Welcome back to the Upper Test Side, where the beginning of summer just means you’ve now got that much more time each day to spend on SAT/ACT prep. Or at least that’s how your parents seem to see it. Whether you’re here by choice or by force, your friendly neighborhood Grammar Girl is happy to share the DL on all those dirty little English grammar secrets the standardized testing scene has been keeping under wraps. Today’s hot topics are three little buzzwords the test-makers are betting are way off your radar. Let’s prove them wrong:

1. Agreement

The test-makers love to overload you with different forms of verbs and pronouns, just to watch you squirm. Rude. But just like when pairing a t-shirt with those fresh new kicks, you should always think about matching on SAT Writing/ACT English.

  • Some words need to match in number. Singular verbs must agree with their singular subjects. Same goes for plural subjects and plural verbs. Pronouns (like “she” or “they”) also need to match with their antecedents (the nouns they replace) in number and case.

Everyone should sharpen his or her pencil before the test.

  • Verb tense needs to match the context. When figuring out the best tense for a verb, look for other verbs nearby in the sentence or surrounding sentences, and make sure to choose a consistent form.
  • Pronouns should match the case of their antecedents. Some pronouns, like “I,” “he,” and “who,” are in the subject case, while others, like “me,” “him,” and “whom,” are all in the object case. Take a look at the verb and notice who or what is doing vs receiving the action.

Who says that grammar is hard?

Whom will the test-makers be able to trick now? Not you!

2. Precision

Ambiguity is so last season. Every correct SAT/ACT answer should make sense and must not contain any unclear, vague, or inaccurate words or phrases.

If there’s a pronoun in an answer choice, you should be able to circle its antecedent earlier in the sentence or paragraph. A pronoun with no antecedent is ambiguous, and we’re not about that life.

If there’s an answer with more specific word choice than the others, odds are it’s the best one (as long as it doesn’t break any grammar rules). Specific vocabulary generally eliminates the need to use a lot of words, leading us into our last hot topic.

3. Concision

Not too much to say here ;)

If you’re down to two answers that are both grammatically correct and have the same meaning, go with the one that’s short and sweet. As long as it isn’t missing any important information, a concise answer uses language more effectively than a wordy or redundant one does.

Well, there you have it. Three little words that we don’t think much about if we’re just trying to figure out what “sounds right.” But when you notice words—especially verbs or pronouns—changing in the answer choices, remember to check for agreement, precision, and concision before bubbling in your final answer.

While you’re busy dealing with all these words, I’ll be out and about in the Upper Test Side, lurking around corners and turning over every stone to pick up more of that fresh grammar gossip. So stay tuned.

Until next time.

X, O, X, and O,

Grammar Girl

P.S. Just can’t get enough of these juicy little SAT/ACT testing secrets? Word on the street is that Testive’s Student Success Advisors can get you started on your own personalized prep plan today in a free consultation call. Just book one already.