Parallelism: as it appears on the Accuplacer
Students here at DCTC as well as at other technical or community colleges have to take the Accuplacer in order to place in certain programs or classes like college composition or the nursing program. This test looks at students’ English and Mathematical skills and based on the results, assesses whether or not the student qualifies for these programs or classes. Over the semester, I am going to make some posts here about the different topics covered so students may understand both the grammatical concept and what the test questions are really getting at with their specific phrasing or wording.
One such concept the Accuplacer tests is parallelism. Parallelism, much like the mathematical concept of forming two straight lines that never cross, is about matching similar elements in the sentence to help with the flow of the sentence and often to create a memorable and poignant statement. In summary, parallelism is creating continuity within a sentence by matching similar elements with similar structures.
Often these elements include matching verb tenses, phrases, clauses, or ideas
Example: “We must stop talking about the American dream and start listening to the dreams of Americans.” –Reubin Askew
When we examine this sentence, we can see that “stop talking” and “start listening” are similar structures because both have verbs in “ing” participle form. There, however, are more similar elements to be found. Stop and start are also verbs in their base present tense form (no -ed, s, or ing added) and the possessive adjective “American” is used twice to define “dream” and make the sentence memorable.
Example: “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.” –Thomas Jefferson
In this particular sentence, both “stand” and “swim” are parallel because they are verbs both in the present tense just as stop and start were in the last sentence. Additionally, prepositional phrase “in matters” is echoed exactly in the start and finish of the sentence also drawing a parallel structure while the “of principle” and “of taste” prepositional phrases are echoed in structure, but not exact words.
Other presidents have created similar structures in order to deliver powerful and memorable messages:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. – Barack Obama
Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. -JFK
It’s unlikely that you will encounter a sentence like these, however, on the Accuplacer. It is more likely that you will have a sentence like the one below that makes a list using verbs in the present participle form (ing).
Example: “In love with water sports, Tom became obsessed with kayaking, waterskiing, and swimming.”
This sentence makes a list of things that Tom likes to do using present participle verbs. This could also be accomplished with the use of a colon.
In love with water sports, Tom became obsessed with the following activities: kayaking, waterskiing, and swimming.
So taking all this into account, what does a broken parallel structure look like? Look at the following sentence and notice how the natural flow of the sentence is disrupted by the last phrase.
In love with water sports, Tom became obsessed with kayaking, waterskiing, and he also likes to swim.
“He also likes to swim” throws off the structure and causes the sentence to lose its parallelism and become ungrammatical. Tom is obsessed with three things: kayaking, waterskiing, and swimming. Changing the last word into a clause “I also like to swim” is unnecessary.
It also helps to think of it this way: any item in this list should be able to immediabely follow the phrase “I became obsessed with” and make sense since this phrase introduces the list. Does it make sense to say “I became obsessed with I also like to swim”? NO.
To help further illustrate how this concept is used on the Accuplacer, I’ve included some sample test questions from the Accuplacer websites. Let’s take a look at one below.
Test Sample Question: To walk, biking, and driving are Pat’s favorite ways of getting around.
A.) To walk, biking, and driving
B.) Walking, biking, and driving
C.) To walk, biking, and to drive
D.) To walk, to bike, and also driving
Most of these answers all have mixed present participles (ing) and infinitives (to + verb). The correct answer will have either all infinitives or all present participles. Eliminate the answers that don’t work.
You should have eventually arrived upon (B) as your answer. All the other answers are close, but they betray themselves by mixing the verb form. Look at another sample test question below.
Test Sample Question: If you’re looking for the car keys, you should look under the table, the kitchen counter, and behind the refrigerator.
A.) under the table, the kitchen counter, and behind the refrigerator
B.) the table, on the kitchen counter, and behind the refrigerator
C.) under the table, on the kitchen counter, and behind the refrigerator
D.) under the table, on the kitchen counter and also the refrigerator.
What makes this question slightly trickier than others is that it is not parallel by matching verb tense endings. The parallelism comes in matching prepositional phrases by using adverbs that tell us where (under, on, behind).
This means C is the correct answer since it is the only option that has parallel structure by matching three prepositional phrases instead of prepositional phrases with noun phrases.
Visit the school website or the admissions office for more information on how to take practice tests online or look at the practice questions under the link “Test Resources” on this page: http://www.dctc.edu/future-students/placement.cfm