Whether you practice Pulitzer-level writing or express yourself with emojis, you have to take on the SAT Writing and Language Test. This test is in two parts. The first part is a set of multiple-choice questions about grammar, style, logic, and structure, all based on passages that are well written but leave room for improvement. The second part is an optional essay.

Get to know the Writing and Language Test

The SAT Writing and Language Test consists of four passages (like essays) each mixed with 11 multiple-choice questions. The test-makers want to know how you’d revise the passage if you were the author. Here are the details:
  • You have 35 minutes to take on four passages. This means you get just about 9 minutes per passage — but more on that later.
  • The topics range from science to history/social studies and some fiction. Unlike the SAT Reading Test, there’s no advantage to approaching the fiction passage last or approaching the questions out of order.
  • Of the 44 questions in this test, about 20 cover Standard English conventions of grammar and punctuation, and about 24 address style, or “expression of ideas.” This last category is broad and may include proper word choice (selecting the right word for the context), organization of ideas, supporting logic, and effective use of evidence.

Fortunately, the topics appearing in this test are limited to a certain scope: There are certain grammar elements, certain punctuation, and certain style questions that the SAT asks again and again. You don’t have to master everything about English! Just a few parts.

Manage your time with simple strategies

As you take on the SAT Writing Test, use the following basic, tried-and-true strategies to get the most questions right with the time that you have.

An easy question is worth just as much as a hard question

One question that takes five seconds is worth as much as another that takes three minutes. What if you work the three-minute question, answer it correctly, and then miss out on the last few questions because you ran out of time? Seems like the three-minute question still won.

Don’t let this happen. An in-depth style question will take far longer than a simple grammar question. When you get one of these bonkers that takes a while, here’s what you do:

  1. Guess an answer. The idea is that you’ll come back to this question, but just in case you don’t, you have a chance to get it right. (A wrong answer isn’t worse than an unanswered question, so you may as well throw a mental dart.)
  2. Circle the question in your test booklet. This way, when you go back, you can find the question quickly. You’ll have a few to run back to.
  3. Fold the corner of the page in the test booklet. The Reading Test runs 18 pages, so this action speeds up finding the questions at the end.

Use the 9-minute rule

With 35 minutes for four passages, you get just under 9 minutes per passage. Managing your time is key to taking control of this section.
  1. Write down the start time of the passage. The test booklet is your scratch paper, so write down the time you start this test. You did put on a wristwatch, didn’t you? If you didn’t, you might be lucky and have a clock in front of the room. If the clock is on the side or the back of the room, don’t look at it! The proctor will think you’re cheating. And wear a dang watch.
  2. Write down the halfway point and end point. This is simple. Just add 18 and 35 to the start time. If you started the section at 9:00 a.m., the halfway point is 9:18, and the end point is 9:35.
  3. Check your time at the end of the second passage (Question 22). If you’re ahead of the halfway point, you can go back and answer the circled questions from strategy 1. If you’re running behind, forget them and go on to the next passage.

Try the 9-minute rule on a practice. Get a sense of your pace and whether to skip-and-guess or stop-and-work the sticky questions before the actual exam. Your pace on exam day may be different, but you’ll still have a sense of how you work, which means you can take control of your approach.

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