Introduction to SAT Writing
The Writing section of the SAT is designed to assess your ability to identify
errors in the grammar and usage of English and your ability to organize and
present your ideas in a well-structured essay.
Your SAT Writing score is based on your performance on 3 timed sections:
- one 25-minute essay written in response to a provided prompt
- one 25-minute multiple choice section with 35 question
- one 10-minute multiple choice section with 14 questions
The 25-minute multiple choice section features:
- 11 questions that ask you to improve sentences
- 18 questions that ask you to identify sentence errors
- 6 questions that ask you to improve paragraphs
The 10-minute section includes 14 sentence improvement questions only.
SAT Writing Question Types
Error identification questions
These questions test your understanding of grammatical elements and structures
by assessing your ability to recognize errors in sentences. In error identification
questions you are presented with a sentence that has various parts of it underlined
and labeled A, B, C, and D. It is your task to identify which of the labeled
parts of the sentence is incorrect, or, if none are incorrect, you select
E (no error).
Sentence improvement questions
In the sentence improvement questions you are presented with a sentence with
all or only parts of it underlined. The answer choices consist of four alternative
ways of phrasing the underlined section of the sentence, and it is your job
to select which alternative is best, or indicate that the original sentence
is correct as is.
Paragraph improvement questions.
These questions test your ability to clearly express ideas and improve the
coherence of ideas within and among paragraphs. Here, you will be presented
with a poorly written passage consisting of several paragraphs. Several questions
will follow the essay, asking you to identify what would be appropriate revisions
of sentences, paragraphs, and their ordering to improve the essay.
Note that Error Identification and Sentence Improvement questions generally
appear in order of difficulty, with easier questions first, but Paragraph
Improvement questions generally follow the order of the passage. Questions
on sentences and paragraphs at the start of the essays come before questions
on sentences and paragraphs at the end of the essay.
In this section you will have 25 minutes to write an essay in response to
a proposed topic. The essay prompt often takes the form of a quote or saying
and is designed to be general enough that anyone should be able to respond
with their opinion, regardless of social or educational background and without
advanced knowledge on a specific subject.
In the essay you must support this opinion using specific examples from your
everyday life experience, what you have learned in school, current events,
or works of fiction. The essay does not need to be structured according to
one specific formula (e.g. the five-paragraph essay), as long as there is
an orderly and logical flow of ideas, appropriate use of evidence, and effective
use of language. Similarly, although there is no specific length requirement,
essays that adequately explore a topic are usually at least several paragraphs
SAT Writing Section Sample Questions
Sample Error Identification Questions: Below are sample
error identification questions, similar to what might be found on the SAT.
You would indicate on your answer sheet which of the underlined sections (marked
A, B, C, or D) was the incorrect one, or you would mark E to indicate there
was no error in the sentence.
- I think it’s (A) admirable that airlines allow (B)
early boarding for adults with (C) children and people which
need (D) assistance. No error (E)
- The newspaper boy (A), who comes into (B) contact with many
neighbors, make (C) sure not to step
on their (D) lawns and flowerbeds. No error (E)
- Nearly all (A)of the judges agree (B) that next year there
(C) should be less (D) people allowed
to enter the competition. No error (E)
Sample Sentence Improvement Questions: Below are examples
of sentences in which the underlined portion may or may not need to be improved.
The A) answer always presents the original phrasing, so that you can choose
that option if you think the sentence is correct as it is.
- The members of the team coming from so far away, they wanted to
make sure they saw the city after the big game.
A) The members of the team coming for so far away, they
B) Coming from so far away, the members of the team felt they
C) Having come from so far away, the members of the team
D) To come this far, the members of the team
E) The members of the team came this far, so that they
- The reason that roses are many people’s favorite flowers are that
they have such soft and intricate petals.
A) are that they have such soft and intricate petals.
B) are that their petals are soft and intricate.
C) is that they have such soft and intricate petals.
D) is because of their soft and intricate petals.
E) is there soft and intricate petals.
- Golfer Janice Keller, the first woman to score a hole-in-one in a professional
game, achieving this exactly 10 years after Ned Timberson’s hole-in-one
on the same course.
A) Janice Keller, the first woman to score a hole-in-one in a professional
game, achieving this
B) Janice Keller scored the first ever women’s hole-in-one in a professional
C) Janice Keller the first woman who scored a hole-in-one in a professional
game, and who did so
D) Janice Keller became the first woman to score a hole-in-one in a professional
game, accomplishing this feat
E) Janice Keller was the first woman scoring a hole-in-one in a professional
game, the feat was accomplished
Sample Paragraph Improvement Questions
Below is a shortened version of the type of passage that is used for Paragraph
Improvement questions on the SAT. Each sentence is numbered for your reference.
