Next Generation Writing Study Guide for the ACCUPLACER Test

Page 1

General Information

This test is all about making written expression as grammatically correct, clear, and effective as possible. You will be searching for errors in these areas of writing and choosing the best way to correct them. The errors may be found at the word, sentence, paragraph, or passage level. They may have to do with word usage, punctuation, or organization. To do well, you’ll need to be competent in all these areas of written expression.

The passages you will study during this test are widely varied and on a late high school/early college reading level. The passage length is pretty standard, ranging from 300 to 350 words. There will be one passage with four questions, selected in this manner: one literary piece and four informational pieces from one of the subject matter areas of careers, history, social studies, the humanities, and the natural sciences. The mode used may be informative, argumentative, or narrative. Each passage does contain all the information you need to answer the questions, so there is no prior knowledge of subject matter needed.

All questions on this test will assess writing skills in one of these areas:

  • Expression of Ideas—including development, organization, and effective language use

  • Standard English Conventions—including sentence structure, usage, and punctuation

Note that every question has an option for leaving the written work “as it is now,” so you’ll also need to know when everything looks correct, as originally written.

Expression of Ideas

Fourteen to sixteen of the 25 questions on the Writing test assess your ability to edit with regard to how well the author’s message is delivered. You will be required to do things like reword sentences, change the order of sentences in a paragraph, or re-order paragraphs in a passage. You may also be asked to replace words the author used with more effective ones, in terms of clarity or purpose. Anything having to do with language and the order of presentation is fair game for these questions.

Topic Development

Writers must develop their topic when they write, which means they must determine their main idea(s) and figure out not only what they want to say but how they are going to say it to achieve the desired purpose.


A writer’s proposition is the topic a writer has decided on and what position s/he will take with regard to that topic. As writers develop their proposition, they must add or develop the main idea(s), include topic sentences, and ensure that the structure of the text is effective for the purpose.


Support in topic development means including information that will help to assist the reader in connecting with or understanding the topic. A writer may need to add, modify, or determine what information or ideas to keep and what information may be extraneous or not related to the main idea. Support generally comes in the form of details, examples, facts, statistics, or anecdotes. When revising for support, the writer wants to make sure there is enough substance to satisfy the reader; if there are gaps in the support (if claims are made but no evidence is provided), the writer should add more information.


Revising focus requires a writer to concentrate on ensuring that all information included in the text is relevant to the topic and purpose. If the writing drifts off-topic, those irrelevant pieces of information must be deleted. If they introduce ideas that are not connected to the main idea, those need to be revised or deleted.

Passage and Paragraph Organization

Passage and paragraph organization means analyzing and addressing issues with the logical cohesion of a piece of writing. Do ideas flow clearly and easily from one to the next? Are transitions clear to the reader? Organization must be addressed not only in the big picture of the text as a whole but also in the organization within each paragraph and even within each sentence.


Information and ideas should be presented in a way that makes sense to the reader. If the author skips around, or if the writing reads like a stream-of-consciousness piece (where the writer seems to just be expressing whatever pops into his/her head without any sort of rhyme or reason), then the sequencing needs attention.

Sometimes, the most logical way to sequence information is by using chronological order. Other times, a writer might sequence his/her ideas as a compare/contrast or cause-and-effect pattern. A writer might put ideas or arguments in what he/she feels is the order of importance, or explain the problem and then propose a solution. Whatever the sequence, it should be appropriate to its audience and purpose.

Connecting Ideas

Part of organizing writing is making sure that the reader is able to follow the writer’s train of thought. This means that ideas must be connected clearly and effectively for the reader. To do this, writers must use introductions that introduce the main idea and give the reader a sense of the writer’s position on the topic. Transition words, phrases, or sentences should be used effectively to guide the reader through the information presented by the writer and to help the reader make connections between ideas and information given. Writers must also use effective conclusions to help recap the main ideas and points that were presented and to help the readers know what their next step should be as a result of having been exposed to the ideas presented by the writer.

Effective Language Use

Readers can easily become bored with a text. This is why effective language use is really important to keep a reader engaged. A writer needs to consider his/her audience and purpose and make appropriate word choices to keep a reader’s attention.


Not just any word will do. While the English language has many words that have very similar meanings, each word has a slight nuance that makes it unique and not necessarily interchangeable with another word. A good writer will thoughtfully select appropriate words that provide the exact connotation they desire.


Blah, blah, blah. Have you ever been reading a text and thought to yourself, “Get to the point, already!” If so, it may have been because the writer lacked concision in his/her writing. Sometimes, less is more. Redundancy (saying the same thing repeatedly) can belabor the point and turn a reader off to a text. Strong writers want to employ an economy of word choice and eliminate unnecessary words from their writing. This doesn’t necessarily mean the text will be short, but it does mean that every word serves a valuable purpose and isn’t just stuck in there to satisfy a word count requirement.

Style and Tone

Writers each use a particular style. Style is the way a writer uses words to convey his/her ideas. A writer may be sarcastic in his/her tone or the organizational structure might seem easy to read. Both style and tone should be structured with thought and care and should match the writer’s purpose.


Syntax refers to word order or arrangement. It includes sentence structure and length. Strong writers use syntax deliberately. They may choose to use short, choppy sentences to get a particular point across; they may use longer sentences to elevate the sound of their writing. But the most effective writers usually use a variety of sentence length and structure. They purposefully order their words in order to achieve the desired effect.


All Study Guides for the ACCUPLACER Test are now available as downloadable PDFs