Commas in a List or Series on the SAT® and ACT® Exams

Commas in a List or Series on the SAT® and ACT® Exams

Both the SAT and ACT exams test students’ knowledge of where commas should be placed in a list. Unless a list is only two items long, commas should separate items, including the one before “and.”

A list can contain many types of phrases, or a combination of phrases, but items in the list should always maintain the same structure:

How often has it appeared on
recent exams?
Type of
SAT: 7 times
ACT: 1 time
Noun phrasesThe storm brought with it cold winds, large hail, and great floods.
SAT: 2 timesParticiple phrasesHe has had many jobs including busing tables, bagging groceries, and washing cars.
SAT: 1 timePrepositional phrasesI have looked for my phone everywhere: in my car, on the counter, and under my bed.
SAT: 1 timeNouns plus prepositional phrasesThe poem contained lines with alliteration, instances of metaphors, and allusions to the Bible.
SAT: 1 timeInfinitive phrasesTeens seek to become self-sufficient, decrease their parents’ authority, and control their own destinies.
ACT: 1 timeIndependent clausesMy cousin left for college, my uncle went on a business trip, and my aunt stayed home.
ACT: 1 timeAdjectivesHis small, red ball is lost = His small and red ball is lost.

The only time a comma will separate two listed items is when it takes the place of the word “and” between two adjectives as in the example in the chart above.

If you feel like you need more practice with comma placement or other types of punctuation, use the released tests provided by the College Board and ACT or practice online with exam-like questions at websites like UWorld.