SAT Writing and Language Test Skills

SAT Writing and Language Test Description and Necessary Skills

The 2023 SAT Writing and Language Test is an assessment of students' ability to improve the quality of writing across four given passages. Each passage is 400-450 words in length, with complexity levels ranging from that which students have already encountered during high school readings to the type of work they will be expected to read and understand during their first year in college. All of the questions are multiple choice and are concerned with specific underlined words or phrases in the reading passages. Test-takers are usually given three options that change the given text and one option to leave the word or phrase as it is. The questions themselves focus on two areas: Expression of Ideas and Standard English Conventions. High scores are dependent on a variety of skills within these two areas.

Expression of Ideas is a category that is oriented around the rhetorical effect of the written passage. Students must be able to revise the writing to improve development, organization, and use of language. Successful performance is based on correct assessments of thesis statements, evidence used to bolster author assertions, clarity of author purpose, optimal ordering of information, and language use with respect to consistency, style, tone, and effect. The College Board breaks down the Expression of Ideas category into three types of changes students are asked to make to a given passage:

  • Development: These types of questions focus on main ideas (including topic sentences and thesis statements), supporting details, the focus of the passage, and quantitative information that may involve interpreting provided tables, graphs, and charts.

  • Organization: These questions emphasize the logical sequence and placement of information, with a special focus on effective introductions, conclusions, and transitions.

  • Effective Language Use: Questions that fall into this category ask a student to improve precision within the passage, eliminate unnecessary words, assess style and tone, and combine sentences to improve flow and/or demonstrate particular rhetorical effects (e.g., emphasizing one point over another).

The Standard English Conventions category tests student knowledge of grammar and punctuation. Reading passages contain errors such as poor sentence structure, incomplete sentences, subject-verb disagreement, and missing punctuation for test-takers to correct through selection of the best multiple-choice answer. According to the College Board, this section asks students to identify and correct mistakes involving run-on or incomplete sentences, subject-verb agreement, pronoun-antecedent agreement, and the correct placement of commas.

SAT Writing and Language Test Assessment

Students will receive sub scores on both Expression of Ideas and Standard English Conventions. In addition to these primary areas, the 2023 SAT Writing and Language Test also features two questions for each reading passage that represent a portion of the Command of Evidence and Words in Context sub scores. The Writing and Language Test format includes one passage on history/social studies and one passage on science, which count toward the Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science cross-test scores. The SAT Writing and Language Test is a largely effective response to assertions that versions of the test prior to the 2016 revisions were too disconnected from the academic skills needed for outstanding performance in college courses. The current SAT can be regarded as a significant improvement in its development of necessary post-secondary skills and its broad evaluation of student potential.

How to Acquire SAT Writing and Language Test Skills

Acquisition of 2023 SAT Writing and Language Test skills should be based on careful reading of a variety of written texts. Students must be acquainted with the types of reading passages, questions, and answers that appear on the Writing and Language Test, which will allow them to approach all of their reading activities (whether for school, work, or recreation) from the perspective of SAT skill development. A student preparing for the SAT could read a newspaper article, for example, and pay special attention to main points, supporting evidence, writing style, and presence or absence of typographical or other writing errors. Experienced tutors can be of invaluable assistance with the development of the requisite skills. Tutor guidance can organize the learning process, produce efficient study through practice sessions, and build student confidence through regular feedback. High scores are most often the result of targeted instruction that accommodates individual student characteristics with respect to academic background, preferred learning style, and personal attributes.

Revisions to the SAT's Assessment of Writing Skills

On the pre-2016 SAT, students received a writing score of 200-800, which was based on both multiple-choice writing questions and the required essay. The 2016 SAT separated these assessments, with the Writing and Language Test contributing half of the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score (200-800) and the essay scored separately (1-4 by two independent readers in the areas of Reading, Analysis, and Writing, for a total score of 2-8 in each area). Old SAT writing questions came in three categories: Improving Sentences, Improving Paragraphs, and Identifying Errors. These types of questions (especially those that focused on sentences and errors) were criticized for being too narrow in terms of skills assessment and too unrelated to the broader context of written passages, and therefore of little use to future college students.

The SAT essay, which was made optional for a short period of time, was discontinued in 2021. According to the College Board, while writing remains an essential component of college readiness, there are other ways for students to demonstrate their mastery of writing and editing skills, and discontinuing the essay was seen as a way to reduce the burden exams such as the SAT may place on students.

The 2023 SAT has not undergone significant revisions since the 2016 overhaul, and the current version of the test requires students to consider the larger context of all passage excerpts. In some cases, students must choose the most convincing conclusion to a series of assertions or revise the order of sentences to create a more logical sequence of thought. On other questions, the focus is on insertion or deletion of phrases that may (or may not) improve the passages in some way. Even questions that concern grammar or punctuation are only intended to evaluate higher-order writing skills such as stylistic consistency, coherence of written communication, and editorial competence. Students taking the 2023 SAT Writing and Language Test will benefit from an assessment that does a much better job of preparing them for the types of material they will be asked to read, create, and edit during their time in college, making the test much more applicable to those students completing it.

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