The Key to Scoring a 400 on the SAT Writing Section


Test Overview

The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is composed of 4 sections and an additional fifth essay section, the second being the writing section. The writing section uses multiple-choice questions that focus on either grammar or reading based skill questions. It is also believed to be the easiest to improve your score due to its dependence on grammatical rules, allowing students that memorize them to gain an edge above the rest.

Section 2 (Writing) - 35 minutes, 44 questions

Average time per question - 75 seconds/question

Topics - Pronoun Antecedent, Tense, Logic and Coherence

# of Choices per multiple choice question - 4

Points off for wrong answers? No

Type of questions - Multiple choice

#1 Memorize your grammar rules!

Grammar rules are the fundamental knowledge for the SAT grammar section. You should be aware of these rules before taking your actual test. However, the SAT grammar section is not up-to-date with modern grammar. For example, “they” is only used as the plural in the SAT, while people have come to accept and use “they” as singular. There are many other resources online that go in-depth in which grammar rules you need to know, so don’t worry! You can also join our daily mailing list to get questions testing grammar rules as well!

#2 SAT tests reading skills, not just grammar skills!

The SAT grammar section tests each student by providing passage and asking questions to fix the potential grammar error as well as reading elements. Such includes paragraph transitions, sentence transitions, sentence placement, add/delete sentences, sentence combination, and more. These reading skills cannot be memorized; however, they can be just as easy as grammar questions with practice.

#3 Categorize the grammar skills into type!

Many of the grammar skills SAT tests can be categorized; even though they may affect different parts of the sentence. For example, tense agreement, pronoun agreement, subject-verb agreement, as well as noun agreement can be categorized into just agreement. You may have noticed that many of these agreements have the same function, hence why categorizing it may make the memorization process easier for some! Other categories could include punctuation, parallelism, modifiers, etc.

#4 Look for the second meaning of the word in words in context questions!

SAT is made to be administered to all students, regardless of their intelligence or previous knowledge. That is the reason why the SAT often avoids using the first definition in words in context questions, which would pose no challenge to students at all. The second meaning is often the answer; however, you should always choose the word you’re confident would fit the context of the passage.

#5 Look for the most concise answer!

In many reading skill questions, SAT may give you different sentences with the same meaning, be it grammatically correct or not. Out of the grammatically correct answers, the most concise one is always the answer, to uphold the “effective language use” that SAT tests. However, be wary that an answer choice may seem the most concise but is grammatically or meaning-wise incorrect.

#6 Check for redundancy!

If you do not read carefully, there are often multiple answers that may be correct. One of the ways to eliminate them is redundancy. Any time an answer choice restates what has already been stated in the passage, it is not using effective language use; therefore, it is incorrect.

#7 Know your run-ons and fragment sentences!

Run-on sentences are those with two or more independent clauses, while fragments are incomplete sentences. Both are incorrect since they are not grammatically correct. If you encounter those on the test, you can use commas, dashes, colons, semicolons, and more to fix it!

#8 The topic is often in the first sentence!

SAT writing often includes questions that ask how a sentence or paragraph connects to the rest of the passage. One trick to quickly answer this question is to read the first sentence of every paragraph ahead, which will allow you to get the gist of each paragraph. Another way to answer this question is by circling it and answer it after you’ve read the rest of the passage.

#9 Know what each pronoun and modifier refers to!

Using pronouns and modifiers is a great way to shorten sentences; however, that may confuse some readers if the passage is unclear. Be on the lookout for which word the modifier and pronoun refer to. For example, comma sandwiches, such as this modifier example here, refers to the noun or phrase before the comma.

#10 When in doubt, eliminate the modifiers!

Sometimes, the SAT includes very long sentences that use modifiers and pronouns to the fullest. Instead of rereading the sentence over and over again, which wastes lots of time. It is more efficient to eliminate any excess words, including all adjectives and modifiers. Crossing them out fully with a physical pencil to make sure you don’t get distracted! Any grammatical error will be apparent after this process.

Just like SAT Math, continuously practicing the writing section is key to scoring as high as possible on the actual test. It is also widely considered to be one of the easiest sections out of the four, so be prepared for the curve on the actual test. The Official SAT Study Guide is a great resource for understanding all the concepts tested by the official test. It’s also a great book to pick up for other sections as well, offering detailed explanations and 8 real practice tests in total. The College Panda’s SAT Writing: Advanced Guide and Workbook 2nd Edition is also another great book filled with a detailed overview and plenty of practice questions recommended by the SAT test-taking community. The SAT Prep Black Book: The Most Effective SAT Strategies Ever Published 2nd Edition offers detailed step by step approaches to the SAT and tips and tricks for test takers. It’s a great pickup overall!

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