Most high schoolers, particularly native English speakers, expect the grammar sections of standardized tests to be easy. Unfortunately, those used to informal spoken English and social media snippets find themselves woefully unprepared to understand the fundamental challenge of any true writing test: effective written communication.
What exactly is effective written communication? Forget about fancy vocabulary or flowery phrasing. Only one standard for communication determines its effectiveness:
Does the reader understand the intended message?
If you as the writer transmit the idea you wanted to get across, your writing is effective. Easy, right? With this standard of effectiveness, we can evaluate all writing through the lens of what we call the 3 C’s of Effective Communication:
Clear simply means easily comprehended. Word choice and style is specific and appropriate to the audience, with active and direct phrasing. Ambiguity—the enemy of clarity—should be avoided at all times.
Concise means short and to the point. Imagine that your message is a chemical solution: anything added that does not contribute to the message actually dilutes its potency. Effective writing eschews wordiness and redundancy in order to get a point across in as many words as necessary but no more than that.
Consistent means that all the rules of grammar are observed. Errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics distract readers and undermine effective communication. Consequently, when you want to make yourself understood, pay attention to the rules of grammar. Make sure subjects agree with predicates, nouns agree with pronouns, phrases and clauses connect properly, and all the other specific and ineluctable rules are implemented throughout.
Obviously, a long list of rules and conventions govern any language and must be learned for success on the grammar sections of the SAT & ACT. But paying attention first and foremost to clarity, concision, and consistency lets you quickly and easily assess the overall effectiveness of any piece of writing.