Writing Skills Sample

Examinees are presented with an essay similar to the one below and are asked to look for errors in grammar, punctuation, usage and style. When examinees find what they believe to be errors, they move the cursor to the appropriate part of the text and hit the enter key. An item window appears offering five options for revising that area of text. Note that the first option is always identical to the original wording in the text, and thus represents a NO CHANGE option. Examinees can choose to revise any section of the essay. After revising the essay, examinees are routed to two items focusing on rhetorical strategies.

The essay below contains the same number and types of errors that an operational unit would contain; however, for demonstration purposes, only a handful of these segments have been selected for revision. These segments are indicated by bold lettering, and the items associated with them are shown on the next page.

Sample Essay

An increasing number of lakes and rivers in the northern United States are being invaded by a mussel no larger than a fingernail.

The zebra mussel probably steamed aboard a transatlantic ship sometime in the mid-1980s from the Caspian Sea into U.S. waters. Despite its growth was explosive, partly because the species was preyed upon by very few native predators in its new environment. As a consequence, the zebra mussels did find a plentiful food supply. They eat huge amounts of phytoplankton, which tiny free-floating sea organisms that dwell in water. Scientists are concerned when the mussels may compete aggressively with other species that depend on the same food supply.

Others concerned by the invading species are industry, public utilities, and boat owners. Zebra mussels cluster in huge colonies, being anchored themselves to any hard surface. These colonies can clog your water intake pipes of electric and water treatment plants. Fishery specialists are currently casting about and baiting their hooks to gun down control methods that will cause the lowest amount of damage to water supplies and other aquatic species. Two of the alternatives exploring are interrupting the species reproductive cycle and finding a bacterium harmful only to zebra mussels.

Sample Essay Items

Press 'F' when finished. Use the arrow keys ( , , , ) to move the pointer to the part of the essay you want to change. Then press <Enter>. Press 'H' for help.

Segment 1

Basic Grammar and Usage: Ensuring Grammatical Agreement

A.    An increasingly number of lakes and rivers

B.    A number increasing of lakes and rivers

C.    A number increasingly of lakes and rivers

E.    An increasing of lakes and rivers

Segment 2

Style: Avoiding Redundancy

A.    was preyed upon by very few native predators in its new environment.

B.    found very few predators in its new environment.

C.    found very few native predators and was seldom eaten in its new environment.

D.    was preyed on by very few native predator species in its new environment.

E.    was seldom eaten or preyed on by native predator species in its new environment.

Segment 3

Sentence Structure: Relating Clauses

A.    Scientists are concerned when the mussels

B.    Scientists are concerned that if the mussels

C.    Scientists are concerned wherein the mussels

D.    Scientists are concerned that the mussels

E.    Scientists are concerned as if the mussels

Segment 4 (end-of-passage)

Strategy: Making Decisions about Cohesive Devices

The writer wishes to add a sentence at the end of Paragraph 1 that will serve as a transition between Paragraphs 1 and 2 and will establish the main focus of the essay. Which of the following sentences most effectively fulfills that purpose? 

A.   The zebra mussel will provide a difficult challenge for public utility       managers.

B.    The zebra mussel is only the latest in a series of newly introduced     species to thrive in the U.S.

C.     No one knows how far south and west the zebra mussel is likely to    spread, but scientists think they may be on the trail of important clues.

D.    Although small in size, the zebra mussel may become a huge problem for pleasure boat owners in North American waterways.

E.    Despite its size, however, the zebra mussel may have a dramatic effect on North American waterways.

Sample Item Answers

1. A
2. B
3. D
4. E

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