Like the Reading Comprehension test, the Sentence Skills exam contains 20 questions of two different types. The first involves sentence structure and corrections, while the second involves rewriting sentences according to the question specifications. Both types of questions require a working knowledge of sentences, including punctuation, structure, and the basic notion of what a sentence is.
The most basic definition of a sentence is “a complete thought.” However, this is not entirely accurate, as punctuation and structure both come into play. A sentence, then, can more accurately be described as “a complete thought possessing a subject and a verb.” When determining whether or not a sentence fits this definition, ask yourself two questions: “What is being done?” and “Who/What is doing it?” If both of these questions can effectively be answered, it is a complete sentence. If not, it will need to be corrected.
“Aaron traveled to the store this morning.”
This is a complete thought/sentence; the sentence has a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought.
“Aaron store this morning.”
This is not a complete thought, as there are not two of the required elements: although the sentence has a subject, it does not have a verb.
Punctuation allows writers to paint a picture with their words. A period denotes both the end of a sentence and the type of sentence it is—a statement.
“Andrew laid the floor quickly.”
A question mark, though it demonstrates the end of a sentence, reveals that the sentence is a question and is in need of an answer.
“Is Lauren still playing soccer?”
An exclamation point reveals that the sentence is an emphatic or excited one.
“Don’t touch that!”
Proper punctuation is key not only in lending logic to a series of sentences, but also in adding rhythm and cadence; without punctuation, sentences exist in long strings of words without direction or meaning.
“Todd and Karen were thinking of having children but were unsure of the financial responsibility as Todd had just lost his job.”
“Todd and Karen were thinking of having children, but were unsure of the financial responsibility, as Todd had just lost his job.”
Some punctuation is used within sentences to give appropriate meaning to the words. Consider, for example, the different meaning of these two sentences:
“Let’s eat Grandma.”
“Let’s eat, Grandma.”
Although these sentences contain the same words, punctuation drastically changes the meaning of the sentence. The first suggests that Grandma herself is dinner, while the second is inviting Grandma to dinner.
To adequately prepare for this part of the test, you must understand basic punctuation (periods, question marks, and exclamation points), as well as more involved punctuation marks, such as commas, colons, and semicolons. To rewrite and identify corrections, you must know how to use all of these marks.
A comma denotes a pause or aside.
“As long as there is cheese, I am happy.”
A colon is used to expound on a subject or as an alert for a list to follow.
“Alicia firmly believed in the following: the joy of pet ownership and the importance of the proper cheese-to-chip ratio in making nachos.”
A semicolon is used to tie two related sentences together.
“Government entities are difficult to nail down; each speech is a sales pitch.”