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The SAT Writing and Language Test: Overview

An overview of the SAT Writing and Language Test

The Writing and Language Test assesses your ability to revise and edit texts about a range of topics.

Each Writing and Language Test consists of four passages with 11 questions each. You will have 35 minutes to complete the Writing and Language Test.

What the passages look like:

Passages on the Writing and Language Test cover a range of topics and vary in both format and content.
  • Topics: History/Social Studies, Humanities, and Science passages typically look like short academic papers, while the Careers passages may explore specific job fields.
Excerpt from a Careers passage titled "A Life in Traffic". The passage includes numbered and underlined sections which indicate corresponding multiple choice questions (not pictured).
The first paragraph of the passage reads:
A subway system is expanded to provide service to a growing suburb. A bike-sharing program is adopted to encourage nonmotorized transportation. 1 To alleviate rush hour traffic jams in a congested downtown area, stoplight timing is coordinated. [end underline] When any one of these changes 2 occur, it is [end underline] likely the result of careful analysis conducted by transportation planners.
One additional paragraph is shown with the similar pattern of numbers and underlined portions of text.
excerpt from a Careers passage
Text Type: There are three different text types for Writing and Language passages:
1) Argument passages take a strong position and use evidence to support a claim
2) Narrative Nonfiction passages tell a story with a clear beginning, middle, and end
3) Informative or explanatory passages aim to educate the reader about a topic

What the questions are asking:

Questions are divided into two broad types:
  • Expression of Ideas questions will ask you to improve the effectiveness of communication in a piece of writing.
Image of an excerpt of a Writing and Language passage and an accompanying Expression of Ideas question.
The excerpt reads:
[...] As Kingman developed as a painter, his works were often compared to paintings by Chinese landscape artists dating back to CE 960, a time when a strong tradition of landscape painting emerged in Chinese art. Kingman, however, 16 vacated [end underline] from that tradition in a number of ways, most notably in that he chose to focus not on natural landscapes, such as mountains and rivers, but on cities. [...]
The question reads:
  1. A) NO CHANGE B) evacuated C) departed D) retired
  • Standard English Conventions questions will ask you to make sentences consistent with standard written English grammar, usage, punctuation and other conventions/rules.
Image of an excerpt of a Writing and Language passage and an accompanying Standard English Conventions question.
The relevant section of the passage reads: When any one of these changes 2 occur, it is [end underline] likely the result of careful analysis conducted by transportation planners.
The accompanying question reads: 2. A) NO CHANGE B) occur, they are C) occurs, they are D) occurs, it is

A few more things to keep in mind . . .

  • Many of the test questions rely on the context of the passage, so you may have to read more than the sentence that corresponds to the question to choose the best answer.
  • When there are no additional directions or questions, assume that you have to choose the option that is most effective or correct.
  • Some passages include one or more tables, graphs, or charts that relate to the topic of the passage. A graphic may provide additional support for a point made in the passage. Questions may ask you to use information from the graphic(s) to correct an error in the passage. You’ll never have to make corrections to the graphic itself. Here's an example:
Image of a Writing and Language passage excerpt and an accompanying bar graph and data-driven question.
The relevant text excerpt reads: "Transportation planners perform critical work within the broader field of urban and regional planning. As of 2010, there were approximately 40,300 urban and regional planners employed in the United States. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts steady job growth in this field, 11 projecting that 16 percent of new jobs in all occupations will be related to urban and regional planning. [end underline]"
The graph is titled "Urban and Regional Planners Percent Increase in Employment, Projected 2010-2020." The graph is a bar graph with the bars stretching horizontally across the graph. The x-axis shows the projected percent increase in intervals of 2%, and the y-axis shows "total, all occupations" (14%), "urban and regional planners" (16%), and "social scientists and related workers" (18%).
The accompanying question reads: 11. Which choice completes the sentence with accurate data based on the graph? A) NO CHANGE B) warning, however, that job growth in urban and regional planning will slow to 14 percent by 2020. C) predicting that employment of urban and regional planners will increase 16 percent between 2010 and 2020. D) indicating that 14 to 18 percent of urban and regional planning positions will remain unfilled.
Why not go ahead and begin familiarizing yourself with the Writing and Language Test? Start here!


