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About the SAT Writing Section: Structure, Patterns & Scoring

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  • 0:01 What Does the Writing…
  • 0:55 About the Writing &…
  • 1:34 Questions About Grammar
  • 3:17 Questions About Ideas
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Learn about the writing portion on the new SAT and what kinds of questions you can expect. This lesson covers passage types, question types, and the overall structure of the test. Then try some practice questions on the quiz.

What Does the Writing Section Test?

The SAT is split up into three different tests: Math, Reading, and Writing and Language. In this lesson, we'll take a closer look at the Writing and Language test. The SAT Writing and Language Test is part of the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section. It tests you on the grammar and wording of sentences that you read in passages.

On the test, you'll read through several passages, and you'll have to edit parts of sentences in them. You might have to correct grammar errors or change the language of the passages to be more rhetorically effective. You might also have to correct errors that test your comprehension of the passage as a whole, or of graphs and charts attached to the passage. All questions are multiple-choice.

The good news is that the SAT tells you exactly what rules they want you to follow. There's no mystery, and there are no surprises. So, take a look at what you'll see on the test, and what you need to know to beat it.

About the Writing and Language Test

On the new SAT, the Writing and Language test is one part of the Evidence-based Reading and Writing section. On this part of the test, you'll get four passages, one from each of the following fields:

  • Careers
  • History/Social Studies
  • Humanities
  • Science

Each passage will have 11 questions, for a total of 44 questions in 35 minutes. That's less than one minute per question. All questions will be multiple-choice, with four answer choices. At least one of the passages will also have some kind of graphic: a chart, diagram, or some other visual form of representing the information in the passage.

Questions About Grammar

Now let's dig deeper into the questions. 20 of the 44 questions on the test will focus on grammar rules. These questions test how well you know rules like:

  • Matching singular subjects to singular verbs, and singular pronouns to singular antecedents. For example, it's 'The dogs run in the park,' not 'the dogs runs in the park.'
  • When to use they're vs. there vs. their
  • When to use a comma, a semicolon, and a period
  • How to use punctuation in a list

These are just examples. The actual SAT will test you on more rules than those four, but these give you an idea of what kinds of questions you'll see.

Here's an example of one of those questions:

(1) Another contentious topic is the so-called 'runner's high.' Some runners report feeling a sense of euphoria, that, overcomes them a few miles into a good run. (2) Other runners run for years but never experience a runner's high. (3) Running also has cardiovascular benefits. (4) Researchers have been unable to pinpoint precisely what causes the 'high' in runners who report enjoying it.

euphoria, that overcomes

A. NO CHANGE
B. euphoria, it overcomes
C. euphoria. That overcomes
D. euphoria that overcomes

The correct answer is D. This sentence has unnecessary punctuation: both commas are unnecessary. Answer choice B introduces a comma splice, so B is incorrect. Choice C awkwardly breaks up the sentence for no reason. Choice D eliminates the unnecessary commas, so D is correct.

Questions About Ideas

The other 24 of the 44 questions will focus on expression of ideas, which means how well the writer communicates his or her point. On these questions, you'll have to know:

  • Which of four pieces of information adds the best support for an argument
  • When to delete information that isn't relevant to the argument
  • How to organize an argument in a logical sequence
  • How to be concise and avoid unnecessary repetition and wordiness

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