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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.

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