SAT Test Prep: Tips for Acing Your Writing and Language Test

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For those who struggle with English-related concepts, the thought of taking the SAT Writing and Language Test can be a bit intimidating, as this section directly assesses proficiency in grammar, punctuation, and editorial abilities. The good news is that there are effective ways to improve these skills and study for this section of the SAT, even for students who don’t have a natural grasp of these concepts. Just like any subject, the key to improvement and success comes down to strategic and thorough preparation. 

If you feel a bit overwhelmed preparing for the SAT Writing and Language Test, here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind:

Familiarize Yourself with What the SAT Writing and Language Test Involves

The writing and language section of the SAT contains 44 multiple-choice questions that must be answered in 35 minutes. Some of these questions are designed to assess comprehension of basic grammar and punctuation rules. Others will be evaluating more in-depth skills, such as selecting the word that makes the most sense contextually, strengthening the expression of ideas, and improving the overall flow of the writing such as by adding the best transitional phrase or rearranging paragraphs. In other words, you’ll essentially be editing a passage to make it more clear and error-free. There will be four passages with 11 questions each, and some passages may also coincide with a related chart or graph. 

To help you prepare, here is a list of sample questions so that you can familiarize yourself with the format and structure of this section of the SAT. 

Brush Up on Punctuation and Grammar Rules Commonly Found on the SAT Writing and Language Test

For some students, punctuation and grammar are difficult concepts to master, but – as with anything – reviewing the basic rules and testing yourself on your ability will help you do well on this portion of the SAT. Here is a quick list of items commonly covered on the SAT Writing and Language Test:

  • Commas
  • Apostrophes
  • Semicolons
  • Colons
  • Antecedent Agreement
  • Verb-Tense Agreement
  • Misplaced Modifiers
  • Subject Identification
  • Parallel Construction
  • Homonyms
  • Prepositions

If you’re looking for specific explanations and examples of these items, we’ve created a helpful grammar and punctuation study guide that is listed at the very end of this article. Additionally, you can find free grammar tests online to help you assess your current level of understanding, and you can also look into an SAT tutor if you feel that you need more than a cursory review. 

Take Your Time and Be Thorough 

The thought of answering 44 questions in 35 minutes may make it appear as though you need to speed through the questions as fast as possible in order to complete the writing and language section, but doing so can lead to careless mistakes. It may be tempting to skip ahead to the underlined portions of the passage that correspond with the questions, but without paying attention to the information that comes before and after the highlighted text, crucial information can be missed. It’s important to read each passage and question carefully so that you can grasp the context of what the question is focused on and fully understand the main message of the passage. Misunderstanding the question or passage content is more likely to occur if you speed through your reading, especially when it comes to overlooking words that change the intended meaning, such as “always,” “never,” or “not.” 

Sound Out the Sentences

If you get stuck on a question, try sounding out the sentence. Saying the sentence out loud can often help you determine which answer is the correct choice, as the other answers will likely sound clunky and unnatural. 

Choose Concise Answers That Are Specific to the Passage’s Main Points

If you’re struggling to identify the correct answer, or if more than one answer seems like it could be correct, keep in mind that the right choice will often be short and specific to the passage’s main point. If the answer repeats something already stated in the passage or contains non-relevant information, it is likely incorrect. 

For words-in-context questions, you’ll be asked to select a word that improves the meaning of the underlined passage. This could be a word that makes the point more concise, improves the  clarity of the meaning, tightens up the overall flow/structure, or fits in better with the author’s tone. If you are unsure of the answer, think about what the author’s main message is and try to identify the word that best encapsulates this contextually. Paying attention to the text surrounding the sentence that you are trying to improve will help you select the right word choice. 

Don’t Feel Tricked by the “No Change” Answer Option 

One of the answer options that you’ll see on the test is “no change,” indicating, just as it sounds, that there are no errors within the highlighted portion of the passage. Students can be hesitant to select this option, but it’s similar to “none of the above” or “all of the above.” It’s the correct answer about 25% of the time, so keep that in mind as you go through this SAT section. 

Eliminate Wrong Answers

If you don’t know the right answer but do recognize that some of the answer options are incorrect, the process of elimination can help increase the chance that you will guess the correct option. There is no penalty for guessing, so the more that you can weed out the wrong choices, the greater the odds are that you will fill in the right bubble. 

