How to Answer “Expression of Ideas” Questions on the SAT

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

The College Board places style, logic, and organization questions on the SAT in the “Expression of Ideas” category. As with grammar and punctuation questions, you may see an underlined word, phrase, or sentence and must determine whether it’s the best possible way to express the idea.

You may also be asked whether additional evidence is needed to support a point or whether a sentence should be deleted or moved to maintain focus. At least a couple of questions relate to the visual element.

When you approach a question in the “Expression of Ideas” category, keep these points in mind:

  • Underlined material may be grammatically correct but wordy or awkward. The answer choices may include a more mature or fluid version.

  • Briefer is usually better. It takes a long time to learn to write concisely (with few words), and the SAT tries to distinguish (recognize the difference between) whether you’re a mature writer or a beginner. If you can cut repetitive words from the sentence without creating a grammar mistake, go for it!

  • Unity is crucial. Everything in a paragraph should revolve around one idea. If a sentence hops off topic, it has to go.

  • The flow of logic is essential. Check for smooth transitions between one paragraph and another. The reader should immediately realize why the writer moved in a particular direction. If not, identify what’s missing in the answer choices.

  • Interpret visual information correctly. The text may refer to the information that a chart, graph, or diagram contains. Be sure that the text says the same thing as the graphic element. If not, look for an answer choice that does.

  • Arguments need evidence. If the passage puts forth a point of view, supporting facts or quotations should appear. Look for these additions in the answer choices if the original is lacking.

When you work on the Writing and Language multiple-choice questions, pretend that you wrote the piece. Ask yourself how you’d make it better. Then find the answer choice that fits your revision plan.