In an age of increasing reliance on technology, many people fear that colleges will increasingly resort to judging students on testable traits of writing, rather than relying on actual writing samples of the students. Regardless of which direction colleges are actually moving in, it is indisputable that college entrance exams are an important part of the admissions process. Some people argue against the importance of grammar, but knowledge of grammar has many general benefits, as well as benefits for gaining acceptance to college. Since English grammar is a component of each major college entrance exam, studying grammar is beneficial in preparation for taking the exams.

The Other Side

It is generally accepted that all sides of a controversy should be examined before a person renders his or her judgment. Since numerous viewpoints on the importance of studying grammar exist, presenting evidence both in support of and against studying grammar is only fair and logical.
Especially over the past five decades, a complicated debate regarding the teaching of grammar has been taking place. Many studies concluded that teaching grammar causes very little improvement in students’ writing abilities. One of the larger studies, Braddock et al., was published in 1963. This study is over forty years old, but it is nevertheless relevant because no consensus exists over the ideas the study originally presented. The notion that studying grammar can have little or no impact on student writing is still hotly contested. Furthermore, Braddock found that teaching grammar can even have a negative effect on writing ability, because students spend less time practicing composition (Gregory, 2003).
In response to the assault on tradition grammar instruction, many studies were published to suggest alternatives. Most teachers did not want to simply cease teaching grammar, and they sought middle-ground – which they found in The Bullock Report. This was a United Kingdom government report on English teaching, and it recommended that teachers instruct in specific areas, such as punctuation and some usage, and teach only a small amount of technical vocabulary. The report stated that grammar instruction out of context is to be avoided. That statement, however, caused an unintended effect: to avoid teaching grammar out of context, many teachers in the UK and the United States basically stopped teaching any kind of grammar. Instead they waited for the right opportunity to mix grammar lessons with the regular curriculum. The problem was that the right opportunity barely surfaced, and grammar was simply not taught (Wheeler, 1999).
Grammar’s General Benefits
Though some argue against studying grammar, it is hard to say knowledge of English grammar does not have its benefits. Students who learn English grammar are more able to understand how words can create intricate meanings and how subtle literary effects are created. Those students are also likely to be more analytical and receptive readers. A reason for teaching grammar in all subject areas is that students will likely gain a greater appreciation for literature, and as a result, they will pay more attention to the text. For instance, readers can better-appreciate any type of poetry with the insights they gain by having a knowledge of linguistic terms (Gregory, 2003). Grammar skills enhance writing and text interpretation.
Knowledge of grammar also allows for better speaking skills. Those who speak well tend to sound more mature and professional. For example, journalist Jacquelyn Mitchard (2004) recently wrote about her observances during the 2004 presidential debates. She pointed out that President Bush said the enemy forces in Iraq were fighting “vociferously,” meaning “with a great number of words.” John Kerry repeatedly stated that he had “over” 20 years of experience, meaning “above.” Mitchard conceded that she knew the President probably meant “violently,” and Kerry probably meant “more than,” but she validly argued that if immigrants are expected to learn and speak Standard English, then the President ought to as well.
These two perspectives show how grammar can be beneficial in many ways – by allowing deeper personal appreciation of literature, and by presenting one’s self as being more advanced. Consistency in meaning and form of any language is the basis for communication. After all, “when you have your own language, you are the only one you can talk to (Shapiro, 2003).” Learning grammar is therefore an important endeavor. It is an endeavor, though, with many benefits.
Grammar’s Benefits in Preparation for College
Perhaps the most important reason for studying English grammar, or at least the most motivational reason, is that it is beneficial for college entrance exams and for collegiate studies in general.
Most college-aspiring students take one or both of the major college entrance exams. The SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, started testing students in 1926. This assessment was followed by the ACT, short for American College Testing, which was developed in 1959 by researchers at the University of Iowa. Scoring well on these tests is very important for students planning to continue their education after high school, a fact made apparent by the vast size of the college admissions testing industry. Companies that aid students in preparing for college entrance exams generate more than $100 million every year. These tests are important.
