SAT® Writing Test Fundamentals You Must Know

fundamentals for SAT writing section

The College Board notes that the Writing section of the SAT exam assesses your skills with the Command of Evidence, Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, and Words in Context.

Here is a breakdown of what to expect from these categories:

  • Command of Evidence questions ask you to improve the development of an argument. You may have to make decisions about improving the introduction to an argument. You may also have to make decisions about adding information to an argument or using the information in a graphic to support the argument in the passage.
  • Words in Context questions ask you to evaluate an author’s diction. You may have to make decisions about tone and flow in order to improve the word choice. Understanding the context around a word is crucial when making these decisions for editing and improving.

Expression of Ideas and Standard English Convention questions can be more complicated:

  • The College Board defines Expression of Ideas questions as questions that ask you to “improve the development of the topic, the organization of information and ideas, and the effectiveness of the language.” You will find questions about adding and deleting information to support an author’s claim. You may also find questions about improving the transitions between ideas.
  • The College Board defines Standard English Convention questions as questions that ask you to “Recognize and correct errors in sentence structure, grammar, usage, and punctuation.” Focus on perfecting your understanding of grammar rules, parts of speech, and punctuation errors to do well with these questions.

These skills are tested by reading and improving passages that focus on humanities and careers. You will also be asked to edit and improve passages focused on history and science. You can expect one narrative passage, one argumentative passage, and one or more informative passages.  Some questions have graphs, tables, or charts to add context or additional information to the information in the passage.

Format of the Writing Exam

The SAT Writing exam will last a total of 35 minutes. During this time, you must read four passages. These passages are followed by multiple-choice questions. There are a total of 44 multiple-choice questions in the SAT Writing test.

Each question’s number is tethered to a location in the passage. This location is often specified by an underlined sentence. Most questions will ask you to find the most effective replacement for the underlined text. Some underlined sentences, words, or phrases have a specific question to answer.

  • For example: Which choice creates the most effective transition to the information that follows in the paragraph?

You will not need to use any outside information when making improvements and pinpointing errors. Instead, use the context of the surrounding sentences, paragraphs, and in some cases, graphics.

Some questions will ask you to look at a graphic to add information that supports the author’s argument or replace the evidence in the text with better evidence found in the graphic.

The passages and the questions are formatted side by side in your test booklet to avoid having to flip back and forth between pages.

Useful Writing Techniques to Improve Your SAT Writing Score!

Stay organized and Set Expectations.
The format of the Writing exam questions is relatively simple, but knowing what to expect is essential.

Questions will often look like this:

  1. Select an answer
        a. _____
        b. _____
        c. _____
        d. NO CHANGE

It is important to know where you need to look in the text to answer each question. To answer the question, you will need to locate the number of the question in the text. A boxed number in the text correlates to the question number

Usually, the number is followed by an underlined word, phrase, or sentence. Look at the area in question as is, and then look through your answer choices. The process of elimination is helpful when narrowing down your options.

Find the option that makes the most grammatical sense without harming the wordiness of the sentence. The most concise answer is often the correct one.

Improvements will fall into these categories: Words in Context, Expression of Ideas, Command of Evidence, and Standard English Conventions.

To improve your performance with Words in Context questions, practice these skills:

  • Analyzing and improving word choice and deciding which word fits best given the surrounding contexts
  • Using contexts to assess style and tone, then making word choice corrections that match the style and tone

To improve your performance with Expression of Ideas questions, practice these skills:

  • Evaluating the organization of the text and the presentation of ideas
  • Analyzing structural improvements that benefit the flow of sentences
  • Analyzing structural improvements that benefit that transitions between paragraphs

To improve your performance with Command of Evidence questions, practice these skills:

  • Deciding which evidence is the most effective for the author’s argument
  • Reading data graphics
  • Analyzing how the author builds their argument

To improve your performance with Standard English Convention questions, practice these skills:

  • Making improvements in punctuation use
  • Correcting grammar errors

Time Management Skills

Managing your time throughout the Writing section is super important. As you practice for this part of the SAT exam, pay attention to the questions, skills, and passages that slow you down.

You may find that passages that ask you to analyze science or social science topics require more diligent reading comprehension than the passages that center on literature topics. Time to check your work or come back to any questions you have guessed on can increase your score. Create detailed expectations for your time management throughout your practice work, and know what to expect on test day.

As you prepare for the SAT Writing test, you can practice these techniques! Try them out in UWorld’s SAT Prep Course. The prep course includes thousands of practice questions, detailed question explanations, and performance tracking tools. Use the practice questions to gain experience with the passages’ and questions’ styles and difficulty levels. You can use the question explanations to deepen your understanding and learn from your mistakes. Lastly, you can use the performance tracking tools to shape your study plan and track your improvements. Try the prep course out today to boost your score in the Writing section of the SAT exam!

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