What Do You Need to Know for the Grammar and Writing RLA Section of the GED?

By Murray Shukyn, Dale E. Shuttleworth, Achim K. Krull

The grammar and writing component of the RLA test evaluates you on certain types of skills related to grammar. Note that unlike the other GED test sections, this component of the RLA test expects that you know or at least are familiar with the rules of grammar. Just looking at the passages provided won’t do you much good if you don’t understand the basics of these rules already.

  • Mechanics: You don’t have to become a professional grammarian to pass this test, but you should know or review basic grammar. Check out English Grammar For Dummies, 2nd Edition, by Geraldine Woods (Wiley), to review what you should know or may have forgotten. 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 they’re followed by a person’s name. Names of cities, states, and countries are also capitalized.

    • Punctuation: This area of writing mechanics includes everyone’s personal favorite: commas. (Actually, most people hate commas because they aren’t sure how to use them, but the basic rules are simple.) 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 grammar guidebook or the Internet.

      A general rule: Don’t use a comma unless the next group of words is a complete sentence. For example: “As agonizing as it was to leave her friends, college was what she wanted.” College was what she wanted is a complete sentence and can stand alone, so using a comma here is correct.

    • 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 — words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings, like their and there.

    • Contractions: This area of writing mechanics 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. For example, when you say or write can’t, you’re using a shortened form of cannot. In this example, can’t is the contraction.

      The important thing to remember about contractions is that the apostrophe (that’s a single quotation mark) takes the place of the 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’s or object’s name. If Marcia owns a car, that car is Marcia’s car. The word Marcia’s is a possessive.

      Make sure you know the difference between singular and plural possessives. For example: “The girl’s coat is torn.” (Girl and coat are singular, so the apostrophe goes before the s.) “The girls’ coats are torn.” (Girls and coats are plural, so the apostrophe goes after the s.) When working with plural possessives, form the plural first and then add the apostrophe.

  • Organization: On the test, you’re asked to correct passages by changing the order of sentences or leaving out certain sentences when they don’t fit. You have to work with passages to turn them into logical, organized paragraphs. You may be asked to improve a composition by changing paragraphs around, editing them by improving or adding topic sentences, or making sure that all the sentences are about the same topic.

    The important thing to remember is that the questions all offer you a choice of answers. That means you have only a limited number of options for making the passages better. Read the questions carefully, and you should have no problems.

  • Sentence structure: Every language has rules about the order in which words should appear in a sentence. You get a chance to improve sentences through your understanding of what makes a good sentence. Extensive reading before the test can give you a good idea of how good sentences are structured and put together. The advice here is read, read, and read some more.

  • Usage: This broad category covers a lot of topics. Grammar has a wide variety of rules, and these questions test your knowledge and understanding. 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, make sure you review grammatical usage rules.

    It also covers vocabulary and acceptable standard English usage. People have become very comfortable with short forms used in texting, but “LOL” or “C U L8R” aren’t acceptable in standard writing.

Having a firm grasp of these writing mechanics can help you get a more accurate picture of the types of questions you’ll encounter on this part of the test.