Closing Up

Hopefully this information helps you feel more prepared to take on the SAT Writing and Language Test. If you brush up on your grammar and punctuation knowledge, take time to assess the passages’ main messages, and pay close attention to the context surrounding the highlighted text, you should have no issue earning a high score on this portion of the SAT. Being prepared is a big part of the equation, so if you feel uneasy about your English skills, preparing far in advance should boost both your knowledge of these concepts and your confidence that you can ace them when your test day arrives. Happy studying!

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SAT Writing & Language Test Study Guide: Punctuation and Grammar Rules

Commas:

 

Comma Uses/ Rules Example
Commas are used to join two independent clauses (An independent clause has a subject and a verb, and it can function as a complete sentence.). In this case, the comma comes before a coordinating conjunction, which is the word that connects the two clauses. Many students use the mnemonic FANBOYS to remember the major conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so I was going to go to the park, but it started to rain
Commas also separate appositives (information that helps describe a noun but is not essential to the sentence). This can occur at the beginning, within the middle, or at the end of the sentence. 

A helpful trick to identify whether something is a non-essential appositive is to remove that phrase from the sentence and see whether or not the core meaning of the sentence remains. In other words, you can think of an appositive as extra information that is not necessary to establish the main heart of the sentence. 

Hyphens and parentheses can also be used to separate appositives from the rest of the sentence. 

I went to the park, the oldest one in the state, to attend the art fair. 

In this example, you can remove “the oldest one in the state,” and the sentence still gets the main point across.

 I went to the park to attend the annual art fair, a fun event that happens every July. 

Again, you can remove “a fun event that happens every July” without affecting the main point of the sentence.

Commas are used after introductory phrases.  At the theater I attended yesterday, I found a wedding ring on the ground.
Commas separate three or more items in a list. I plan on skiing, snowboarding, and sledding this winter.

 

Test Yourself: 

Which sentence shows incorrect comma usage?

A. After the game, we went out for ice cream. 

B. The three flavors were chocolate, vanilla, and oreo. 

C. Alison loves soccer, and is excited to work as an assistant coach. 

D. Henry lost the ball, which was brand new. 

Answer:

If you selected C, you are correct!

Explanation: Because the second clause does not have a subject, it is not an independent clause. The correct version would read “Alison loves soccer, and she is excited to work as an assistant coach.” Adding the subject “she” makes it an independent clause. It would also be correct to remove the comma and leave it as “Alison loves soccer and is excited to work as an assistant coach.”

Apostrophes

 

Apostrophes Uses/Rules Example
Apostrophes demonstrate possession. 

When the possessive noun is singular, the apostrophe goes before the “s.” 

 

When the possessive noun is plural, the apostrophe goes after the “s.” 

 

There is an exception to this, though. If a word is plural and does not end in “s,” the apostrophe goes before the “s.”

 

Stacy’s purse is blue. 

 

The girls’ outfits were handmade. 

 

The women’s dressing room was recently remodeled. 

Apostrophes also are used to form contractions.  It’s (it + is), I’m (I + am), they’re (they + are), etc. 

 

Test Yourself:

Select the answer that accurately fixes the underlined errors in the following sentence:

 The childrens book club recently opened, and its looking like many new members will sign up. 

A. The childrens’ book club recently opened, and its looking like many new members will sign up. 

B. The children’s book club recently opened, and it’s looking like many new members will sign up. 

C. The children’s book club recently opened, and its looking like many new members will sign up. 

D. The childrens’ book club recently opened, and it’s looking like many new members will sign up. 

 

Answer: 

B is the correct choice. 

 

Explanation: Children is the plural form of child, and because it is a plural noun that does not end in an “s,” the apostrophe goes before the “s.” Additionally, “its” in this sentence is a contraction combining “it” and “is,” so the correct format is “it’s.”

Semicolons

Semicolon Uses/Rules Example
Semicolons are typically used to join two independent clauses without adding a coordinating conjunction. This is often done when the second clause is closely related to or elaborates on the first clause.  Yesterday was 95 degrees; it was too hot to go on a hike. 
Semicolons can also be used to separate items in a list, especially when items in the list contain commas already.  Andrew, a firefighter; June, a police officer; and Simon, an EMT, all arrived at the scene of the accident. 

 

Test Yourself: 

Which of the following lists would be best separated by semicolons rather than commas?

A. Juice, water, and snacks

B. Roses, daisies, and sunflowers

C. Camping chair, first aid kit, tent, and sleeping bag 

D. Portland, OR, Denver, CO, and Boise, ID

 

Answer:

If you chose D, you are correct!

