Quick Tips: SAT Writing

Quick Tips: SAT Writing

The SAT writing section, made up of an essay and multiple choice questions, tests two very different abilities: your ability to present a clear and cohesive argument and your grammar knowledge.

To do well here, you need a good plan for the essay and a solid strategy for the multiple choice questions. Here, we boiled down our comprehensive tips, rules, patterns, and strategies to the most basic quick tips to help you succeed.

The Essay:

Tip #1: Create a standard outline for your essay.

The more clear and organized you can be, the better your argument will come across. We recommend: an introduction that clearly states your thesis and explains two reasons you believe you thesis to be true; a body paragraph for each of those reasons that illustrates the reason with a concrete example; and a conclusion that restates and summarizes your thesis and reasoning.

Tip #2: Prepare ideas and examples that can be used on multiple essays. 

This works because many SAT prompts deal with the same general issues (privacy, technology, competition, individualism, etc.). Practice writing essays (using sample prompts from SAT.org) and keep a log of the examples and reasons you’ve come up with. Try to re-use these examples whenever possible. A good strategy is to focus on multi-faceted, easy-to-remember examples like the Civil Rights Movement or Galileo. These simple examples can be used to argue topics from individualism, to majority rule, to creativity, to free speech.

The Multiple Choice Questions:

In general, the first thing to do with the multiple choice writing questions is to read the question to yourself very carefully. Sometimes the problem in the sentence will just jump right out at you. However, if, after reading the sentence very carefully, you don’t “hear” the error immediately, try identifying the main elements of the sentence: subject, verb, adverbs, prepositions. Doing so will alert you to common problems that we often gloss over when reading quickly.

If you don’t find the error in your careful reading, then you’ll need to dig a bit deeper. There are three types of multiple choice writing questions, and each type necessitates a slightly more focused strategy. Here’s what to do:

Note: The question numbers listed below are based on the early (35-question) multiple choice writing section of any SAT, not the last section.

Questions 1–11 are always Improving Sentences problems.

Read the sentence carefully, identify the problem (if there is one), and choose the answer choice that best fixes the error. If, after reading the sentence, you don’t hear the error, try skimming the answer choices to see what changes in each. This should highlight the problem for you. After doing that, if you’re still not sure what’s wrong or how to fix it, simply read each choice into the sentence to see what sounds best.

Questions 12–29 are always Identifying Errors problems.

Read the sentence carefully, and identify the problem (if there is one). If you’re not sure where the error is after your first read through, take a closer look at each underlined section. Identify what error category each choice falls into and go through a checklist of the possible errors. For example, if you see a verb underlined, check whether the tense is correct and whether it agrees with its subject. If it checks out, move on to the next underlined section.

Questions 30–35 are always Improving Paragraphs questions.

These questions will be preceded by a short, badly written passage. Read it as quickly as possible without slowing down for errors (there will be lots). Though many of these questions will look like Improving Sentences questions, the key thing to remember is that for passages, context is also important. Read the sentence before and after each sentence in a question to make sure you are avoiding redundancies and maintaining the flow of the passage. The single most useful strategy here is to try every choice and go with what sounds best.

Want to improve your SAT writing score? Try a Signet Education SAT prep consultant.

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Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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