With a name like "SAT Writing Test," you’d think that the SAT Writing and Language section would require writing. However, the writing portion of the SAT is actually in the essay portion, an entirely different section of the test. Instead of testing your composition skills, the writing and language test gives you the chance to show your talents as an editor.

To earn a perfect score on the SAT Writing and Language section, you will need a keen eye for grammar, punctuation, vocabulary and rhetoric. The SAT Writing Test will give you 35 minutes to answer 44 multiple-choice questions on usage, word choice and style. Your job will be to act as an editor, finding the best ways to fix sentences so that the passages that contain them become more fluent and easier to understand.

Unlike the old SAT, the new version of the SAT doesn’t require you to remember pages of esoteric vocabulary words. Rather, it will ask you to use reading and organizational skills that are applicable to multiple subjects in your high school curriculum.

An Overview of the SAT Writing Test

The Writing and Language section of the SAT is the test’s second section. Your score on this section makes up half of your SAT verbal score, with the other half coming from the Reading section.

In this section, you will have 35 minutes to read four passages and answer the 11 questions after each, totaling 44 questions in all. Each passage will come from one of these topics: science, professions, the social sciences and humanities. Every passage will be nonfiction explanations or arguments, and at least one passage will contain a figure, such as a graph or a table.

The questions after each passage won’t ask you much about the passage's content. In other words, this part of the SAT isn’t testing you on your reading comprehension skills. The questions will ask you how sentences and parts can be improved. Sometimes, choosing the right answer can be quite tricky, but understanding how to answer the following question types can help you to ace this section.

Answering Evidence Questions

The first type of question you need to know is the command of evidence question. This type of question usually asks you to look at the passage as a whole and then consider which of the answers provided would best be able to support a certain claim.

Answers may add details, introduce ideas, provide a more satisfactory conclusion or give additional depth to the passage. To choose the correct answer, you not only need to understand how its information will change a passage, but you will also need to understand the reasons it’s the best choice.

Questions can ask you to choose a sentence to insert. They can also give you a sentence, and you will have to choose where to insert it to best improve the paragraph. So, a solid understanding of rhetoric is key to scoring well on the writing and language test.

Choosing Words in Context

The next type of question will ask you to use context clues to complete a sentence by choosing the best word. On the old SAT, you might have seen words in questions like these that you would never see in your daily life. Now, these questions use average words, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less difficult. How?

Often, the words from which you’ll have to choose are nearly identical in meaning – their denotative meaning, that is. However, they will have different connotations, and they will mean different things depending on the words that surround them.

To study for this part of the test, you’ll need to become well-versed in idiomatic expressions. Being well read helps, but you’ll also need to practice this kind of question until you’re comfortable making the right decision every time. Sometimes, that correct answer will be “no change.”

Rearranging Ideas for Impact and Clarity

The third type of question you need to know for the writing and language test is the expression of ideas question. Similar to the evidence questions, expression of ideas questions will ask you to improve the rhetorical sophistication of the passage, especially in regard to the arrangement of ideas and their impact.

To do this, the questions may ask you to rearrange sentences, delete sentences or reorder paragraphs. Knowledge of rhetorical devices, especially claims, evidence and elaboration, will often help you choose the correct answer for these questions. You should also brush up on how to structure an argument effectively before you sit down for the test.

Fixing Grammar and Style

The last type of question with which you’ll need to contend on the SAT writing test is English conventions questions. Conventions of standard English include grammar, style and punctuation rules that help us communicate in writing.

This type of question will pop up more often than any of the others, so study your grammar lessons closely if you want to defeat the SAT’s Writing and Language section. Luckily, you won’t have to memorize the "Chicago Manual of Style" before your SAT because there are several errors that test writers love using over and over again. Ask your teacher for worksheets or make flashcards to study these rules if you aren't already familiar with them.

Common grammar issues you’ll see include subject-verb agreement, pronoun agreement and incorrect verb tenses. As for style issues, you’ll most likely see questions about run-on sentences, comma usage, semicolon usage, contractions and possessives. When you’re studying, pay special attention to words that sound the same but have different meanings.

Study Tips for the SAT Writing and Language Section

One of the best parts of the redesign of the SAT is that the new version of the tests matches the standard high school curriculum more closely. First and foremost, the most effective way you can prepare for the writing and language test is to complete your classwork and homework in your high school English language arts class. If you want to do additional studying, consider joining a study group or finding a tutor.

If you think you study best on your own, find an SAT study guide with practice tests. Since you have less than a minute to answer each of the 44 questions on this section of the SAT, mastering your pacing is essential, and the most successful technique to coach yourself in pacing is to complete practice tests under timed testing conditions until you get your timing right. You can also study the material you’ll see on the test.

Practice writing well, using the sophisticated rhetorical devices you have been learning in your English class’s argumentation unit. Ask your teacher and peers for more feedback on your writing, and make corrections so that you can learn to identify your mistakes and stop making them before you see them on the SAT. Read sophisticated writing to keep your rhetoric skills fresh, and create a study course for yourself that includes common grammatical errors, punctuation issues, homophones and multiple-meaning words.

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