Grammar is the key to success on all standardized tests.
Grammar comprises the rules and conventions that allow us to communicate clearly. It is the study of how we use the way words function and marks of punctuation to communicate clearly and correctly.
The ACT and SAT (and nearly every standardized test) are filled with complex passages and sentences. These passages test your ability to determine whether the writers are using the agreed-upon rules and conventions of English correctly and whether they are organizing the parts of speech to communicate ideas in the most logical ways.
What are the parts of speech?
The parts of speech are the eight categories or types of words that we use when we write or speak. They are the eight ways that words or groups of words can function in sentences. For example, "noun" is a word that we use to label every word that names a person, place, or thing. Everything that can be named is categorized as a noun. Pronouns substitute for nouns (he, she, it). Adjectives modify or add more information about nouns (pure water). Verbs are the category for every word that we use to say what we are doing (running, sleeping) or being (am, is, are, was, were). Adverbs modify or tell us more about verbs (ran quickly). Prepositions show position or time (over, under, during). Conjunctions connect words and groups of words (and, for, but, nor, or, yet, so). Interjections convey emotion (wow, ouch!). They are the last of the eight categories and, unfortunately, are relatively useless for comprehension or composition.
Why is it important to study the fundamental grammatical structures of sentences? Why not just focus on tips, tricks, and shortcuts?
Short term test preparation consists of strategies, tips, and tricks. These are great—if you have mastered the knowledge that is being tested. But they are a complete waste of time if you lack the fundamental grammatical skills you need to understand everything you read. Great piano teachers begin by helping their students to learn notes and scales. They do not begin with seven easy ways to play Tchaikovsky. Success on the ACT and the SAT requires that you understand the notes and scales of the English writing system. The test makers are testing your understanding of the written code that all writers use to communicate.
But here's the good news: the code is not difficult to understand. There are only eight parts of speech (or eight ways that words or groups of words can function in a sentence). As importantly, the parts of speech have natural relationships with each other: they fit together. For example, the noun-adjective relationship means that adjectives are always talking about nouns. They are connected. Writers place adjectives right next to nouns to show that relationship. "The hot soup filled my empty stomach." Notice that the word "hot" describes soup, and the word "empty" describes the stomach. These are adjectives because they are telling us more about the nouns "soup and stomach." Did you notice, also, that the adjectives and nouns are right next to each other? That is one of the relationships you will see consistently in sentences. Now on the ACT and SAT, this relationship looks more complex because the test-makers use longer strings of words as adjectives, but they're always going to be next to the nouns they are describing or modifying. Both exams will test your ability to judge whether adjectives are near the nouns they are modifying. But if you don't know what an adjective is or what a noun is, then learning a quick tip is meaningless.
Learning the parts of speech is important because writers create meaning by organizing them in their natural or logical order. Once you learn the basic relationships between the parts of speech, then you can recognize how writers put them together in sentences to make sense. You can decode the sentence puzzle by knowing its parts and how the parts fit together to create the whole meaning.
The parts of speech are the building blocks of all sentences. They are the tools that writers use to construct meaning. Master these tools, and you will learn how to quickly analyze or take sentences apart to get to the core of the writer's meaning. When you master the parts of speech, you will be able to do what the test makers are requiring: You'll be able to read with a writer's mind by always looking for ways to edit the text for greater clarity, conciseness, and accuracy, and you will be able to write with the reader in mind by always looking for ways to convey ideas more clearly and precisely. Comprehension and composition will become much easier.
Rev. Vieira is a former high school master teacher, and the founder and president of ScholarSkills Learning Center.
“I would recommend Scholarskills™ because each student is provided with an individualized, diagnostic approach to learning which provides for instruction that supports intervention as well as acceleration. Scholarskills™ faculty have high expectations for all students. Students' needs are continuously addressed while their strengths are continuously challenged. They build progress and success one student at a time.” - Barbara Sanders, Retired Principal