SAT Writing Section Strategies

Tips for the SAT Writing section on saving time and overall strategy, with specific recommendations for grammar and effective language questions.

At first glance, it might not be clear what the SAT writing section wants from us. There are very few instructions and just many, many questions. But the idea is that you have a passage with underlined pieces of text. Each underlined section is numbered and for that question number, you have 4 choices for the underlined section. You need to pick the best possible choice.

So, let's make sure we know how to do that for the different types of questions you'll get in this section.

Grammar Questions

For Grammar questions, make sure you know the 22 Critical Grammar Rules. On the day of the test, you'll want to combine your knowledge of the grammar rules with your gut feeling. Switch the choices in and out of the sentence and see which choice SOUNDS better to you.

Take this question for example:

We can combine our knowledge of 1) the grammar rule that items in a list must have the same structure and verb tense with 2) the gut feeling that Choices A and B sound a little weird to narrow down our choices and get to the right answer of Choice D.

Rely on the grammar rules as much as you can, but if you're struggling, then just stay calm, read the options in your head, and trust your gut on what sounds better.

Effective Language Questions

Some of the writing questions will ask you to pick the choice that best accomplishes a goal. The goal might be to introduce a paragraph, or summarize the main idea, or support an argument - but the idea is that whatever you choose needs to be the best option for that goal.

Our best advice for these questions is to read as little of the passage as possible to get the answer. Sometimes that will be easy, like in this question:

The question tells us that all we need to do is read the end of the sentence, which says that Geisel is an experienced writer and illustrator. The choice that best supports this is Choice D, since it's the only choice that talks about how much experience Geisel has in writing and illustrating. Great! We were able to just read one sentence to answer this.

But, sometimes, it'll be a little bit harder, like in this example:

We need to figure out the choice that best states the main claim of the passage. Feels like we might need to read the whole passage to figure out what that is. But, nope! The trick here is that most of these writing passages are not that complicated - there's not a lot of plot twists or dramatic reveals.

Read the paragraph closest to the question first, and if you still don't get enough information to answer, then read the paragraph before that. Usually, you'll only need to read max 3 paragraphs before you have enough info to answer the question.

In this specific question, just reading the one paragraph is enough - the paragraph makes the point that students who freely choose to volunteer are more likely to like it than students who are being forced into it. The choice that best describes this idea is Choice B. And, if we really want to be sure about this answer, we can read the paragraph before it as well - but we're trying to save time here, so best to move on quickly.

Graph Questions

You'll also likely get a couple of questions asking you to summarize graphs or charts. Do not stress about these - they're easier than they appear. Check out this example:

On first glance, we don't know about you, but our reaction is to straight panic. What is a "positive mean handedness index value"??? Is that even a real thing???

But this is why you shouldn't panic, because on second glance, we don't need the answers to those questions to answer the actual question. All we need to do is see that the y-axis is measuring "mean handedness index" and all the bars are between 0.4 and 0.6. That's enough to tell us the answer is Choice C!

So remember, for graph questions, focus on reading the graph. These questions are testing whether you know what the x-axis and y-axis are, whether you can read a chart, and whether you can interpret data - not whether you have a deep understanding of scientific words and ideas.

Simplest Language Questions

These questions are like...okay, you know how when you're mad at someone so you text them an entire paragraph about your feelings, but then you change your mind, delete it all, and just send, "k."?

This is kind of like that. Basically, we want to pick the choice that is the SIMPLEST possible way of saying something. Take a look at this example:

See how, basically, we just want to say that after nine months, the book was done? We are given four ways of saying this and three of them are ridiculously wordy, but Choice D just says what needs to be said. It's simple, straightforward, and that makes it the best answer.

So to recap - remember the grammar rules, trust your ear, focus on the parts of the passages or graphs you actually need, and keep things simple.