4 Helpful Tips for the SAT Writing Section

Flickr user Jase Curtis

The SAT’s Writing Section is all about editing—whether it’s fixing grammar, sentence structure, word choice, or strengthening the overall message of a passage. Whether you’re dreading this section or feel prepared, here are 4 handy tips for mastering it.

Know the Format

The first step to conquering something is to know it inside and out. The SAT Writing Section is comprised of 44 multiple choice questions. It is 35 minutes long. The questions are based on example passages and some graphics.

This section wants to challenge your understanding of everyday writing skills. There are 5 main skills being tested:

  • Command of Evidence: Improving the development of ideas/information
  • Words in Context: Selecting words to improve tone, style, understanding
  • Analysis: Reading passages about history/social studies/science and editing
  • Expression of Ideas: Reorganizing paragraphs to make it stronger / easier to understand
  • Standard English Conventions: Understanding grammar, punctuation, word choice, verb tense, etc.

Knowing this, you can better prepare and study up on areas that give you trouble.

Don’t Just Skim the Passage

The SAT Writing test isn’t just about finding errors, so skimming and only looking for punctuation mistakes can be a mistake in itself. For this section, it’s important to know the content of the passage, and understanding what the writer is trying to get across. You’ll be asked questions geared towards improving the argument or overall idea of the passage, which means you have to know what it’s about.

For example, you might come across an underlined sentence the writer is considering deleting and you have to decide if it’s a good idea or not—or what they should replace it with.

Brush Up on Grammar

It’s never a bad idea to brush up on the basics. Even the strongest writers will slip up on grammar rules once in a while. (I still have to look up lay vs. lie). Having a solid grasp of grammatical rules will make the whole section easier.

Learn Some New Vocabulary

Learn a new word a day and keep the bad scores at bay. There are dozens of places to pick up new vocabulary—Dictionary.com has a word of the day feature on the front page, for example. Start by always looking up words you don’t know whenever you come across them. Read as much as you can.

Having a vast lexicon can help you when it comes to word choice. Additionally, if you do come across a word you don’t know on the test, you can use both context clues and your understanding of prefixes and suffixes to help you puzzle out the meaning.

Let’s say you come across the word “malignant” but you aren’t sure what it means. The full sentence is “Stacy was diagnosed with a malignant tumor.” The word malignant might remind you of malicious, malcontent, or malevolent. Using context clues and a general understanding of root words, you can conclude that malignant probably means bad or dangerous.

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Allison Wignall

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