Tip from Jackson: Grammar, Grammar, Grammar!

JacksonHi everyone! My name is Jackson Gzehoviak, and I’m a rising senior at Harvard studying psychology and Slavic Languages and Literature. I’ve been teaching and tutoring for six years now, specializing in English as a new language, but also in SAT/ACT/TOEFL, etc. I have a profound curiosity with language. I speak several: English, Spanish, Russian, Polish, and Arabic. To that end, I come to the game of test prep with a fairly hefty bias for grammar.

Grammar is the thing that sticks our words together; it is primordial glue that has existed in human communication for time immemorial, and it is this stuff that we need to do well on standardized tests. Now let’s back up a second. Let me explain, using the SAT. Two-thirds of the exam is composed of a combination of passage comprehension, vocabulary usage, stylistic choices, and argument construction. That is, a solid majority of the exam is all about words in their various forms. For me, then, knowing the construction of a sentence becomes all the more valuable.

When you’re studying for the SAT or ACT, take the time to remind yourself of simple grammar hang-ups like the misplaced modifier, dangling modifier, split infinitive, relative clause, subordinate clause, and demonstrative pronoun. Pay attention to the parts of more complicated sentences. When we write academically, we tend to use longer and more complicated sentences (though this is not always better!). The SAT and the ACT will test just that: your ability to navigate complex sentence structures. If you learn the aforementioned parts of more complicated grammar, you’ll already have a few invaluable tools that aren’t so much taught in traditional test prep. For example, you’ll be able to take the essay from being well-argued but simply written to being eloquent and sophisticated, merely by the addition of a word like ‘whereas.’

These skills will also give you a leg up in the infamous writing multiple-choice section of the test. The most common words of wisdom I’ve heard for this section of the test are: ‘do what feels right.’ What most of these wisdom-bearers forget, though, is that you can’t do what feels right when you haven’t ever thought about what it means for a sentence to ‘feel right’ in the first place. So teach yourself explicitly what it means for a sentence to feel right, and you’ll be doing yourself a favor that will certainly pay its dividends.

If you’ve gotten to this point and you’re not quite sure what to do, do the following: Study the structures of complex sentences, especially relative and dependent clauses. Knowing the explicit expectations of the writing section will serve you well.

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