Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes

Q. Dear CMOS, I am experiencing a meltdown at work. My colleagues believe that “test taker” is one word, while I believe that it should be hyphenated as “test-taker.” I am also unclear, after reading the CMOS, about another form of this phrase, “test taking.” If I write, “It is an important strategy for test taking,” should “test-taking” be hyphenated? Thank you for your help. This has become a highly debated issue within our office and I would love to resolve it once and for all.

A. Following Chicago style, we would hyphenate “test taking” only when it’s an adjective. Otherwise, we would keep it open. We follow Merriam-Webster for closed compound nouns and adjectives, and “testtaker” doesn’t appear there. Obviously, the hyphenation of compounds is far too complex and fluid to be strictly covered by a set of rules. Check Merriam-Webster, and if the compound isn’t there, then consider whether a hyphen is needed in order to avoid confusion. If it’s not, then omit the hyphen. It might help to read the hyphenation guide for compounds, combining forms, and prefixes in CMOS 7.89.