Part I of the Language Arts, Writing Test asks you to read and then revise and edit documents that may include how-to information and workplace material. This test isn't evil. Just because you haven't taken grammar for years doesn't mean you don't know it. You probably know more than you think.

The questions are all multiple choice, which means that, along with four incorrect answers, you're given the correct answer.

You begin by carefully reading the assigned passage. Always read the entire document before answering the questions, because those questions make more sense if you have an idea of what the whole passage is about. As you're reading, however, if you think you see an error, read it over again and ask yourself, "How can I correct this?"

If you find sentences that sound out of place or in the wrong order, note them mentally. If you think you see spelling errors, make note of them, too. (Don't write in your test booklet, though!)

Preparing for Part I

To succeed on Part I of the Language Arts, Writing Test, you can prepare in advance by reviewing rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Here are some ways you can do that:

  • Master the rules of basic grammar. On this test, you're not asked to define a gerund and give an example of its use, but you need to know about verb tenses, subject/verb agreement, pronoun/antecedent agreement, possessives, and so on. One great way to brush up on these skills is to get a copy of English Grammar For Dummies by Geraldine Woods.
  • Practice grammar in everyday speaking. As you review the rules of grammar, practice them in everyday speaking. Although correct grammar usually "sounds" right to your ears, sometimes it doesn't, because you and your friends, co-workers, or family have become used to using incorrect grammar. If you see a rule that seems different from the way you talk, put it on a flashcard and practice it as you go through your day. Before long, you'll train your ear so that correct grammar sounds right.
    Correcting other people's grammar out loud doesn't make you popular. However, correcting it in your head helps you succeed on this test.
  • Understand punctuation. Know how to use capitals, commas, semicolons, colons, and other forms of punctuation. English Grammar For Dummies, in addition to giving you the lowdown on grammar, tells you the details of punctuation rules.
  • Practice writing and reading. Write as much and as often as you can, and then review it for errors. Look for and correct mistakes in punctuation, grammar, and spelling. If you're not able to find any, ask someone who knows grammar and punctuation for help.
  • Read as often as you can, too. Read the newspaper, magazines, novels, textbooks, or whatever else you can get your hands on. As your knowledge of grammar and punctuation improves, have a bit of fun by correcting what you read in small-town newspapers and in trashy novels — both tend to have poor editing.
  • Improve your spelling. As you practice writing, keep a good dictionary at hand. If you're not sure of the spelling of any word, look it up. Add it to a spelling list that you keep and practice from. In addition, get a list of common homonyms (words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different definitions) and review those every day. (You need to know, for example, the difference between "their," "there," and "they're.") Many dictionaries contain a listing of homonyms.
  • Keep in mind that these questions are multiple choice. Multiple-choice questions always give you the correct answer. Of course, they also tell you four other answers that are incorrect. All you have to do is find the correct one! As you practice speaking and writing, you tune your ears so that the correct answer sounds right. This makes finding the correct answer easier.
  • Take practice tests. Take as many as you can. Be strict about time and check your answers when you're finished. Don't move on until you know and understand the correct answer. The time you spend is worth it.

Understanding the Part I test format

This 75-minute test has 50 multiple-choice questions in it. The test covers the following subjects, each of which is described in detail in the "Testing your skills for Part I" section:

  • Mechanics (25 percent; 12 or 13 questions)
  • Organization (15 percent; 7 or 8 questions)
  • Sentence structure (30 percent; 15 questions)
  • Usage (30 percent; 15 questions)

You aren't penalized for guessing, so if you don't know the answer, guess. While you can't get any points for omitting a question, you may get a point if you can eliminate all but one answer. The more incorrect answers you eliminate, the better the chance that you'll guess the correct one.

For each question, the answer is scored by a pesky machine. Always follow instructions and fill in each circle fully.

Testing your skills for Part I

The questions in this test expect you to know the following:

  • Mechanics: The mechanics of writing include the following:

Capitalization: You have to recognize which words should start with a capital letter and which words don't. All sentences start with a capital letter, but so do titles, like "Miss," "President," and "Senator," when followed by a person's last name. Names of cities, states, and countries are also capitalized.

Punctuation: This includes everyone's personal favorite, commas. (Actually, most people hate commas because they aren't sure how to use them, but the rules are simple to apply after you know them.) The more you read, the better you get at punctuation. If you're reading and don't understand why punctuation is or isn't used, check with your guidebook.

Spelling: You don't have to spot a lot of misspelled words, but you do have to know how to spell contractions and possessives and understand the different spellings of homonyms.

Contractions: This has nothing to do with those painful moments before childbirth! Instead, contractions are formed when the English language shortens a word by leaving out a letter or a sound. When you say or write, "can't," you're using a shortened form of "cannot."

• The important thing to remember about contractions is that the apostrophe (that's a single quotation mark) takes the place of a letter or letters that are left out.

Possessives: Do you know people who are possessive? They're all about ownership, right? So is the grammar form of possessives. Possessives are words that show ownership or possession, usually by adding an apostrophe to a person or object's name. If Marcia owns a car, you say that it is Marcia's car. The word, "Marcia's" is a possessive.

  • Organization: On the test, you're asked to correct passages by changing the order of sentences or leaving them out when they don't fit. You have to work with passages to turn them into logical, organized paragraphs.
  • Sentence structure: Every language has rules about the order in which words should go in a sentence. English is no different, but if you're not comfortable with this, check out English Grammar For Dummies.
  • Usage: Grammar has rules. Subjects and verbs must agree. Verbs have tenses that must be consistent. Pronouns must refer back to nouns properly. If the last three sentences sound like Greek to you, get a copy of English Grammar For Dummies. It gives you the whole kit and caboodle about grammar rules.

Reviewing a few rules of the road for Part I

The following rules will serve you well:

  • Read the entire passage. Before you start to answer the questions, read the passage. The questions make more sense after you read the passage.
  • Read carefully. As you read the passage, look for errors and hard-to-read sentences. The more carefully you read, the better chance you have of getting the right answers.