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SAT Writing and Language Practice

The SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, is the most widely accepted college entrance exam in the United States. Getting a good score can be a major boost to your college application. We’re here to help with the SAT Writing and Language section.

SAT Writing and Language Overview

The SAT Writing and Language section consists of 44 questions, divided into 11 questions about each of four written passages. You will have 35 minutes to complete them all. 

The SAT Writing and Language section is all about your grasp of written text. As noted above, there will be four written passages. Your job will be to read the text, and then answer questions and resolve errors. There are no set topics: the test is checking your ability to manage the written word, not your expertise in any particular subject.

But, if there are no set subjects, and you don’t get your questions or even the passages ahead of time, how exactly are you supposed to prepare? Here are some fundamentals that will get you ready for your upcoming exam.

Tip #1 - Know Your Types

You may not know the specific subject going in, but SAT Writing and Language texts can still be divided into broad categories, each of which requires special handling. 

  • Argument passages present a thesis - basically an informed opinion - and support it with evidence. Our page on thesis statement examples can help you get a sense of this text.

  • Narrative nonfiction presents a story about a real event with a beginning, middle and end. Try our article on narrative essays for help with these.

  • Informative or explanatory pieces present information about a topic without taking a stance on it. Have a look at our article on descriptive essays for two different approaches to this kind of writing.

Your first step on the SAT Writing and Language section should be to identify which of these you’re dealing with. This will determine the kinds of questions you’ll be asked. 

If it’s an argument, for example, the test might ask you to identify its thesis statement, or explain what point a given piece of evidence is meant to support. If it’s narrative nonfiction, it might be a question about the writer’s use of descriptive language. Knowing what kind of text you’re reading is a major advantage when taking the SAT Writing and Language.

Tip #2 - Be Concise

Once you’ve identified the type of writing you’re dealing with, it’s time to tackle the questions themselves. Many will be multiple-choice questions that identify a given phrase and suggest edits for you to choose from. 

Editing can be subjective, and even once you’ve eliminated obviously wrong answers, you may find yourself stuck between two plausible options. When in doubt, always take the shorter choice. Wordiness can be a grammatical error in itself.

Tip #3 - Use Your Pencil

You don’t have to do all your editing in your head. Don’t hesitate to mark up your test booklet to make the passages clearer and the questions more straightforward. Underline obviously important phrases in the passage, scratch out answers you know are wrong, and generally get the words on the page stripped down to what you actually need.

Tip #4 - Tackle Short Questions as You Read

As you’re marking up your booklet, you’ll probably notice that you know the answers to several questions that refer to specific bits of the text. Go ahead and answer them as you go along. 

First, you’re more likely to be right when the text is fresh in your memory. Second, there’s no feeling of relief quite like getting to the end of the passage and realizing you’re already more than halfway done. Once that’s all handled, you can move on to the longer questions.

Tip #5 - Read Up Ahead of Time

One of the few good things about having a tough standardized test coming up is that millions of people are in the same situation. That also means there are lots of helpful resources you can use to prepare. Here are just a few for the Writing and Language section specifically.

  • Khan Academy offers comprehensive help with the whole SAT, including the Writing and Language section. 

  • Once you’ve gone through the Khan Academy tutorial, it’s time to tackle some real questions. The College Board has samples from real tests for your convenience.

  • If you’re tired of answering one question at a time, PrepScholar has 18 sample tests standing by. They’re even printable for the full “fill in the bubble with a number 2 pencil” experience.

There’s no practice, nor -- dare we say it -- list of tips that can help your SAT score as much as actually taking practice tests and reviewing what you get wrong. 

Test for Success

Ultimately, good performance on any standardized test comes down to two qualities: knowledge and readiness. Knowledge is what you’re in school for. It’s what separates the sheep from the goats and the thesis from the hypothesis.

Readiness is all about you. As noted, YourDictionary is one place where you can get in-depth, expert help with standardized tests, we can show you the best ways to prepare for the SAT. Try our 100 common SAT words for more grammatical goodness.

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