What Not to #&%/!@ Write in an Essay!!!


Split infinitive aside, a topic has come up in my work recently that earns much more attention: casual writing on standardized tests. 

I probably take for granted that high school students are taught formal writing fundamentals in the classroom — I should punish myself for such idealism. 

In short, students (as though you're following this blog religiously), you want to avoid the following marks, abbreviations, and shortcuts when writing an essay for either the SAT or the ACT…

                       Do not use an ampersand (&) or other symbol to represent the word
                       "and.” Write the words that compose a number out unless it is a year. 
                       For example, don't boast, "I took 2 weeks off this summer to…."  Write
                       out the word "two." It's fine to mention something like, "I took the ACT
                       in February of 2016…" because 2016 is a year.  However, be formal
                       when writing out complete dates: "I took the SAT on January 23, 2016"
                       would be acceptable, whereas "…on 1/23/16" is a bit casual.

                       Ignore every texting convention you've ever learned.  We are not
                       tweeting your way into college (yet).

                       You need to spell out the word "with" and not use the
                       ever-convenient "w/."

I know why students use these: they save time, or there is a mad dash to get to a conclusion before the clock stops on the essay section, or "my tutor didn't mention anything when I did it in practice," etc.  Remember, these essay assignments are meant to test your rhetorical skill at arguing a point through the use of English, so please use the Queen's most formal dialect whenever you'd like to be taken seriously.

Jack Neimark