Studying grammar in preparation for these tests is important as well. The ACT has always had a major grammar component (Hawks & Lindquist, n.d.). In March of 2004, the SAT added more grammar questions (Neville, 2003). Now that a student’s knowledge of grammar is thoroughly measured on both tests, nobody can argue that grammar is not essential for college-bound students.
While students with better grammar skills tend to score well on college entrance exams, students that are already in college seem to require further grammar schooling. According to ACT, professors rank grammar as the most important skill for students entering college, while high school teachers feel grammar is the least important skill (Baron, 2003). Not all high school teachers would agree with that last accusation, but in 2003 Dennis Baron reported that over 20% of college students take a remedial writing course. Furthermore, a 2002 publication by Public Agenda Online revealed that 74% of professors feel their freshmen and sophomore students possess only fair or poor spelling and grammar skills (Reality Check, 2002).
The Association of American Universities together with the Pew Charitable Trusts conducted a survey titled “Understanding University Success.” AAU-Pew, in the concluding publication, reported that students entering college are expected to know how to diagram sentences, and also that grammar is the basis for good writing. Despite these expectations, AAU-Pew’s report stated that “students in entry-level courses make a high level and array of grammatical errors (Baron, 2003).” Students currently entering colleges are not knowledgeable enough of English grammar. Therefore, colleges prefer students with good grammar skills. The more complete a student’s knowledge of grammar is, the better he or she fares in college, and on college entrance exams.
College officials have recently determined that even top colleges, such as Brown and Harvard, are not satisfactorily teaching students how to write. Many colleges are trying to change that, however, by requiring more writing courses (Bartlett, 2003). This is further evidence that grammar will be increasingly more important for college. In an attempt to push this trend, College Board’s National Commission on Writing, in 2003, called for a revolution in writing. College Board President Gaston Caperton feels writing is essential to educational and career success. A critical element of good writing is good grammar. Furthermore, The National Commission on Writing is pushing the idea that grammar is everybody’s business. The commission wants all subjects to cover writing and grammar, because the two are extremely important (College Board, 2003). Writing and grammar are becoming more and more crucial for success in college, so it follows that students who possess better grammar skills will be more successful in college.
Conclusion
Perhaps now more than ever, writing is moving more and more into the limelight as colleges reevaluate their writing programs, and as college testing organizations add grammar and writing questions to their exams. No matter a person’s belief on how knowledge of grammar affects his or her writing in the long run, no one can deny that studying English grammar is beneficial for taking college entrance exams.
References
Baron, D. (2003, May 16). Teaching grammar doesn’t lead to better writing. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 49(36), B20. Retrieved November 17, 2005, from http://search.epnet.com/
Bartlett, T. (2003, January 3). Why Johnny can’t write, even though he went to Princeton. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 49(17), A39. Retrieved November 17, 2005, from http://chronicle.com/
Gregory, G. (2003). They shall not parse! Or shall they?. Changing English [On-Line]. Retrieved November 17, 2005, from http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/routledg/ccen/2003/00000010/00000001/art00003
Hawks, J. & Lindquist, D. (n.d.). College entrance exam. University of Nevada College of Agriculture, Biochemistry, and Natural Resources [On-Line]. Retrieved December 8, 2005, from http://www.ag.unr.edu/
Mitchard, J. (2004, October 9). It’s beyond debate: Grammar is important. JS Online [On-Line]. Retrieved December 8, 2005, from http://www.jsonline.com/
National commission calls for a writing revolution. (2003). College Board – The National Commission on Writing [On-Line]. Retrieved November 17, 2005, from http://www.writingcommission.org/
Neville, J. (2003, November 17). GM Today [On-Line]. Retrieved December 8, 2005, from http://www.gmtoday.com/news/local_stories/2003/November_03/11172003_06.asp
Reality Check 2002. (2002). Public Agenda Online [On-Line]. Retrieved November 17, 2005, from http://www.publicagenda.org/
Shapiro, M. (2003, December 1). The great American English class. Retrieved November 17, 2005 from http://irascibleprofessor.com/comments-12-01-03.htm
Wheeler, R. (Ed.). (1999). Language Alive in the Classroom. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.