praxis writing test

12 Common Errors on the Praxis Writing Test

It may seem like there are many things to think about during the selected-response portion of the Writing test, but many of the questions can be categorized according to a few common types of errors. Familiarizing yourself with the most common error types will help you achieve test day success.


1. Verb Tense Errors

The subject and the verb of a sentence must agree in number. Put simply, this means that a singular subject takes a singular verb and a plural subject takes a plural verb. You also need to use the right form of the verb depending on whether the subject is first person, second person, or third person.

You do this correctly a million times a day, and it’s not as tricky as it sounds. Check out these sentences:

The ballerinas practices for eight hours a day.

You spends too much time thinking about subject-verb agreement.

Did you find the agreement errors? The sentences on the Core Writing test won’t be quite this easy, but with some practice, you’ll be able to spot agreement errors in any sentence.

2. Pronoun Errors: Case and Number

There will be questions on your Core Writing test that look at the use of pronouns. The key thing to remember about pronouns is that they must agree with their antecedents in case and number.

Every pronoun must have an antecedent. The antecedent is the noun that corresponds to the pronoun in the sentence. Look at this sentence: Beck is a great singer, and he is also a fine songwriter. “Beck” is the antecedent, and “he” is the pronoun.

Case refers to the form in which the word appears in the sentence. If the pronoun refers to the subject, it has a different case than if it refers to an object.

Sally dances, and she also sings.

Bob praised Sally, and he also applauded her.

These sentences are correct.

Many people use they to refer to a single person of unknown gender. While this is a common practice that is generally acceptable in spoken English and informal writing, many disapprove of it in formal writing, and it is unacceptable on the Praxis exam. Watch out for they and them on test day!

3. Pronoun Errors: Ambiguous Reference

Another common pronoun problem you’ll find on the Core Writing test is ambiguous reference. As you just read, every pronoun must have a clear antecedent.

4. Idioms

The test makers also occasionally like to test whether students can recognize the proper use of idioms. This can be tricky for nonnative English speakers because idioms are hard to learn in a foreign language. This is because idioms are simply word combinations that have become part of the language. They’re correct, but there’s no particular reason why they’re correct. Most native speakers will know the proper idiom to use simply because their ears tell them what sounds correct.

Prepositions are the short words—such as by, at, among, and before—that link prepositional phrases to the rest of the sentence. Most preposition issues tested on the Praxis are idiomatic. This means that you’ll be listening for word combinations that frequently go together. Use your ear to catch prepositions that just don’t sound right.

5. Comparison Errors

When you compare two or more parts of speech, like nouns or verb phrases, the parts of speech must be in the same form. Take a look at this example:

The producer agreed that casting a drama series is harder than comedy.

If you heard this sentence, you’d probably understand what it means, although it’s not crystal-clear. The sentence would be clearer if it were written as follows:

The producer agreed that casting a drama series is harder than casting a comedy series.

Both parts of the comparison are in the same form, making the sentence easier to understand and grammatically correct.

6. Adjective and Adverb Errors

You probably haven’t thought about adjectives and adverbs since those junior high sentence diagrams. The good news is that you probably use adjectives and adverbs correctly all the time.

That painting is beautiful.

The artist painted it skillfully.

In the first sentence, “beautiful” is an adjective modifying “painting,” a noun. In the second sentence, “skillfully” is an adverb modifying “painted,” a verb form.

An adjective modifies a noun or pronoun. An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. Most adverbs end in -ly.

7. Double Negatives

In standard written English, the use of two negatives in a row can create ungrammatical or self-contradictory sentences. Just as in math, two negatives added together create a positive.

I won’t have none of that backtalk, young lady!

This sentence, if you cancel the negatives, translates as follows:

I’ll have that backtalk, young lady!

8. Sentence Fragments

Sentence fragments are incomplete sentences. To be complete, a sentence requires a main subject and a main verb. Some sentences are fragments because they lack the necessary elements to make logical sense or have an unnecessary connector like that or because.

Here are some fragments. How would you repair them?

The busload of tourists that wandered curiously around the ancient ruins.

Because Myrna likes the Adirondacks, frequently taking photos of them.

9. Run-On Sentences

A run-on sentence occurs when two complete sentences that should be separate are joined incorrectly. Here’s an example:

Jane was the preeminent scientist in her class her experiments were discussed across campus.

You can tell that this is a run-on sentence because it sounds like it should be two separate sentences. There are four ways to fix a run-on sentence.

  • 1. Use a period.

    Jane was the preeminent scientist in her class. Her experiments were discussed across campus.

  • 2. Use a comma with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, for, nor, yet, and so).

    Jane was the preeminent scientist in her class, and her experiments were discussed across campus.

  • 3. Use a subordinating conjunction, making one sentence dependent.

    Because Jane was the preeminent scientist in her class, her experiments were discussed across campus.

  • 4. Use a semicolon.

    Jane was the preeminent scientist in her class; her experiments were discussed across campus.

10. Coordination and Subordination Errors

Sometimes a sentence won’t make sense because it contains clauses that aren’t logically joined. There are two types of errors involving the improper joining of clauses in a sentence: coordination and subordination errors.

Clauses are groups of words that contain a subject and a verb. Dependent, or subordinate, clauses need to be linked to an independent clause by a conjunction, such as because, although, or since, in order for the sentence to express a complete thought.

Proper coordination expresses the logical relationship between two clauses. Misused conjunctions can bring about faulty coordination and make a sentence confusing or nonsensical.

Problems with subordination occur when a group of words contains two or more subordinate clauses (also known as dependent clauses) but no independent clause.

11. Misplaced Modifier Errors

Modifiers are phrases that provide information about nouns and verbs in a sentence. A modifier must appear next to the word or words that it’s modifying. Here’s an example:

Dripping on his shirt, Harvey was so eager to eat his hamburger that he didn’t notice the ketchup.

As the sentence is written, it sounds as if Harvey was dripping on his shirt, which isn’t a very pleasant image. In fact, it’s the ketchup that’s dripping on his shirt.

12. Parallelism Errors

Parallelism is very much like comparison. Essentially, whenever you list items, they must be in the same form.

Take a look at this sentence:

On Saturday, Ingrid cleaned her apartment, bought her plane tickets for France, and was deciding to go out to dinner.

The first two verbs set us up to expect a parallel verb, but we get blindsided at the end with a nonparallel construction.

On Saturday, Ingrid cleaned her apartment, bought her plane tickets for France, and decided to go out to dinner.

In this corrected sentence, “cleaned,” “bought,” and “decided” are all in the same form, so the parallel structure is correct.