. Reasoning and illustration are unclear, irrelevant, or absent.
Organization—Structure lacking. Transitions, if any, fail to connect ideas.
Language Use—Word choice imprecise, incomprehensible. Sentence structure unclear. Errors are pervasive and often impede understanding.
ACT WRITING SKILLS EXERCISES
The next few pages contain exercises designed to help you write more effectively. The ACT English Exercises in Chapter 3 will also help you to improve your writing. Remember to practice your writing skills sufficiently before test day.
Place an “X” next to the sentence that is grammatically correct and is the most clear and concise.
1. ___ The debate is going on about whether or not Miss Kern’s final exam is fair in its assessment of student’s abilities.
___ There is an ongoing debate about whether Miss Kern’s final exam fairly assesses students’ abilities.
___ There is an ongoing debate about whether Miss Kern’s final exam is fairly assessing of students’ abilities or not.
___ There is a debate ongoing about whether the final exam given by Miss Kern fairly assesses students’ abilities or not.
___ Whether or not Miss Kern’s final exam is a fair assessing of students’ abilities is an ongoing debate.
2. ___ Some people might be surprised to learn that To Kill a Mockingbird was the only published novel of Harper Lee.
___ Some people might be surprised to learn that To Kill a Mockingbird was Harper Lee’s only novel that was published.
___ Some people might be surprised to learn that To Kill a Mockingbird was Harper Lee’s only published novel.
___ Some people might be surprised to learn that To Kill a Mockingbird was the novel that was the only one of Harper Lee ever published.
___ Some people might be surprised to learn that To Kill a Mockingbird was the only novel published by Harper Lee.
3. ___ When the school board needs to make an important decision, a committee is selected, and they assist in the process.
___ When the school board needs to make an important decision, they select a committee and they assist in the process.
___ When the school board needs to make an important decision, they assist in the process by electing a committee to decide.
___ When the school board needs to make an important decision, a committee it selects to assist in the process.
___ When the school board needs to make an important decision, it selects a committee to assist in the process.
4. ___ Having carefully prepared for her debate, the failure of the audience in understanding her argument’s main points frustrated Kathy.
___ Having carefully prepared for her debate, the audience’s failure to understand the main points of her argument was a frustration to Kathy.
___ Having carefully prepared for her debate, Kathy’s frustration at the audience’s failure to understand her argument’s main points.
___ Having carefully prepared for her debate, Kathy was frustrated by the audience’s failure in understanding the main points of her argument.
___ Having carefully prepared for her debate, Kathy was frustrated by the audience’s failure to understand the main points of her argument.
5. ___ It has long been known that, throughout the first several months of life, the human brain grows at a rapid and dramatic pace, producing millions of brain cells.
___ The human brain grows throughout the first several months of life, it has long been known, at a rapid and dramatic pace, producing millions of brain cells.
___ Throughout the first several months of life, it has long been known that the human brain grows at a rapid and dramatic pace, producing millions of brain cells.
___ The human brain grows, it has long been known, throughout the first several months of life at a rapid and dramatic pace, producing millions of brain cells.
___ It has long been known that the human brain, growing throughout the first several months of life at a rapid and dramatic pace, producing millions of brain cells.
Some parts of the paragraphs below need to be rewritten in order to improve the paragraphs. Place an “X” next to the choice that best improves the structure, development, and organization of the paragraphs. (You will not be asked about all the errors contained within the paragraphs.)
(1)Robert Frost is perhaps one of America’s best poets. (2)Maybe the most beloved poet of all time. (3)While Frost is clearly known as a New Englander, he lived his first 11 years in California. (4)Born in 1874, Frost moved east after the death of his father. (5)He attended high school in Massachusetts where he became an avid writer. (6)Though he continued to write during his college years, he never earned a college degree nor did he find much success with publishing his poetry.
(7)At the age of 38, Frost moved to England where he quickly joined the literary circles of English writers. (8)A year later, Frost’s first book of poetry, A Boy’s Will, was successfully published and sold. (9)This started the beginning of Frost’s acceptance as a literary giant. (10)Prior to this, Frost had been working at mills and grammar schools; he also ran a farm. (11)Shortly after the publication of Frost’s second anthology, North of Boston, he and his family reestablished their home in the states.
(12)Frost’s literary talent met with great success back in the United States. (13)While Frost maintained the family’s New Hampshire farm, he also wrote and published prolifically. (14)In 1923, Frost earned the first of his four Pulitzer Prizes for his work and was the first poet to read at a presidential inauguration in 1961. (15)Probably one of Robert Frost’s best known and most often quoted poems is “The Road Not Taken,” particularly the last lines: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
1. Of the following, which is the best way to revise and combine Sentences 1 and 2?
___ Perhaps Robert Frost is one of America’s most beloved poets for all time.
___ Robert Frost is perhaps one of America’s best and most beloved poets.
___ One of America’s best and most beloved poets is perhaps Robert Frost.
___ Robert Frost, one of America’s best poets, is perhaps the most beloved.
___ The beloved American poet Robert Frost is perhaps the best of all times.
2. Of the following, which is the best way to phrase sentence 6?
___ NO CHANGE.
___ He continued to write during college while he never earned a degree and didn’t publish his poetry.
___ While he wrote during his college years, he wasn’t published and received no degree.
___ Going to college did not earn him a degree nor did he get his writings published.
___ Although he continued to attend college and write, he did not earn a degree and his works were not published.
3. A strategy the writer uses within the third paragraph is to
___ write a poem about the essay’s subject.
___ use poetic vocabulary to enhance the essay.
___ quote directly from the work being discussed.
___ contrast the works of two American authors.
___ make an emotional plea.
(1)We had assembled all our gear, especially remembering the camera, and were ready to head out. (2)We were finally going to take that ghost town tour. (3)To Rhyolite, Nevada we were going. (4)Rhyolite, once a thriving goldmining center, was now a small set of abandoned buildings and ruins. (5)We loaded up the dog and backpack into the car and happily set off with smiles on our faces.
