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Writing and Language Test: The Format

An explanation of how the questions are formatted on the SAT Writing and Language Test

I don't understand the format of the questions! Help!

Don't worry! The SAT Writing and Language Test assesses your ability to revise and edit texts about a range of topics, and to do that, the test uses specific formatting that can be confusing at first.
You're in the right place - you'll be up to speed in no time!
Here are a few things to keep in mind about how the test looks and how to interact with the passages:
  • Questions are flagged in the text: Each question in the text will include a gray box with a number, which corresponds to the question number. Here's an example taken from a longer passage:
An excerpt of a Writing and Language question flagged with the number 8. The underlined text after the number 8 says, "According to the American Heart Association, walking provides numerous benefits related to health and well-being. The following sentence, not underlined, says "Members of the Chamber of Commerce might share suggestions about designing transportation and parking facilities to support local business."
...and here's the corresponding question:
An image of question 8 as flagged in the text. It says:
The writer is considering deleting the underlined sentence. Should the sentence be kept or deleted? A) Kept, because it provides supporting evidence about the benefits of walking. B) Kept, because it provides an additional example of a community stakeholder with whom transportation planners work. C) Deleted, because it blurs the paragraph's focus on the community stakeholders with whom transportation planners work. D) Deleted, because it doesn't provide specific examples of what the numerous benefits of walking are.
  • Questions without questions: Many Writing and Language Test questions show just four answer choices without an actual question. “Stemless questions” reference a specific underlined portion of the passage (usually a sentence, part of a sentence, or parts of two sentences). You will have to decide if you need to make changes to this text in order to make it consistent with the conventions of standard written English.
Here's an example snipped from a longer passage:
An image of a Writing and Language question flagged with the number 13. The underlined text says "box, from just a few primary colors,"
...and here's what the corresponding question looks like:
An image of question 13 as flagged in the text. It says,
A) NO CHANGE B) box. From just a few primary colors, C) box from just a few primary colors, D) box, from just a few primary colors
Your job is to select the best version of the underlined text in context. Select "No Change" if the passage is fine just the way it is!
Important! Remember that the excerpts above are each part of a longer passage. For the actual test and practice tests, you will have the context of the passage to consider.
Here's another stemless question where you must decide if you should make a change to the underlined portion of the passage in order for it to be consistent with standard written English:
An image of a question flagged with the number 5 and the corresponding question.
The relevant passage text says, "in 2010, at least 18.5 million e-books were available 5 for them to circulate. [end underline]"
The corresponding question says:
5. A) NO CHANGE B) to be circulated by them. C) for their circulating. D) for circulation.
For stemless questions, the incorrect choices will be grammatically incorrect, ambiguous, or have other technical weaknesses. You will never be asked to select which choice is the “best” among several correct options. In the case of question 5, the wrong answers include ambiguous pronouns, "their" and "them," that have no clear antecedents. The correct answer to this question is D, “for circulation,” because it removes the vague pronoun “them” and results in a clear and grammatically correct sentence.
Top Tip for Stemless Questions: Read around! When a portion of text is underlined and you must decide whether to replace the underlined portion with another choice, be sure to consider not only the entire underlined portion but also additional context (the entire sentence, surrounding sentences, and sometimes the passage as a whole) when choosing your answer.
Deletions Sometimes a choice will suggest that you "DELETE the underlined portion."
Here's an example of this:
An excerpt of a Writing and Language passage an the corresponding question, where one of the choices is to "DELETE the underlined portion".
The relevant portion of text says: "Some people buy organic food because they believe organically grown crops are more nutritious and safer for consumption that 12 the people who purchase [end underline] their conventionally grown counterparts, which are usually produced with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.
The accompanying question says: 12. A) NO CHANGE B) the purchase of C) purchasing D) DELETE the underlined portion.
Additions Sometimes a question number in the passage will have no underlined text on either side. In this case, the question is asking you to consider the addition of new text into the passage at this point.
An image of a question where "the writer is considering adding" a new piece of information to the Writing and Language passage.
The question says: 4. At this point, the writer is considering adding the following information.
--e-books, audio and video materials, and online journals--
Should the writer make this addition here? A) Yes, because it provides specific examples of the materials discussed in the sentence. B) Yes, because it illustrates the reason for the increase mentioned later in the sentence. C) No, because it interrupts the flow of the sentence by supplying irrelevant information. D) No, because it weakens the focus of the passage by discussing a subject other than librarians.
Questions about logical sentence order When you see numbers in [brackets] before sentences, there will be a question that will ask you to determine the logical sequence of the sentences in a paragraph. The question number will appear in a gray box at the end of the paragraph in question.
For example:
An image of a paragraph from a Writing and Language passage.
The paragraph reads:
[1] The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, one of Russia's greatest art museums, has long had a productive partnership with a much loved animal: the cat. [2] For centuries, cats have guarded this famous museum, ridding it of mice, rats, and other rodents that could damage the art, not to mention scare off visitors. [3] Peter the Great introduced the first cat to the Hermitage in the early eighteenth century. [4] Later Catherine the Great declared the cats to be official guardians of the galleries. [5] Continuing the tradition, Peter's daughter Elizaveta introduced the best and strongest cats in Russia to the Hermitage. [6] Today, the museum holds a yearly festival honoring these faithful workers. [[39]]
The paragraph is followed by this question:
  1. To make this paragraph most logical, sentence 5 should be placed A) where it is now. B) after sentence 1. C) after sentence 3. D) after sentence 6.
Ready for some practice? Get started now!


This article was adapted from the following source:
"SAT Practice Tests" from The College Board.

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