SAT Writing and Language Test Section - Basics

The 2016 SAT Writing and Language Test is based on a series of reading passages that students are asked to revise through answers to multiple-choice questions. Students answer 11 questions about each of 4 reading passages for a total of 44 questions, for which they are given 35 minutes. Passages, which are generally 400-450 words in length, vary by subject, author purpose, and complexity. Subjects include career issues, humanities, history/social studies, and science, and test-takers can expect to see one passage in each area. Writing and Language Test passages can be either narrative, informative, or argumentative, with the level of difficulty ranging from early high school to early postsecondary. Some passages on the Writing and Language Test include informational graphics such as charts, tables, and graphs.

Test Scoring

Students receive a Writing and Language Test score of 10-40, and the Writing and Language Test is one of two equal components of the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score (200-800). Scoring for the SAT Writing and Language Test is based on two specific areas: Expression of Ideas and Standard English Conventions. Rhetoric (which in this context is defined as the "substance and quality" of writing) is the primary focus of the former, while the latter is based on student understanding of "correct" English. Some questions also count toward the Command of Evidence and Words in Context subscores (1-15) as well as the Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science cross-test scores (10-40).

Purpose

The 2016 SAT Writing and Language Test is intended to mimic the editing process that students will face in their college-level writing assignments. All Writing and Language Test passages have been newly written for this sole purpose, and test-takers will therefore not encounter any textbook excerpts, historical documents, or other existing sources on the new SAT Writing and Language Test. All of the test questions are based on the reading passages, and successful performance therefore does not mandate nearly as much of the rote memorization for which earlier versions of the SAT have been criticized. Writing and Language Test questions require students to make choices that improve passages' writing quality through such tasks as clarifying ideas, creating more logical sequences of information, using more precise words, and correcting grammar and punctuation. Passages that feature informational graphics ask students to use this material to detect errors and improve factual accuracy and clarity.

Writing "Errors"

SAT Writing and Language Test passages have been deliberately written to include different types of writing mistakes. Identifying and correcting these mistakes is a good way to summarize the primary task that test-takers must complete in order to receive high scores on the Writing and Language Test. Some of these errors concern issues such as grammar (e.g., verb tense or verb agreement), appropriate word choices (e.g., "however" versus "moreover" or "that" versus "which"), or placement of punctuation (especially commas). Other writing mistakes require test-takers to make choices that deal with issues of factual accuracy or rhetorical effectiveness (such as incorrect conclusions drawn from data in a graph or poor sequencing of information). In general, the Writing and Language Test is meant to help students learn to think in an editorial fashion, which is essential to successful performance on postsecondary writing assignments. This skill will benefit students both in general education courses and in the more advanced courses in a student's major academic discipline.

Types of Questions and Answers

All Writing and Language Test questions are multiple choice, and each question includes four possible answers. Boxed numbers that appear in the passages indicate the associated questions. Answer choices for these questions vary in their degree of plausibility, but test-takers can expect to encounter many choices that are highly similar to one another (for example, three possible answers that differ only in the placement of the comma). Most questions include an option to leave the word, phrase, or passage excerpt unchanged. Some questions ask whether or not a certain sentence should be deleted due to factors such as repetition of ideas or the clouding of a main point. Other questions ask about the most logical placement of additional supporting information or which particular wording of an idea is most effective. Students will also find questions that require them to combine sentences in the most effective manner, unify passages with final restatements of primary claims, provide more supporting evidence, and conform to certain stylistic patterns in terms of sentence structure or rhetorical technique.