As students and schools across the country gear up for the new SAT, everyone is wondering what, exactly, to expect. For students, including those familiar with the old SAT or the ACT, the best way to begin preparing for the new-look SAT will be to read about the changes and then spend some time working through the practice tests that have been released. At this point, great information and analysis have been published by many sources. This three-part series is not designed to review or summarize all of the available content—much of which includes great detail and excellent insights—but rather to present some of the most basic advice that we feel can be helpful to almost all students. In the first part of the series we discussed the changes to the Reading section of the new SAT and strategies for tackling it. In the second part of the series, we introduce you to the Writing and Language part of the series:
Writing and Language
Although the new SAT Writing section is losing its separate score (Reading and Writing are being combined into one score out of 800), that change is just the beginning. At first glance, the new test looks much like the ACT English test, with students choosing the best edits within a long passage. As with the Reading section, however, the passages here will be somewhat more challenging than those on the ACT. Compared to the old SAT, the new format facilitates a greater emphasis on rhetorical skills and a decreased focus on grammar. This means more questions dealing with transitions between sentences, argument structure, providing support for a claim, etc.. There will now be a few vocabulary questions on the Writing test, where context and argument logic will be essential to navigating the problem quickly. Grammar will still be tested on approximately half of the questions (which represents a huge decrease from the percentage of grammar questions on the old SAT).
Data analysis: As with the other two sections, you will be asked to read and evaluate charts and graphs. For this section, students might be asked to make edits to a passage so that it accurately reflects the figure. These questions can be time-consuming, as they ask for multiple steps of thinking, but often end up being fairly easy.
More rhetorical skills questions: These aren’t exactly new, but their increased prevalence relative to grammar questions makes the new SAT Writing section feel very different from the old test.
Strategies: The first recommendation I have for students when we begin going through the SAT Writing test is to think logically rather than stylistically. For grammar questions, identifying the specific error in the sentence can help quickly identify how to fix it. For rhetorical skills questions, answer choices that at first seem to test stylistic preferences are in fact about logical structure (for example, the difference between transition words like “however” and “thus”). Thinking logically is especially important for how you should practice. Using your “ear”—reading a question aloud or in your head—is essential for this section (and one of the key strategies any teacher, book, or class will suggest), but also get in the habit of characterizing and naming the errors you are fixing.