Strategies for the SAT Writing and Language Section

sat writing and language

If you’re trying to boost your SAT Reading/Writing and Language score, the Writing and Language section is the easiest to tackle. Here’s why: there is only a handful of technical grammar content covered and there are really only a handful of rhetorical skills covered. 

In other words, if you are really paying attention you will notice that the test makers are just asking the same questions over and over again with different passages.

Imagine that the math section only covered 20 kinds of questions. Sure, they could ask the question in a difficult way, use complicated fractions, or maybe word the question in a way that makes you a little less certain what to do or word the answers so you’re a little unsure–but it would still be a question from one of only 20 topics! This is what the Writing and Language section is like. 

How to Ace the SAT Reading Section

What is on the SAT Writing and Language Section?

The Writing and Language section is made up of 4 passages with 11 questions in each. You have a total of 35 min to read the passages and answer these 44 questions. This breaks down to just under 9 min per passage. If you are at all familiar with the ACT English section, then you will notice that the structure/format is very similar.  

Because of the time constraint, it’s best to read the passage as you answer the questions. It will be tricky even to skim the passage since it’s so rife with errors; you’ll probably waste time just trying to understand it! 

There are basically two kinds of questions in this section: Standard English Convention questions and Rhetorical Skills questions. It’s ok if you’re not too familiar with these terms. Perhaps if you have already taken the test or a practice test, you noticed that there are quick questions and longer questions, like questions where you have to decide if there should or should not be a comma versus questions where you are determining whether the author should keep or delete a sentence. Quick questions usually cover Standard English Conventions. Longer questions usually test your Rhetorical Skills. 

There are basically two kinds of questions in this section: Standard English Convention questions and Rhetorical Skills questions…Quick questions usually cover Standard English Conventions. Longer questions usually test your Rhetorical Skills. 

Tips for Standard English Convention Questions

The main topics covered in the Standard English Convention questions, or the quick questions, are subject/verb agreement, correct verb tense, within sentence punctuation, and determining independent and dependent clauses.

To do well on these questions, you need to practice and memorize some standard English conventions. As you’re doing SAT Writing and Language practice questions, take note of the question you miss and the grammar conventions they cover. That’s your study sheet!

As you’re doing SAT Writing and Language practice questions, take note of the question you miss and the grammar conventions they cover. That’s your study sheet!

If you’re studying (or taking the test!) and it’s unclear what the error is, you can look at the answer choices for help. Ask yourself what the choices have in common, or how they are different. By comparing the answer choices, you will see what you are trying to “fix” as well as whether you have noticed all the errors in the question. It is common for questions to have more than one error.  

Tips for Rhetorical Skills Questions  

Rhetorical Skills questions ask you to edit or understand the style–how the author writes–of the passage. Some examples of rhetorical skills questions are when you are asked to give the main theme of the passage, determine whether a sentence meets a defined purpose, select a word that best fits in the context, or place a sentence in the correct place within a paragraph.

Some questions will require you to read beyond the question to the end of the paragraph, beginning of the next paragraph, or even to re-read previous sentences. You must actually digest the content of the passage in order to correctly answer this type of question. It is common to become so focused on the corrections that you are making that you lose track of the content. As you can imagine, it would be hard to determine the main idea of the passage if you are not paying attention when you are reading! So as you read and come to the end of a paragraph, take one second to say in your head what that paragraph was about and how it relates the passage as a whole.  

You must actually digest the content of the passage in order to correctly answer this type of question. It is common to become so focused on the corrections that you are making that you lose track of the content.

Lastly, the most important job you have is to read the questions thoughtfully. What is the question really asking you? Sometimes, it can offer significant hints! For example, if a question asks you to select the sentence that best transitions paragraph one with paragraph two, then you know that the word transitions means that you must select a sentence that addresses content from both paragraph one and paragraph two. Or if a question asks you to select the best example to support the main idea of the paragraph, then you must first ask yourself, “What is the main idea of this paragraph?”   

Reading Strategies for Slow Readers

Raising Your Score is as Easy as 1, 2, 3

If you can figure out what your weak areas are and improve them, then it doesn’t matter what the passage is about or what the particulars of the sentence are; if they’re asking you a sentence about say, comma use, and you now understand how to use a comma, then you will get it right! 

While it may seem that the rhetorical skills questions are more unpredictable, this is not true. They are just as predictable. Thus, since the Writing and Language section essentially covers a limited number of topics and asks predictable questions, it is no wonder that improving your score is as simple as 3 steps.   

1. Take Your Time

Often students go too fast in this section. It’s easy to make silly mistakes because you think the question is easier than it really is, or you misunderstand what it is really asking. In order to get the correct answer, you must take your time when returning to the full sentence. Remember there is always a reason for the correction, always something you are agreeing with, or something specific that you are fixing.    

2.  Don’t Get Cocky

Students can also get too confident! The test makers can be very tricky. They will often underline in a manner that makes it more difficult to figure out the sentence.

Like, let’s say they underline the sentence so that it looks like the subject and the verb are contained in the underlined portion and don’t agree. But the truth is that the subject is found in an earlier part of the sentence and that’s what you need to find in order to determine the correct verb. They do this with commas and semicolons and everything else too. 

3.  Focused Skills Practice

Keep in mind that you may not understand grammar as well as you think you do! For example, do you really know how to use a semicolon? Do you know all the rules for comma usage? Step #1 to getting a great score on the Writing/Language section is being honest with yourself about the fact that you probably have learned a handful of these rules in general, but if you don’t really understand the concept then you cannot apply it well.

1, 2, 3, GO: Start Studying

Being able to identify the kinds of questions you’re encountering as you practice is key to helping you own the different kinds of questions on the Writing and Language section. The Olive Book SAT course breaks down the grammar topics that are covered on the test and walks you through what you may think you know, but maybe really don’t know through video lessons and practice questions. 

Often in the videos or in the written explanation for practice questions, the type of question will be indicated. This can help you to find similar questions in a practice test or find other questions on The Olive Book that ask the same kind of question. In the same way, the SAT course can also help you identify what kinds of questions you are struggling with in the math, reading, and science sections! 

Whichever study method you use, as long as you’re focused on improving your weak spots, you’ll raise your Writing and Language score and see your entire Reading score boost in the process.

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