SAT Writing Study Guide

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SAT Writing Review

A lot can change in one year. For some older students, the SAT exam Writing section evokes what must seem like horror stories—blank essay booklets and prompts stretching as far as the eye can see, with only the sparest amount of time to fulfill everything. However, for students taking the SAT in 2016 and beyond, the SAT Writing section is different. As such, you’ll have to prepare for this section in a new way. It has also been combined with the Reading section, paring down the amount of sections from three to two. Because of the differences between Reading and Writing and the amount of complexity involved, however, we’ll be going over these two components separately. On this page, you’ll find detailed information about SAT Writing, and information on SAT Reading on another.

How Has the Writing Section Changed?

The Writing section’s new union with Reading isn’t the only alteration you can expect to find on the SAT. As you take the exam, you’ll find that what you’re being asked to do is no longer so abstract. The main objective of the new Writing section is to read various passages and analyze them for grammatical flaws. Basically, you’ll be serving as a proofreader, a task you’re likely already familiar with. The only real difference is that the format of the exam is more closely geared to match tasks you’ve already carried out in your academic life and beyond and will likely continue to as you move on to college.

More About the SAT Writing Section

It’s worth noting that the only outside knowledge you will need to possess for this portion of the exam is basic knowledge of grammatical conventions. Every other bit of information you need will come from the passages provided to you. You may also see other types of data, such as charts and illustrations, to aid you as you answer questions. Regardless, there will be little to no surprises as you take the exam. The entire point of the Writing section is to evaluate your writing abilities—namely, your ability to compose and detect coherent, effective writing about any subject. Much like its Reading-based counterpart, the Writing section of the SAT exam will feature passages from an assortment of subjects.

Every question is presented in multiple choice format. More specifically, you will have to answer a total of 44 questions within a time allotment of 35 minutes. It will be up to you to carefully glean the provided passages for any and all grammatical errors. This will involve some close reading on your part, and it may take you multiple read-throughs to catch absolutely everything. Don’t be intimidated! We will give you every possible resource you need to ensure you’re able to excel on this portion of the SAT exam.

Read on to learn more about what sorts of questions you can expect to see on the test and how you can approach each of them in order to answer as accurately as possible. Each of the subjects below will cover a different dimension of writing and proofreading.

Standard English Conventions

This knowledge category addresses writing from a foundational level. Questions under this category will deal with grammar—commas, punctuation, subject-verb agreement, and much more. To prepare for this section, you’ll want to brush up on your grammatical skills. Be sure to review what is considered acceptable in formal writing and what isn’t. It’s very easy to miss an error of this kind in a work, so careful reading will come in handy here more than ever.

Command of Evidence

This subject aligns very closely with the essays you’ve written and proofread for your own classes. Think about the assertions you’ve made within your own work and how you’ve backed them up with careful evidence pulled from various texts. Questions under the Command of Evidence category cater to this same writing method by requiring you to think about how the author makes use of evidence within their work. You will then have to decide how the passage can better utilize its evidence in a way that is more cohesive with the author’s main argument.

Expression of Ideas

You will have to think about the composition of each passage from a stylistic level. As you read a passage, think about the ideas they’re presenting and whether they’re communicating their assertion effectively enough. Doing so will involve thinking about the flow of the work as well as word choice and other related factors.

Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science

Questions under this category will most deeply involve passages with more varied subject matter. It will be your job to act as editor to each work and decide how they could be enhanced so as to connect better with their intended audiences.

Words in Context

Words in Context deals with the diction of sentences. Questions under this category encourage you to think about which words are more effective than others for communicating certain ideas and why. You will most often be expected to examine sentences and use context clues to decide which words will help to convey the idea the most effectively.

The Essay

While the essay portion of the SAT exam is optional, we recommend taking it if you’re interested in moving on to college. Many universities require an essay score as part of their admissions, meaning if you skip this part of the exam you could miss out on great educational opportunities and limit the amount of schools you can comfortably choose from. While the essay is taken and graded separately from the rest of the SAT, we’re including it in the Writing section study guide because it utilizes much of the same skills.

Like the rest of the writing exam, the SAT essay has undergone some noticeable changes. Most distinct is the prompt and the time allotment. No longer is the SAT essay so subjective, and topical prompts are completely gone. Rather, the new SAT essay is evidence-based. The full time limit for completing the essay is now 50 minutes.

For the new prompt, you’ll be presented with a persuasive passage. It will be your job to read it and evaluate the author’s technique. During your reading, be sure to examine the evidence present in the passage and whether the author is effective in backing up their assertion with their evidence. Your essay will be about how skillfully the author presents their argument.

Remember that objectivity has no place in this essay! Use the passage to draw all of your evidence. You will simply be evaluating the author’s evidence and how it lends to their assertion, drawing from your knowledge about and observations of their rhetoric, evidence, diction, and construction of their arguments and points.

As you write, be sure to keep your essay as concise as possible. Use the text as much as you can (and as much as it makes sense to) to help build your assertion. If possible, try to reread the full passage to make sure you have a complete understanding of its contents before you outline or draft your essay. This will help you to earn the best score possible.

How You Can Study

At Mometrix Test Preparation, we believe in doing everything we can to help you succeed. This is why we’ve given you a full supply of study resources to aid you in preparing for the SAT. To help familiarize yourself with the Writing section, we suggest taking the SAT Writing practice test published on our website. As you do, we have a few suggestions for you to bear in mind.

Never, ever discount the elimination technique. This can be your most helpful tool when it comes to answering questions on the Writing section, as you can immediately mark off any answers that are blatantly wrong. Reread the question and reading selection if you need to, and pick between your remaining answers based on whichever seems the best. Guessing no longer holds any score penalty, meaning you can do it as much as you need with no worries!

Second, let the multiple choice options guide you toward your answer. Sometimes you can use them to “fill in the blanks” in a sense and pick out which answer is the best one. This is especially useful for questions under the Words in Context category, which will depend upon you picking up on context clues in order to answer correctly.

For further help, you can always turn to our SAT Writing flashcards and this SAT writing study guide. Elsewhere on our site, you’ll also be able to find other resources to help you as you study for this exam. With enough preparation, you’re sure to knock the SAT out of the park!

Good luck, and study hard!

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by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: May 16, 2019