Page 1 Writing Study Guide for the TASC Test
How to Prepare for the TASC Writing Test
Each section of the TASC is specifically aligned with the Common Core State Standards. These standards are used by high schools to drive instruction. The TASC also addresses skills that are particularly relevant to college and career readiness. These two things are reflected in the TASC Writing test structure.
On this section of the TASC test, you will be given 110 minutes to answer 42 multiple-choice questions and 2 short-answer questions, and to write one essay from a prompt. This time frame allows 45 minutes for the essay-writing.
The concepts that follow are listed by the level of emphasis placed on them in the TASC. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of all of them and seek additional practice in any areas in which you feel unsure. On this test, there will be multiple-choice and short-answer questions, as well as an essay. Competence in the following skills will help you not only as you write the essay but when you answer the multiple-choice and short-answer questions.
The topics mentioned in this section are of the highest importance on the test and will make up the greater portion of your exam questions. If you are to place more emphasis on one section or one series of concepts, these are the concepts to master.
Verb Voice and Mood
Verb voice and mood describe verb “voices” (active or passive) and verb types (indicative, imperative, and subjunctive).
Active voice applies an action to a specific person or party. This is the most common type of verb seen in writing and is preferable in most situations. “The committee made mistakes.”
Passive voice, on the other hand, is typically used to obscure blame or action and is found in sentences such as, “Mistakes were made,” wherein a party is hesitant or entirely unwilling to accept the responsibility of an action.
In any type of writing, active voice is stronger and is usually preferred, while passive voice is often utilized to alleviate blame or obscure the origin of something.
The indicative verb mood is, again, the most common type of verb seen and is used to inform or indicate an action. This is seen in sentences such as, “Tony ran for president, but was unsuccessful” and “Romy visited her high school reunion with a friend.”
The imperative verb mood is used to command or demand and is usually spoken to an unseen entity. This is seen in sentences such as, “Clean the dishes!” or “Please pick up some fries on the way home from work.”
The subjunctive mood is used to discuss events that did not happen―and is typically used in a wistful or wishful way. This can be seen in sentences such as, “Had Becca only used her voice to sing, rather than wasting it on screamo” and “If he were to meet me, he wouldn’t have to marry that awful woman.”
The conditional mood is one in which one action rests upon another. The most common method of conveying conditional action is through the use of the words: might, could, would, and if. Conditional verb mood can be seen in the following sentence:
“Mike would happily move if Kevin would agree to pay an equal share of the rent.”
Both the subjunctive and conditional verb moods convey a deviance from reality using verbs.
Parallel structure requires that writers use the same verb forms in a list. For instance, the sentence, “Mary liked to hike, swimming, and to play tennis,” feels awkward and poorly written. The verb forms are not parallel, and therefore create a halted, uneasy sentence. To correct this misstep, the sentence should read, “Mary liked hiking, swimming, and playing tennis.”
Using Phrases and Clauses to Enrich Writing
As you write, be sure to use various types of clauses and phrases. Clauses and phrases are both embedded within sentences and provide different types of sentence structures to lend structure and interest to a piece. Rather than writing small, similar sentences, for instance, you can use dependent clauses to allow sentences to intertwine, as in the sentences, “Ruby and Ellen love to visit the opera. Since the opera is rarely inexpensive, the women must make the most of the once-yearly outing.” Using since creates a dependent clause and provides a leading point for additional ideas and sentences.
Writing with Clarity
Writing with clarity requires writing with variations and writing only what needs to be said. Although it may be tempting to “fluff” a piece, inserting additional, irrelevant, and unnecessary facts is usually quite obvious to the audience (and graders) and results in a convoluted or ineffective essay.
To avoid redundancy and wordiness, identify exactly what you are trying to say, and deliver the information as concisely as possible. Rather than writing three similar sentences on the importance of addressing environmental concerns, for instance, you should construct one well-thought-out, powerful sentence.
Using varying syntax requires you to pull out your grammatical arsenal and utilize different types of punctuation and vary sentence length. For instance, which of the sentence groups below sounds better?
Mary traveled to school. Her lamb followed. Her teacher was displeased. The lamb was sent home. Mary felt sad.
When Mary traveled to school, her lamb followed suit. Her teacher was displeased to find a lamb inside the classroom, and promptly sent him home―which quickly made Mary dissolve into tears.
The first sentence group is short and offers a staccato sound, while the second grouping has a softer, more fluid cadence and is more pleasing to the eye and ear.
These questions will not be as weighty (read: as common) as the concepts mentioned above, but should still be given some thought and attention.
The basics of grammar include how to properly capitalize, punctuate, and spell English words, and create coherent, compelling sentences. To study grammar basics, focus on being able to use and identify basic punctuation marks (periods, commas, colons, and semicolons) and how to understand and create complex, compound sentences.
Proper capitalization varies, to some degree, on the material style you are writing in. In college, for instance, MLA standard is the norm, while newspapers typically use APA or Chicago style. In general academic writing, however, there are several consistent capitalization rules. These include: capitalizing the first word in a sentence, capitalizing proper nouns (names, typically, of people, places, and things, as well as “I”), and capitalizing titles.
For instance, the sentence, Carly traveled to the University of California in Los Angeles is correct, while Carly traveled to the university of california in los angeles is not.
Punctuation provides the reader with a means of “seeing” the pauses and changes in the written word. A period is used to differentiate one sentence from another, as are exclamation points and question marks. Commas are used to separate elements of a sentence, often through compound sentences and lists. Colons are used to denote a continuation of the sentence and typically preclude a list. Semicolons are used to separate two independent clauses with similar subject matter.
Spelling is arguably one of the most difficult things to practice, as you can really only practice by reading and writing, with an emphasis on words you might not be entirely comfortable or familiar with. Although you are not expected to be able to spell extremely complex words, you should have a basic understanding of, and comfort with, words usually found in conversation and in literature.
Each time you write something, you should go back and edit that piece. Edits need not be long or drawn out, but should be thorough. The best way to edit something is to read it aloud (if possible or forming the words silently with your mouth) after writing. This allows you to hear it, more easily identifying awkward phrases and accidentally skipped words, as well as forcing your mind to see each word individually, rather than filling in the blanks. As you edit, also check for redundancy and irrelevant words or sentences.