SAT Writing and Language Test - Skills

Description and Necessary Skills

The 2016 SAT Writing and Language Test is an assessment of students' ability to improve the quality of writing of four passages that are 400-450 words in length. 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 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.


Students will receive subscores on both Expression of Ideas and Standard English Conventions. In addition to these primary areas, the 2016 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 subscores. 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 new SAT Writing and Language Test is a largely effective response to assertions that prior versions of the test were too disconnected from the academic skills needed for outstanding performance in college courses. The 2016 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 the Skills

Acquisition of 2016 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 are familiar with the recent changes to the SAT and can be of invaluable assistance with the development of the requisite skills. Tutor guidance can organize the learning process, produce efficient study and 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 new SAT separates these assessments, with the Writing and Language Test contributing half of the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score (200-800) and the now-optional 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. On the 2016 SAT Writing and Language Test, test-takers must 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 only are intended to evaluate higher-order writing skills such as stylistic consistency, coherence of written communication, and editorial competence. Students taking the new SAT Writing and Language Test will benefit from an assessment that much better prepares them for post-secondary study.