SAT Writing & Language Test: Analysis Questions - History & Science

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

In this lesson we will practice strategies for tackling the Writing and Language section of the SAT exam. We will learn about the section requirements and work through several examples.

What's on the SAT?

Taking the SAT (formerly called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or the Scholastic Achievement Test) is a hurdle many students need to jump in order to get into college. The test is administered in 4 parts: reading, writing/language, math, and essay. In this lesson, we will learn how to approach questions in the writing/language portion of the test.

Have no fear: the SAT is here to help you.

The Writing and Language Test asks students to read a passage and then answer a series of multiple choice questions. Reading passages are drawn from three types of subject matter: English/World Literature, History/Social Studies, and Science. The questions test your ability to analyze sentence structure and revise sentences to improve the grammar and syntax.

You might be asked to fix a run-on sentence or fragment, replace commas, colons, or semi-colons, or adjust verb tense and pronoun usage. For example, here is an example of a comma splice, a common type of run-on sentence:

''I will be taking an exam this morning, I have been studying all week.''

You can fix the grammatical error by replacing the comma with a period.

The questions are constructed to allow you to demonstrate your ability to read, identify mistakes and weaknesses in a passage, and fix problems in sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation.

This section of the SAT tests your editorial and proofreading skills, which involve close reading and revision. Whether you are reviewing the writing of a peer or revising a paper of your own, being able to edit and proof text passages is an important skill to master in order to be able to communicate effectively.

5 test measures assess your mastery of the English language:

  • rhetoric (demonstrate your command of standard English conventions)
  • words in context (identify poor word choice and find words that better fit the context)
  • information and ideas (assess the clarity and organization of statements)
  • command of evidence (improve the flow and development of ideas in a passage)
  • and synthesis (analyze subject-specific data and edit statements to improve clarity)

How to Take the Test

On the Writing and Language portion of the SAT, you will have 35 minutes to answer 44 questions. Some questions ask you to replace a word or punctuation. Other questions ask you to analyze a sentence in the context of a paragraph.

Practice Test 1:

Passage 1: from the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. by Frederick Douglas (1845).

''I was born in Tuckahoe, near Hillsborough, and about twelve miles from Easton, in Talbot county, Maryland. I have no accurate knowledge of my age, never having seen any authentic record containing it. By far the larger part of the slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs, _____ it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves thus ignorant. I do not remember to have ever met a slave who could tell of his birthday. They seldom come nearer to it than planting-time, harvest-time, cherry-time, spring-time, or fall-time.''

Question 1: Which conjunction completes the sentence beginning ''By far…''

A) nor
B) but
C) and
D) yet

Correct Answer: C) and
Explanation: There are three types of conjunctions: coordinating, subordinating and correlative. The sentences 'by far…' and 'it is the wish' agree with each other. One thought follows from the next. Appropriate coordinating conjunctions include or, and, nor, but, or, yet and so. Subordinating and correlative conjunctions modify or negate the meaning between sentences.

Question 2: Reference the chart below. According to Douglas' statement, what is the background color of the state of his birth?

A) white
B) gray
C) horizontal lines
D) diagonal lines

Correct Answer: A) white
Explanation: Douglas says that he was born in Maryland which, on the map, has a solid white background.

U.S. Map, Civil War

Practice Test 2:

Passage 1: On the Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin (1859)

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