(6)Driving up into the foothills where Rhyolite is situated, a visitor can immediately spot one of the few intact structures. (7)This is the Tom Kelly house, built of nearly 50,000 beer and medicine bottles stuck into clay. (8)It is clear that this home was once considered to be a rather magnificent edifice with its glass windows and wide-sweeping front porch. (9)Out in the expansive yard are fine displays of rusted farm tools. (10)Crude glass mosaic art forms are scattered about. (11)A curator of sorts sits on a chair just outside the bottle house, with a cat in her lap, just waiting to enlighten the next visitor about Rhyolite’s many charms. (12)The scruffy cat does not like to lie on the lady’s lap. (13)The house itself is locked tight, due to what the cat lady describes as “pilferers.”
(14)I take my tiny new digital camera out of the backpack, longing to capture Rhyolite’s quaintness forever, only to discover the camera’s battery pack is dead. (15)This angers my father, who was looking forward to a bit of Rhyolite on his computer desktop. (16)Unfortunately, driving the two miles into Beatty to purchase new batteries is not a solution; this camera is outfitted with a battery pack that requires recharging with its special recharger. (17)My father is further incensed. (18)We spend only a few more minutes exploring the other Rhyolite foundations and then silently get back into the car. (19)We will return to this ghost town another time, and you can be sure we will be carrying two cameras, both freshly charged!
4. Of the following, which is the best way to phrase Sentence 5?
___ NO CHANGE.
___ We loaded up the dog and the backpack and happily set off in the car with smiles on our faces.
___ We had smiles on our faces as we loaded up the dog and the backpack into the car and set off happily.
___ As we loaded up the dog and backpack into the car, we had smiles on our faces and happily set off.
___ We loaded the dog and backpack into the car and happily set off.
5. Which of the following should be omitted to improve the unity of the second paragraph?
___ Sentence 9
___ Sentence 10
___ Sentence 11
___ Sentence 12
___ Sentence 13
6. In context, which of the following is the best way to phrase the underlined portion of Sentence 15 (reproduced below)?
This angers my father, who was looking forward to a bit of Rhyolite on his computer desktop.
___ NO CHANGE.
___ who had been really looking forward to
___ as he had been looking forward to
___ who has for a long time been looking forward to
___ as he was looking forward to
ANSWERS AND EXPLANATIONS
1. There is an ongoing debate about whether Miss Kern’s final exam fairly assesses students’ abilities.
Explanation: This sentence clearly indicates both that the “debate is ongoing” and what the debate is about.
2. Some people might be surprised to learn that To Kill a Mockingbird was Harper Lee’s only published novel.
Explanation: The phrase “Harper Lee’s only published novel” most clearly and simply expresses the idea. The other answer choices are awkward and unclear.
3. When the school board needs to make an important decision, it selects a committee to assist in the process.
Explanation: This sentence uses the active voice, and it makes clear who selects the committee and what the committee does. In addition, it correctly identifies the “committee” as a singular noun.
4. Having carefully prepared for her debate, Kathy was frustrated by the audience’s failure to understand the main points of her argument.
Explanation: The clause “Having carefully prepared for her debate” modifies “Kathy.” Therefore, “Kathy” should directly follow that descriptive clause.
5. It has long been known that, throughout the first several months of life, the human brain grows at a rapid and dramatic pace, producing millions of brain cells.
Explanation: The phrase “It has long been known” is a good introduction to the sentence. The rest of the sentence is punctuated correctly and clearly expresses the idea.
1. Robert Frost is perhaps one of America’s best and most beloved poets.
Explanation: This choice simply and clearly combines the two sentences. There is no ambiguity or awkwardness.
2. NO CHANGE.
Explanation: The sentence is best as it is written and requires no revision. The other answer choices are wordy and awkward.
3. Quote directly from the work being discussed.
Explanation: The third paragraph includes direct quotes from Frost’s work “The Road Not Taken.” None of the other answer choices is supported by the third paragraph.
4. We loaded the dog and backpack into the car and happily set off.
Explanation: It is not necessary to include both the word “happily” and the phrase “with smiles on our faces”; one implies the other.
5. Sentence 12.
Explanation: Since the second paragraph deals with the appearance of the ghost town upon the author’s arrival, the image of the curator is important; however the actions of the cat in her lap do not add to the paragraph. Because Sentence 12 only talks about the cat, it distracts from the paragraph and removing it would improve the unity of the paragraph.
6. NO CHANGE.
Explanation: The sentence as it is written is clear and concise and effectively expresses the author’s intended meaning. The remaining answer choices are unnecessarily awkward and wordy.