Common grammatical errors to avoid in your university application

Research from a proofreading service reveals the most common grammatical errors made by international students.

December 7 2015
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The most common mistakes in essays by international students are incorrect verb conjugation and using the wrong prepositions, conjoining words and articles, according to research by an academic proofreading service.

As application deadlines for universities around the world approach in January and February, the research by Proofread My Essay reveals the grammatical rules that international applications should double check to ensure that their personal statements are up to standard.

Kiran Chauhan, CEO and founder of Proofread My Essay, said: “We have proofread over 14,000 documents this year, a lot of them from English as a second language (ESL) students. We noticed some recurring patterns among their essays and were really keen on helping them with a list of things to watch out for.”

The common mistakes were committed by an extremely high proportion of the ESL students who use the proofreading service. More than 90 per cent used the wrong prepositions (for example, “for”, “on”, “at”) and 90 per cent did not consistently use the correct verb conjugation for the sentence subject. A further 70 per cent failed to ensure correct verb conjugation for single and plural nouns, and 80 per cent inappropriately used conjoining words such as “although”, “therefore” and “whereas”.

Correcting common grammatical mistakes before you even get to university can set you up for greater success when you explore original ideas in your coursework.

Mr Chauhan explained: “In a previous study, we found that ESL students can move from a 2:2 to a 2:1 with the right proofreading, so it’s essential that they use all the tools they have at hand to make their hard work pay. After all, the ESL students who send us their coursework come from an incredibly varied background and write top quality essays; it would be a shame to waste those ideas on sloppy grammar.”

Perhaps more importantly at this stage, correct grammar could make the key difference in impressing admissions tutors.

Speaking in his capacity as an admissions tutor, Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University London, said: “Were only human. On the one hand, thats bad because we get irritated when we think people dont care enough to make sure they dont make mistakes. 

“On the other, were often rather humbled by how brilliant non-native speakers manage to speak our language far better than we ourselves speak others, so we can be pretty forgiving. That said, ultimately, applicants are applying to do a degree at a UK university so we need to know that they will be able to cope. 

“Lots of mistakes in a personal statement might give us cause to worry that someone might struggle. Obviously, we look at everything else, too – language tests, for instance – so its not the be-all and end-all. But best advice to applicants is to check, check and check again!”

But a member of the international marketing team at King’s College London took a firmer stance on grammatical errors in applications.

“It is imperative that a personal statement be free of any mistakes, be they grammatical or factual ones,” they said.

“An essay littered with mistakes will give the reader an impression that the writer is incompetent and unprofessional, regardless of how proficient he actually is in his course. It would definitely be a disadvantage for the applicant if his essay is compared with other more well-written and put together ones.

“Hence, it is advisable for applicants to submit their personal statements to several proofreaders to make sure there arent any discernible errors in the final product.”

So, to maximise your chances of winning a place at a university of your choice, and of producing your best work when you get there, these are the common errors to look out for:

•             Mistaking effect for affect

•             Homophone errors (words that sound the same)

•             Use of US English as a proofing language for UK university essays

•             Misuse of the word “about”

•             Lack or misuse of apostrophes

•             Multiple use of “said” or  “because” in a single sentence

•             Missing, incomplete or incorrect academic referencing

•             Overly long sentences

•             Syntax issues

•             Missing or misusing articles (“a”, “the”)

•             Failing to make sure singular and plural nouns agree with their verbs

•             Incorrect use of conjunctions (eg, although, therefore, whereas)

•             Wrong preposition usage (eg, “for”, “on”, “at” and so forth)  

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