The Ivy Lounge Test Prep Punctuation Cheat Sheet

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Whenever I begin tutoring a new student and we determine their test in an Ace the Test: Game Plan™, I first identify exactly which concepts the poor junior needs to revisit (read: learn).

And what is the single-most lacking topic I’ve noticed in the SAT Writing section and the ACT English section (which both test your grammar skills)??

One word: PUNCTUATION.

I’ve actually been told why this is by many a parent. Apparently, most high schools these days don’t actually TEACH grammar. As in, students tend to write essays, and these writing assignments get corrected, and sometimes students, especially the ones with an “ear” for language and writing, eventually connect the dots and start to formulate an internal sense of “grammar right” and “grammar wrong.” But it appears the actual RULES aren’t being taught. Or if they are, sporadically at best.


But the rules of grammar, and especially of punctuation, absolutely ARE tested on the SAT and ACT!

On that note, I simply need to break down the biggest punctuation rules that come up on the SAT and ACT. I do it for my students, and now I’m doing it here on the blog so YOU can finally learn them explicitly and hopefully get several more questions correct!

So without further ado, here’s the Ivy Lounge Test Prep Punctuation Cheat Sheet.

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This is the quick and dirty guide to what works and what doesn’t in the eight punctuation rules that come up the most frequently on the SAT and ACT. To use this guide effectively, try testing your knowledge by challenging yourself to create examples or apply these rules to sample sentences. And if you need an explanation of how to use these in context, don’t hesitate to contact me!

 

For the purpose of our little cheat sheet here, I’m going to abbreviate some things:

  • C = “Complete clause” (a clause that can be its own sentence)

  • D = “Dependent clause” (could NOT stand on its own as a separate sentence)

  • “FANBOYS” = subordinating conjunctions; specifically: “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so.” These seven words, and ONLY these seven words, count!

 

I. Combining two Complete Clauses

YES!

            C. C.

            C; c.

            C, FANBOYS c.

            C: c*.

            C—c*.           

(*The second complete clause answers or clarifies the first complete clause.)

 

NOPE!

            C c.

            C, c.

            C; FANBOYS c.

(I’m sure you could concoct some other offenders, but these are the worst!)

 

II. Combining a Complete Clause with a Dependent Clause

YES!

            D, c.

            C, d.

 

NOPE!

            D; c. or C; d.

            D. C. or C. D.

            D, FANBOYS c. or C, FANBOYS d.

            D: c.

            D—c.

 

III. How to Use a Colon

YES!

            C: c*.

            C: d*.

            C: l, i, s, t*.

            C: one-word answer*.

 

(NOTE: EVERY SINGLE one of these has two things in common: there’s a COMPLETE CLAUSE on the LEFT side of the colon; and the right side—whatever it is—explains or clarifies the complete clause on the left.)

NOPE!

            D: anything.

            C: something that doesn’t explain or clarify.

 

IV. How to add Extra Information to a Sentence

YES!

            Sent, extra information, ence.

            Sent—extra information—ence.

            Sent (extra information) ence.

                        OR…

            Sentence, extra information.

            Sentence—extra information.

            Sentence (extra information).

 

NOPE!

            Sent, extra information—ence.   (Any mixing and matching is a NO.)

            Sent,(extra information) ence.    (Using double punctuation is a NO.)

            Sent, extra information ence.     (Only separating extra info on one side? NO.)

            Sent extra information, ence.     (Same deal—one side only is a NO.)

 

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V. How to use Dashes

YES!

            1) Anywhere you would have used a colon, like these:

                        C—c*.

                        C—d*.

                        C—l, i, s, t*.

                        C—one-word answer*.

            2) To separate out extra information

                        Sent—extra information—ence.

                        Sentence—extra information.

NOPE!

            Anything else.

 

VI. How to use a semi-colon

YES!

            C; c.

            List in which the items being separated already use commas.

            Ex: She visited Dallas, Texas; London, England; and Brooklyn, New York.

NOPE!

            Anything else.

 

VII. How to use a question mark

YES!

            Question? (As in, someone asks an actual question.)

            Ex: She asked, “Did you find out your score?”

NOPE!

            A declaration that someone asked a question—that uses the word “if” or “whether.”

            Ex: She asked if you found out your score.

 

VIII. How to use a Comma

YES!

            C, FANBOYS c.

            C, d.

            D, c.

            Sent, extra information, ence.

            Sentence, extra information.

            When listing three or more things.

            Introductory phrase, sentence.

NOPE!

             Anything else.


These eight punctuation rules are so regularly tested on the SAT and ACT that mastering them almost guarantees a bump in your score.

So get practicing! And remember, if you need me to help you do that, I’m here for you.