 

Explanation: 

Because the cities and states are already separated by commas, the text reads more clearly if you use semicolons rather than an excess of commas, as you can see here: Portland, OR; Denver, CO; and Boise, ID.

Colons

 

Colon Uses/Rules Example
Colons are used before introducing a list, explanation, or quote.  Gregg brought two items to the party: popcorn and movies. 
Keep in mind that a colon comes after an independent clause, so if the statement before the colon is not a complete sentence, it is incorrect to use a colon.  Example of incorrect colon use: Gregg brought two items to the party, which were: popcorn and movies.

“Gregg brought two items to the party, which were” is not a complete sentence, so a colon cannot be used in this instance. 

 

Test Yourself:

Choose the underlined word that should be followed by a colon in the following sentence:

After class, Tim’s teacher gave him some insightful life advice, failure presents an opportunity for improvement for those who don’t quit

A. Class

B. Advice

C. Improvement

D. Quit

Answer: 

B is the correct choice!

Explanation:

“Failure presents an opportunity for improvement for those who don’t quit” explains the advice Tim received from his teacher, so a colon, rather than a comma, after “advice” is correct. 

Antecedent-Agreement

 

Antecedent-Agreement Uses/Rules Example
Antecedent-agreement means that the pronoun that replaces a noun is correct in terms of being singular vs. plural and in describing the noun accurately. The noun that the pronoun is replacing is the antecedent.  Bret went to the store, and he ran into his friend. 

In this case, “Bret” is the antecedent, and “he” is the pronoun. 

Example of incorrect antecedent-agreement: Bret went to the store, and he saw him friend there. 

While many antecedent-agreement issues are noticeable due to how natural or unnatural they sound when reading through the text, others are not as obvious. 

Specifically, students often have difficulty deciding when to use who vs. whom. When referring to the subject of the sentence (who/what is doing the action), “who” is generally the correct choice, but when referring to the object of the verb or preposition (what/who receives the action), using “whom” tends to be the right option.

 An easy way to determine this is to replace who/whom with she/he/they vs. him/her/them. If she/he/they sounds correct, use “who,” and if him/her/them makes more sense, use “whom,” though you may need to rearrange the sentence a bit to make this trick work. 

Who is coming to the party? 

“Is she coming to the party?” is correct, while “Is her coming to the party?” is not displaying proper grammar. 

Whom do you admire?

“Do you admire her?” sounds natural, while “Do you admire she?” simply sounds clunky. 

Test Yourself: 

Which sentence uses who vs. whom correctly?

A. The musician, whom he loves, is playing a show tomorrow night. 

B. Whom is joining us for dinner?

C. This is whom assisted me earlier. 

D. All three siblings were late, one of who has been late every day. 

Answer:

A is correct. 

Explanation: 

The musician is the object of the verb because that is the person receiving the love, so whom is correct in this case. 

Verb-Tense Agreement

 

Verb-Tense Agreement Uses/Rules Example
The forms of verb-tense include:

Past tense, indicating actions that took place previously. 

Present tense, referring to actions that are currently taking place.

Future tense, describing actions that will occur sometime in the future.

 

He lifted the box. 

He is lifting the box. 

He will lift the box. 

In order to achieve verb-tense agreement, the verbs in each sentence should consistently be presented in the same tense when they are describing actions that took place during the same time period. 

When describing actions that occurred at the same time, using different tenses can mislead and confuse readers as to when the actions took place. 

 

It’s important to note that sentences can include verbs of different tenses as long as those verbs are describing actions from different time periods. 

Correct Example: Yesterday, I went to the store for ingredients and made a pie. 

Incorrect example: Yesterday, I went to the store for ingredients and am making a pie. 

Example: I went to the store for ingredients so that I can make a pie tonight. 

 

Test Yourself: 

Which underlined word illustrates incorrect verb-tense agreement in the following sentence: 

At the sleepover last weekend, the girls watched a movie, made cookies, and listen to music.  

A. Watched

B. Made

C. Listen

D. None of the options are incorrect

Answer

If you selected C, you’re right!

Explanation: 

The sentence indicates that the sleepover was last weekend, which means that the actions that took place at the sleepover should be described in the past tense. “Watched” and “made” are both in the past tense, so “listen” should be changed to “listened.”

 We hope that this study guide helps you brush up on some of the basic grammar and punctuation rules covered on the SAT. You can learn more in-depth SAT test-taking strategies and practice with more sample test questions by signing up for one of our SAT prep services!

 

 

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