This article was adapted from the following sources:
“SAT Practice Tests” from The College Board.

Want to join the conversation?

  • mr pants teal style avatar for user alycialinton
    How much time should we spend on each question
    (27 votes)
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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user LittleCsaszar
    Will the grammar questions ask us to diagram sentences? Or to locate parts of speech?
    (3 votes)
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    • purple pi purple style avatar for user doctorfoxphd
      No, you definitely will not have to diagram sentences, but time you have spent practicing that will help you answer the questions on editing changes and conventions and such. You will not need to specifically locate parts of speech, but in order to answer some of the questions, you WILL need to remember rules about parts of speech. You will need to make use of your practice with parts of speech in order to identify errors and choose more effective options.
      (12 votes)
  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Jason Wright
    Why does this SAT test have grammar questions?
    (4 votes)
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    • spunky sam blue style avatar for user Kamarguera
      The new SAT won't be testing you on isolated skills and wont ask you to memorize specific grammar rules. The questions on the SAT Writing & Language test are divided on two basic subset of questions: Expression of Ideas and Standard English Conventions. A subject that has been widely discussed is that memorizing stuff is not really a solid knowledge. So, i believe these changes on the SAT were made aiming that the knowledge the applicant gets on studying could be more usefull on real world problems.
      (8 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Laraib Khan
    Hey !! I want to ask! In the Writing test, the real Psat! Do we have to read the whole passage or just the specific lines? As it's time limited? :)
    (5 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Hannah He
      It depends on the question. If the question is targeting a specific part and is asking for verb form, or tense, you'll probably just need to sound it out in your head to get the right answer, However, questions on parallel structure will require some reading above and below the line the question is asking on. Finally the transition and deletion of sentences require more general passage reading.
      (4 votes)
  • spunky sam blue style avatar for user Kamarguera
    Where do i get the correct answer for each question? And is it possible to look at a old SAT test?
    (4 votes)
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    • purple pi purple style avatar for user doctorfoxphd
      Well, if you are taking the test, you have to answer according to what is being asked. Sometimes the question asks for improvements to the passage, in which case you have to read the question and the part of the passage that matches the numbers given, and then answer based on what you know about writing and language. There are many different questions and this Khan SAT website has loads of videos and lessons and exercises that can help you practice and answer your own question. After you try answering the practice exercises here, you get detailed feedback on whether your answer was right and what you did maybe that caused a wrong answer.

      You can buy books of practice tests for the new SAT, but looking at an old SAT test really won't help much because the test has been redesigned as of this month (March 2016). Some types of questions have disappeared completely and the times are different and the sections are different. Even the format and types of questions have changed. The new SAT test is the only one you can take now. This web site is packed with free practice tests and example questions and walk-throughs of the question types.
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user tyshayford
    Reading the question first always helps but is it okay to look through the passage to see if anything matches the question
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user ricardo.lopez
    Are each one of the questions timed or no?
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user JMJ001
      Just the test section is timed (e.g., 44-question Writing and Language Test is allotted 35 minutes), so you'll be able to decide how much time to spend on each question and use more time on the more difficult ones.
      (3 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user Asuruturato
    How shoul I prepare for writing and language? it seems like there is only practice question there. Is there any source to study for properties first and then pass into practice?
    (3 votes)
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  • marcimus purple style avatar for user pranjali.isha2013
    how to score well in the writing part?
    (1 vote)
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  • starky ultimate style avatar for user Bob Ross
    I am trying to make a notebook dedicated to SAT Writing notes, but I can't figure out how to organize it! Which topics should I make sections for?
    (2 votes)
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