10 Tricky Writing Errors to Avoid for the GED RLA

By Achim K. Krull, Murray Shukyn

Even the most talented writers make errors without realizing they’re breaking the rules. Before taking the GED Reasoning Through Language Arts test, check out these ten common writing errors that test-takers make when writing the Extended Response so you know what the rules are and how to steer clear of these common pitfalls.

Misusing words

Vocabulary errors instantly undermine your sophisticated writing. Good writing requires that you take risks, so you don’t want to be so afraid to use higher level vocabulary to the point at which you don’t use it at all. However, you can avoid misusing words by doing the following:

  • Review lists of commonly misused words and phrases.

  • Use precise words where you’re sure of the meaning.

  • Build your vocabulary.

  • Tune in to subtle variations in the meanings of words.

Guessing the meaning of a word from context is fine when you’re reading but not when you’re writing. When writing the RLA essay, stick to vocabulary you know.

Overlooking subject-verb disagreement

Here are some rules to write by regarding subject-verb agreement:

  • When using anyone, everyone, someone, no one, nobody, none, or each of, use a singular verb.

  • Use a singular verb with either and neither, but when using neither/nor or either/or, choose the verb form based on the subject that’s closer to nor or or. For example, “Neither the cats nor the mouse was hungry,” but “Neither the mouse nor the cats were hungry.”

  • When using all, or some, look to the “of” phrase that follows the word to determine whether to use the singular or plural verb form. For example, “Some of my friends are going to the movie,” but “None of the food was eaten.” The same is true of words and phrases that describe a portion, such as percentage of or fraction of.

  • When using along with, as well as, or together with, choose the verb form that agrees with the subject of the sentence (ignoring any nouns in the “along with”-type phrase). For example, “Jerry, along with his brother, loves to camp out.”

  • If you start a sentence with “There is,” “There are,” “Here is,” and “Here are,” keep in mind that there and here never serve as the subject of the sentence. Another noun or other nouns in the sentence do. For example, “Here are the paper and ink you ordered,” not “Here’s the paper and ink you ordered.”

  • When using a collective noun, such as team, swarm, or litter, use a singular verb, regardless of how many individuals are on the team or in the swarm or litter.

  • If a sentence excludes part of the subject, choose the verb form that agrees with the positive subject; for example, “The resulting tornadoes, not the hurricane itself, cause the most damage.”

Mixing verb tenses

Slipping from one tense to another, especially from the present tense to the past and back, is a mistake most people make in spoken communication. Telling a story, you may say something like, “Yesterday, I went to the convenience store to buy a slush, and the guy behind the counter tells me they’re really not good for you.” Unfortunately, mixing tenses is a bad habit that follows you when you write and is difficult to break.

Pick a tense and stick with it unless you have a very good reason to change tense.

Whatever a document claims, it does so in the present. For example, even though the U.S. Constitution was written hundreds of years ago, it exists right now, and whatever statement you quote from it has a bearing on the present.

Using the first or second person in analysis

There’s no I in analysis, or at least there shouldn’t be. A formal essay is supposed to be a factual analysis, not a subjective opinion piece. Using the first person singular I suggests personal opinion, which undermines the factual nature of your argument. State your argument without using the first person. It makes your writing more assertive and more factual.

Missing and misplacing commas

Commas group thoughts, introduce pauses in reading, separate two or more adjectives or adverbs used in succession and items presented as a list, and precede conjunctions. The previous sentence is a good example.

Here are a few rules to steer you clear of the worst offenses:

  • Use a comma before the conjunctions and, but, or, for, nor, and yet when the conjunction joins two complete sentences.

  • Don’t use a comma to separate verbs that form a compound predicate (a situation in which one actor performs two or more actions): “Sally hit a line drive between second and third base and made it to first base without breaking a sweat.”

  • Don’t use only a comma to join two complete sentences. This error is commonly referred to as a comma splice. Here’s an example: “Jerry used to be a Freemason, now he’s a member of Kiwanis.”

  • Use a comma following an introductory phrase, such as “When television broadcasts travelled through airwaves, many homes had large TV antennas.”

  • Use two commas to set off nonessential clauses: “The science professor, who happened to be fluent in Spanish, visited us over the summer.” However, if the phrase is essential in identifying a specific individual, drop the commas; for example, “The child who had developed a severe infection was separated from the other children.”

  • Use commas to separate coordinate adjectives or adverbs but not to separate cumulative adjectives or adverbs. For example, you’d use commas in “That tall, handsome man is my father,” but not in “He had a close personal relationship.” To determine whether adjectives or adverbs are coordinate or cumulative, rearrange them and separate them with the word and. You may hear someone say, “that handsome and tall man,” but nobody would ever say, “he had a personal and close relationship.”

  • Use commas to introduce or set off a quotation: “The lack of money is the root of all evil,” said Mark Twain.

  • Use a comma if not doing so is likely to confuse the reader: “Instead of reviewing, the teacher started the test.”

Being inconsistent

Consistency on the GED Extended Response is essential, and it applies to two areas of your writing:

  • Content: Rely on your thesis statement to ensure consistency. All premises should lead up to the conclusion you present in the thesis statement. Every paragraph must state a premise, and the evidence in each paragraph must support the premise stated in its paragraph.

  • Style: Adopting a formal writing style is one of the best ways to ensure consistency in style. State your thesis clearly and as briefly as possible and stick to the facts. Don’t try to introduce humor or sarcasm or use conversational language in an attempt to endear yourself to the reader.

Writing in non-standard English

Standard English is a form of the language that any English speaker anywhere would understand. Non-Standard English is somewhat subjective, but it applies to only some people in some part of the country or an individual group of people. Regional or ethnic differences in language play an important role in speech patterns. Phrases such as “we seen that,” “all y’all,” or “wazzup” may be commonly used, but they’re neither grammatically correct nor acceptable in essay writing.

Creating a choppy progression

To ensure a smooth, logical flow, use the following three techniques:

  • Get organized.

  • Repeat key phrases.

  • Use transition words when necessary.

Building your essay on sloppy thinking

Sloppy thinking comes in four forms:

  • Regurgitation

  • Gibberish

  • Unsupported claims

  • Faulty reasoning

To test your writing for signs of sloppy thinking, write down your thesis statement followed by the premise or main idea expressed in each paragraph that follows it. If you can’t draw a line from a premise to the premise above it or directly to the thesis statement, your essay probably suffers from sloppy thinking.

Ignoring proofreading errors

The problems with errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling aren’t the errors themselves but rather the fact that they distract and confuse the reader. If you write a well-structured, insightful, persuasive essay, several spelling and punctuation errors won’t hurt your score. On the other hand, if the errors are serious enough to distract or confuse the reader, you’re score will suffer. Here are a few techniques that may help:

  • Read your essay word for word.

  • Read out loud to yourself; sub-vocalize.

  • Concentrate on errors you commonly make.