How the New SAT Writing and Language Section Works

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

What’s “trending” in the new SAT Writing and Language section? Out of the picture are questions based on random single sentences — the old “error recognition” and “sentence improvement” questions. The redesigned SAT Writing and Language section attaches multiple-choice questions to short passages, so your revisions have a context.

The section still features an essay, but the redesigned SAT essay doesn’t ask — or care about — your opinion on a topic, as the old essay did. Instead, you may write an essay based on a passage, analyzing the writer’s style choices. The essay is also optional, not required as it was on the older test.

Whether you’re headed for the Nobel Prize in Literature or ideas expressed only with emoticons (those little drawings that take the place of words), you still have to conquer the Writing and Language section of the SAT. To score big, read on.

The new SAT design most closely resembles the passage-improvement questions on the old exam. Instead of six multiple-choice, passage-improvement questions, though, the new SAT hits you with 44 questions that you must answer in 35 minutes. Here are the details:

  • Each passage is 400 to 450 words long.

  • You see one passage in each of these categories: science, history/social studies, careers, and humanities (writing about literature, art, and the like).

  • One or two passages make an argument, one or two give information, and one narrates a series of events.

  • Graphics (tables, charts, diagrams, and so forth) appear with one or more passages.

  • Eleven questions are attached to each passage. Twenty questions cover Standard English conventions — better known as grammar and punctuation. An additional 24 questions address style, what the College Board calls “Expression of Ideas.” This last category is broad and may include word choice (selecting the right word for a particular context), concise writing, organization, logic, and effective use of evidence.

  • The complexity of language and graphics ranges from ninth to tenth grade through post-high-school level.