Despite the article title, the SAT Writing & Language section does not require you to actually write anything. Instead, it tests your ability to pick effective writing using the proper grammar, punctuation, and rhetoric from a series of identical multiple choice answers. The overarching thing students should remember when going over this section is to stop thinking about “what sounds best” or how you personally would write the sentence. That kind of thinking leads you down the path of subjectivity. On this test, every question has an objectively correct answer. So what does that mean in practice? Read on for the three key SAT Writing & Language strategies that will help improve your test score.
An Overview of the SAT Writing & Language Section
The SAT Writing & Language section is one of the three sections that make up the SAT Test. This section is designed to test your ability to write clear and effective prose in a variety of genres and contexts. You’ll be evaluated on your ability to demonstrate evidence-based reasoning, synthesize information, and analyze persuasive and analytic writing.
This section of the SAT includes 4 total passages, 44 multiple choice questions and must be completed in 35 minutes. The passages might be an excerpt from a magazine article, a portion of a book chapter, or another type of document. It might also contain one or more images that illustrate the point being discussed.
You’re asked to answer multiple choice questions about how well the author supports his or her point of view (or how well he or she builds an argument). You’ll also be asked to answer multiple choice questions about grammar and usage issues – things like whether or not something should be capitalized or if it’s used correctly throughout the passage.
SAT Writing & Language Strategies
The SAT Writing & Language section tests your ability to analyze and interpret passages, as well as your ability to craft a well-crafted essay. While you can’t study for the SAT Writing section like you would for the Math or Reading sections, there are some tips and strategies you can use to improve your score.
Technique #1: Read the Test Questions & Answers Completely
The most prevalent, and easily avoidable, mistake we see students make on the SAT is not reading the passage completely and thoroughly. There are a few different reasons that reading everything is important:
Always read sentences from the very beginning all the way to the very end, especially when answering answer questions.
- In many grammar and punctuation questions, the second half of the sentence will impact the first half. Therefore, if your underlined text is in the middle of the sentence, you never want to stop reading at the end of the underlined portion when testing your answer choices. Always read to the period.
- Read every word on the page, including the title of the passage and sentences or paragraphs that don’t contain questions.
- The title of the passage is easily overlooked, but it will clearly indicate the passage’s main idea and provide important context clues. Though you won’t often have explicit main idea questions in this section, some question questions will require an understanding of the main idea. When in doubt, refer to the title.
- As previously mentioned, you will need to have a general understanding of what the passage is saying in order to correctly answer some question questions. These passages are short, so it just doesn’t make sense to skip ahead.
- Always read every single answer choice. This actually applies to every section of the SAT; you can’t catch yourself in a mistake unless you give yourself the chance. Some questions will have multiple answers that may sound good to you or appear to be the correct option initially, so don’t stop right after you see the first one that you like. Read them all and then pick the best of the four.
Technique #2: Remember What the Question is Asking You
As mentioned in strategy #1, you need to read everything on the page. Though it might sound incredibly obvious, that includes the question part of question questions. You might not believe the accuracy of this statement, but forgetting to read the question is an incredibly common mistake among students. Since so many questions contain only answer choices, it’s very easy to ignore the question itself, when it exists, and jump straight to the choices here as well.
Reading the question is crucial as it will tell you what it needs you to do. For example, you may be asked to conclude a sentence by giving a benefit to the approach mentioned in the first part of the sentence. Only one answer choice will actually do this! But all of the choices will be grammatically correct, and most will therefore sound good to you. When you forget to keep the specific question in mind, it is easy to forget what’s being asked of you and consequently answer questions incorrectly.
Technique #3: Compare the Available Multiple Choice Answers
Since over half of the requests on this section don’t actually contain a question, you might fall into the habit of picking answer choices that “sound right” without stopping to think about why you’re choosing them. Though using your ear is a good idea in this section, it’s best done in conjunction with grammar, punctuation, and SAT logic rules.
Especially when dealing with answer questions, look at the answer choices to see what’s changing between them and ask yourself what the question is testing. Is it comma usage? Subject-verb agreement? Verb tense? Redundancy? Tone? Once you’ve identified what’s going on (and there are often multiple concepts being tested per answer choice), you’ll know what to focus on.
Comparing and contrasting answer choices can also help you more than you might think. For example, if you have multiple disagreement words as choices in a transition word question (such as “however” and “despite this”), neither can be correct as you can’t be asked to choose between them – they mean the same thing! On a punctuation question, knowing that semicolons and commas are mutually exclusive can help you narrow down your choices too. If you have two identically worded answer choices with a semicolon in one and a comma in the other, the answer will almost always be one or the other.
Using These Standardized Testing Tips
Now that you know the best SAT Writing & Language tips and tricks, you’ll want to keep building your comfort level with this section. Test prep and regular personalized tutoring are a couple of great ways to continue gaining the comfort and skill needed to greatly improve your SAT score. If you’d like a helping hand, request tutoring from our career tutors. Inspirica Pros is a results-based network of experienced SAT tutors, we’d love to get you the necessary results!