Writing Study Guide for the PERT

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General Information

The PERT Writing section is not so much a test of your own writing as it is an opportunity to analyze the writing of others. Your purpose will be to make the writing grammatically correct and clear to the reader. Practice doing the things listed below, and you will be on your way to a better score!

Terms to Know

There are many terms you need to know to gain confidence taking the PERT. These include:

  • topic
  • thesis
  • grammar terms (sentence, punctuation, etc.)
  • style
  • tone
  • citation
  • conclusion
  • fact
  • opinion
  • transitions
  • modifier
  • coordination
  • subordination
  • verb tense
  • pronoun-antecedent agreement
  • adjective
  • adverb
  • noun
  • verb

Problems with Words

The misuse or misspelling of a word can make a sentence hard to understand. You’ll want to avoid this in your writing and be able to spot and correct this type of error in writing produced by others. Following are some things to consider.

Verb Forms and Tenses

Verb forms and tenses demonstrate the time frame in which an action occurs. The most common example of forms is the various forms of sing: sing, sang, sung, singing, and sings. While verb forms alone are simple, verb tenses are slightly more complicated, as they often involve the use of a be or helping verb. This is exemplified in cases such as had sung, was singing, etc.

The most common endings of verb tenses are -ed and -s.

Eddie balked at the prospect of singing in front of the school.

Carolyn whines each time her mother does not buy her candy at the grocery store.

There are more complex tenses, however, and these are usually paired with the words had, has, have, were, was, are, is, will, etc.

Examples of each of these are:

Edmond had been the best student in school in previous years.

Ellie has taken the SAT multiple times.

Starzine and Carrie have not purchased prom tickets.

The sisters were running to train for a marathon.

Amelia was singing to impress her mother.

Cecilia and her dog were howling at the neighborhood children.

Mario is playing with his son.

Emery will play the venue with his band in the spring.

The use of each of these helping verbs paints a more complete picture of the time frame in which an action is completed, by lending insight into how long a behavior has been occurring, whether something is still going on, or whether something will occur in the future.

Adjective and Adverb Forms

Adjectives and adverbs can take on different forms, most commonly by the addition of a suffix. Many adjectives, for instance, become adverbs simply by adding the suffix ly. For instance, soft becomes softly. Careful becomes carefully. These words, previously adjectives, change form entirely based on a single suffix.

The suffix ally is used to create an adverb when a word ends in -ic. This is demonstrated in the words basically, practically, artistically, etc.

There are some irregular adjective/adverb forms, where the word either does not change at all (as in the word hard), and some words that have irregular changes, such as the adjective good, which becomes “well.”

Finally, adjective forms often contain superlatives, which are created by adding the suffix -er or -est. The suffix -er is used to mean better than, while -est is used to mean best.

Word Choice

Word choice is an important aspect of writing; while many words will “fit” in any given sentence, the written word should have a cadence to it (a rhythm). Additionally, you should make sure the sentence makes sense, and sounds cohesive, rather than trying to use the largest words available, or the most impressive-sounding.

Transition words are words used to guide the reader from one idea to the next. These include words such as and, or, “but, *then, etc. When choosing transitions, first evaluate what you want to say. Do you want to add an idea? Use and or also. Do you want to detract from an idea? Use however, or but, and so on.

Relationship words are similar to transition words, but indicate a close relationship between two ideas. Relationship words include while, although, furthermore, etc. These are called relationship words (a type of transition) because they demonstrate a close relationship of the idea before or after the use of the word.

When choosing a fill-in-the-blank word, go through your options. Do not simply pick a word that looks good: take the time to put each word (quickly) into the blank space, and determine which word suits that sentence best, based both on meaning and on rhythm.


Spelling can be extremely tricky. While most people simply sound out the word to spell it, the English language is incredibly nuanced, and this is not always the most effective method of spelling. Instead, seek out new words to learn and memorize, including the spelling of those words.

Typically, spelling becomes a problem in the form of commonly misspelled words. Some of the most commonly misspelled words (with common misspellings in parentheses) are:

accommodate (accomodate, acommodate)
commitment (comitment, comittment)
dependent (dependant, depandent)
definitely (definately, definatly, defiantly)
existence (existance, existince)
judgment (judgement, judgemant)
liaison (liason, liasion)
occasion (occassion, ocassion)
occurrence (occurance, occurence)
prerogative (perogative, perogitive)
privilege (privlege, privalege)
separate (seperate, sepperate)

Confusing Words and Phrases

English is a complicated language and includes many words that sound similar (or even identical) when speaking, but which are spelled in entirely different ways and have entirely different meanings. The most common instance of misuse occurs in the use of accept and except. To most, these words sound identical when spoken. To accept, however, means to receive something, while to except something means to single it out, or reject it. Despite having similar sounds, the meanings are practically opposite of one another.

Some more examples include:

advice (noun) and advise (verb)
affect (verb) and effect (noun)
aisle (noun meaning a passage) and isle (noun meaning island)
aloud (adverb) and allowed (verb)

Despite these words sounding almost identical, their meaning and spelling are drastically different.

Sentence Issues

Some of the problems you will see on this test involve mistakes in the structure or punctuation of sentences. Here are some things to watch out for.

Sentence Fragment

A sentence fragment is, essentially, an incomplete sentence. A complete sentence, traditionally, is described as a complete thought. A more accurate description, however, is a series of words containing a cohesive thought with at least a noun and a verb. A sentence fragment, then, is a thought that does not fit these requirements, or, put another way, a phrase without a noun/verb combo.

Comma Splice

A comma splice describes the inappropriate use of a comma, where there should either be a compound word or transition word. An example of a comma splice would be:

Sarah went to the park, Alex did not.

This sentence, written correctly, would read something like:

Sarah went to the park, while Alex did not.

Word Order in Sentences

Word order in a sentence is important, as it determines the tone and meaning of the sentence. A single sentence can be ordered in numerous ways, each of them suggesting a different meaning than the last.

Take a look at the sentences below. Each say the same thing at first glance, but the word order suggests a different attitude or outlook.

Yesterday, Greg thought he knew everything about Katie.

Greg thought he knew everything about Katie yesterday.

Greg thought he knew everything about Katie—yesterday.

The word order changes the emphasis. The first puts greater emphasis on yesterday, suggesting something dire has just happened.

The second has a more relaxed emphasis. Although it still sounds as though something has happened, the tone is not quite as serious.

The third has the same basic order but employs a dash. This dash highlights yesterday as well but adds a more sarcastic, bitter tone to the sentence, rather than simply an ominous one.

Word order can also determine whether a sentence is active or passive. Take a look at the sentences below.

Ellis made a mistake.

Mistakes were made.

Although both sentences reveal that mistakes occurred, the first sentence assigns blame (active), while the second identifies an action, but does not identify the source of that action (passive). Generally, active sentences are preferable to passive ones, as passive sentences are weak and unsupported.

Parallel Structure in a List

Maintaining parallel structure in a list is as simple as using the same word form in each part of the list. An example of poor parallel structure is:

Martha likes to cook, to conduct science experiments, and fishing.

The proper phrasing would be “to cook, to conduct…, and to fish.” Failing to use the same form of the verb both assigns undue emphasis to one word and creates an awkward, stilted effect in the sentence. Using parallel structure in a list ensures that all members of that list are granted equal attention, and provides a healthy, rhythmic flow to the piece.


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