Praxis Core Writing: How to Answer Multiple Choice Usage Questions

By Carla Kirkland, Chan Cleveland

Some of the Praxis Core writing multiple-choice questions consist of a sentence with underlined portions. You must decide whether any one of the underlined portions has an error in grammar, sentence construction, word use, punctuation, or capitalization. If so, you select the underlined portion that contains the error. If the sentence is correct as written, you select “No error.” No sentence has more than one error.

You know you’re looking at a usage question when one of the answer choices is “No error.” The first thing to do in this situation is to read the question without paying attention to the underlined portions. You may find the error immediately. If you don’t, look carefully at each underlined portion. Still nothing? Then, mark “No error.”

Put on your grammar policing outfit and watch out for these errors:

  • Incorrect punctuation, particularly commas, semicolons, and apostrophes

  • Pronoun usage, particularly pronoun/antecedent errors or vague pronouns

  • Verb tense

  • Subject/verb agreement errors

  • Word choice, particularly words like affect and effect, which are often confused

Each of the following questions consists of a sentence with four underlined portions. Read each question and decide whether any of the underlined parts contains an element that would be considered incorrect or inappropriate in carefully written English. The error or concern may be in grammatical construction, word use, capitalization, or punctuation. Select the underlined portion that should be revised. If there are no errors, select “No error.”

Because writing a novel is A a long and involved process requiring a great deal of patience B and perseverance, the aspiring novelist must have C a quiet place to work; a noisy environment is D not conducive to thought and creativity. No error E.

Because the example question represents no problems in usage, structure, or word choice, Choice (E) is the correct answer.

When someone gives a speech A, however informative it may be, they must be sure B to engage the audience C for its entire duration D. No error E.

The correct answer is Choice (B). The plural pronoun “they” refers to the pronoun “someone,” which is singular. The error, then, is a disagreement between the pronoun and its antecedent.

My parents have been living A in Europe before I was born B, but they came to America C in 1998 to join my uncle’s D business. No error E.

The correct answer is Choice (A). The verb phrase “have been living” is present-perfect tense, which indicates something that began in the past and continues in the present. Because the parents no longer live in Europe, the correct verb should be past tense, “lived.”

My best friend, as well as A my many associates at work, think B that the local library is both C poorly staffed and utterly inefficiently D managed. No error E.

The correct answer is Choice (B). The subject of the sentence is “friend,” a singular noun. Therefore, a singular verb, “thinks,” is correct. Remember that subjects and verbs must agree in number. The intervening phase, “as well as my many associates at work,” does not affect the number of the subject. “Friend” is still singular.