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Page 1 Writing Study Guide for the PERT

How to Prepare for the PERT Writing Test

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 in order 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

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.

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.”

The sentence, done correctly, would read something like, “Sarah went to the park, while Alex did not.”

Subject-Verb Agreement

Subject-verb agreement is the grammatical convention in which a subject matches the plural (or singular) of the verb. For instance, in the sentence “Mary misses her mom,” the word Mary is singular, and the verb (misses) is also singular (versus the plural miss). In the sentence, “Dave and Andrew remember their dad,” the subject Dave and Andrew is plural, and the verb remember is plural (versus the singular remembers).

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.

Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement

A pronoun is used to reference a noun mentioned earlier in a sentence or text. Pronouns include the words he, she, her, his, it, and their. Each of these words is used to refer to a previously mentioned noun. The antecedent is a noun mentioned earlier. In the sentence, Moira is visiting her sister in Iowa, Moira is the antecedent and her is the pronoun. In order for pronouns and antecedents to agree, they must match both in terms of both gender and plurality. Because Moira is a female and singular, the pronoun her is used. Were Moira visiting, along with a brother, the antecedent would then change to their.

Confusing Words and Phrases

English is occasionally a complicated language, and possesses many words that sound similar (or even identical) when speaking, but which are spelled 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 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.

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.

Specific Skills to Practice

The writing portion of this test is intended to examine your ability to correctly read and synthesize information, with a focus on proper usage and English grammar. To practice, focus on proper capitalization, use of punctuation, spelling, and grammar conventions. This may be done through reading and analyzing what makes up a strong, compelling piece, or by studying each individual aspect of English grammar.


Capitalization has several rules that must be followed. Most are quite simple and easy to remember.

The first letter in a sentence Proper nouns (names, places, etc.) Titles Government entities Holidays Organizations Races/Ethnicities

Although this list is not exhaustive, these are the major capitalization rules you’ll need to know.


Punctuation is defined as the set of rules regulating a sentence’s structure. Punctuation is most frequently used to describe periods, question marks, and exclamation points, but may also be applied to commas, dashes, colons, and semicolons.

A period is used at the end of a declarative sentence. A question mark is used to denote a question. An exclamation point is used to indicate surprise, shock, or excitement. Commas are used to separate parts of a sentence, and should be read as a pause. Dashes are used to indicate a break in a sentence or phrase. This may be an abrupt change of direction, or even a continuing thought. Colons are most frequently used to indicate that something comes next–sometimes this is a list, sometimes a simple statement. If you see a colon, you know that something else is coming. Semicolons are used to link two similar or related ideas. A correct semicolon use is the following:

“Sarah did not go to the spelling bee; she was afraid of public speaking.”

An incorrect use of the semicolon is shown here: Andrew loved to lay tile; Andrew’s mother was a nurse.


Spelling can be extremely tricky. While most people simply sound out the word in order 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 comes up in the form of commonly misspelled words. 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)

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.

Agreement of Verb Tense

Verb tenses are required to agree in order to qualify as proper grammar. What does this mean? If you were to create a sentence based in the past, you could not suddenly leap into the future. This creates a confusing pairing in a single sentence, as people cannot be in the past, present, and future all at once. In order to make your verb tenses agree, remain consistent. If you began a sentence or story in the past tense, all verbs and descriptions should remain in the past tense. If you begin a story in the present or future tense, all other verbs and descriptions should be in that same time frame.

Unnecessary Information

Unnecessary information, in test-taking, is typically placed there to mislead the reader. When evaluating whether or not information is necessary, the best question to ask is simply, “Is this relevant?” Is the point in keeping with the overall purpose of the paragraph or piece or is the point erroneous, or unrelated? If irrelevant, the information provided is unnecessary.

In your own writing, stick to tight, concise work. Although it may be tempting to add “fluff” to a piece to make it larger or (supposedly) grander, unnecessary information bogs down a piece and distracts the reader, rather than getting a point or idea across.

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.

Identifying Supporting Details

Identifying supporting details requires two simple steps:

Identify the thesis of a piece overall, or the topic sentence of a paragraph.
Identify parts of the piece or paragraph that support that argument.

Typically, supporting details contain some trace of facts, arguments, or illustrations, providing the reader with information to back up the claims being made.

Deciding if There Is an Error

Some questions will try to confuse or hoodwink test-takers. These questions might highlight a supposed error within a text, giving you the option of either choosing a correction, or leaving the question as-is. These questions can be extremely challenging, as it is easy to second guess your answer. When coming face to face with these questions, follow these steps:

Thoroughly read both the question and the passage or sentence (if applicable). Many times, the answer lies in the phrasing of the question. Weigh each option carefully, paying attention to what “sounds right.” If the sentence does not appear to have any issues, do not second guess yourself: it likely does not have any issues. Make a decision and move on. These questions, in particular, seem to invite agonizing over and constant back-and-forth. Resist the urge to harp on these, as this can waste valuable time, and the answer is likely to grow more muddled the longer it is picked apart.

Filling in the Blank — Sentences

Filling in the blanks for sentence questions requires that test-takers follow the same basic rule: test all available answers. Do not just leap to the first answer that looks good. Instead, plug each answer into the blank space and test them out. Does it make sense within the context of the sentence? Is the a proper part of speech in that context? Does it sound correct when it is all read together? Answering these questions will eliminate wrong answers, and will help you gain confidence in the conclusion you develop.

General Tips

Find the “Best”

In some cases, there will be multiple answers that seem to fit the question. In these situations, it is best to look at the question not as a series of one right answer and three wrong ones, but a series of answers that qualify as good, then better, then best. Read all of the available answers, and determine which one is not only correct, but that best fits, describes, or supports the question.

“Notes to Take”

The test may examine your note-taking and analytical skills through providing a passage, and asking which facts from that passage would be best to save as notes. In these questions, read over the material, and decide which answer best describes, supports, and explains the topic at hand. This will be the answer that best fulfills the requirements of note-taking.

Standard English

Be sure to study the rules for correct grammar and usage in standard written English. Do not rely on the type of language you use in modern technology applications, such as texting and chatting. Some of these questions really do not have an error, so be very careful that the sentence actually needs a correction.