The questions below are based on this passage:
(1) In the past 20 years, there has been a surge of research on how
to foster and happiness and wellbeing. (2) A number of surprising findings
have emerged from this work and understanding them can help us improve our
(3) One surprising finding is that happiness is important to your health.
(4) Studies indicate that happy people live on average 8 to 10 years longer
than their unhappy peers. (5) Smoking 40 cigarettes a day only reduces your
life expectancy by 6 years, it appears happiness has a huge impact on your
(6) Another amazing fact is that happiness has a strong hereditary component.
(7) Studies of identical twins show they tend to have similar average levels
of happiness, even when they are raised in different households. (8) Research
on hereditary characteristics often looks at identical twins as they share
the same DNA. (9) Recent estimates suggest that about 40 to 50% of wellbeing
is inherited. (10) People generally assume parenting, socio-economic status,
and education drastically affect happiness. (11) These environmental influences
have little impact.
- In context, which of the following is the best revision to sentence 5?
A) (As it is now)
B) Given that smoking 40 cigarettes a day only reduces your life expectancy
by 6 years, it appears happiness has a huge impact on your health
C) Smoking 40 cigarettes a day only reduces your life expectancy by 6 years,
so therefore it must be true that appears happiness has a huge impact on your
D) It appears happiness has a huge impact on your health because smoking 40
cigarettes a day only reduces your life expectancy by 6 years.
E) Given that happiness has a huge impact on your health, smoking 40 cigarettes
a day only reduces your life expectancy by 6 years.
- In context, which of the following is the best revision to Paragraph 3?
A) Move sentence 8 before sentence 7
B) Move sentence 9 to the beginning of the paragraph
C) Delete "amazing".
D) Change "households” to “homes”
E) Put a comma after “Another amazing fact”
- In context, which is the best revision of sentence 11?
A) As a result, these environmental influences have little impact.
B) Consequently, these environmental influences have little impact.
C) Too often it is the case that these environmental influences have little
D) However, little impact is made by these environmental influences.
E) However, these environmental influences have little impact.
Sample Essay Prompts: Below are examples of the type of
prompt you are given for the 25-minute SAT Essay.
- Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The future belongs to those who believe
in the beauty of their dreams.” - Eleanor Roosevelt. Do people
who believe in their dreams make the biggest impact on our future? Plan and
write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support
your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies,
experience, or observation.
- William Shakespeare said, “The leopard does not change his spots.”
Do you believe humans can change their spots? Do people ever fundamentally
change their personality, or do they retain their general temperament and
characteristics throughout their entire lives? Plan and write an essay in
which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position
with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience,
- It is often said that “Time heals all wounds.” Do you agree?
Or do you believe that there are some problems and issues that the passage
of time alone cannot fix? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your
point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples
taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observation.
Study Strategies for the SAT Writing Section
- As with the Critical Reading, one of the keys to success on the Writing
section of the SAT lies in a habit of reading challenging material. Reading
not only exposes you to a variety of areas and subjects that will help you
come up with examples for your essay, it helps improve the way you use language
and will therefore help your performance on the multiple choice questions
as well. By reading challenging material you expose yourself to advanced ways
of using language that stand out as correct in sentence improvement questions
and that you can begin to incorporate into your own writing.
- Practice Writing. The secret to writing better is writing more. Write practice
SAT essays as often as possible, and show them to someone who can give you
good feedback on how you could improve your sentences, your organization,
and your evidence (e.g. a parent, an older sibling, a teacher).
When writing, keep these specific strategies in mind:
A) Avoid the passive voice. A passive sentence is one in which something
other than the subject performs the action. The passive phrase “It
was decided by the committee” (in which the subject “committee”
is at the end of the sentence) can and should be replaced by the active
phrase “the committee decided”
B) Try to use precise and appropriate vocabulary. This means avoiding slang,
informal expressions, or generic words such as “interesting”
that don’t convey a specific meaning. However, this also means avoiding
the use of advanced, obscure words that seem out of place in a particular
sentence and context. If you are describing your brother, it’s fine
to say you find his chatter irritating, but it may sound forced and awkward
if you say you find his volubility vexatious.
C) Use concrete examples that are specific as possible, avoid abstract
claims that don’t mention people, places, or things. For example,
if you are trying to argue that technology is changing our lives, avoid
relying only on abstract, general claims such as “people now use technology
too much”. Make sure to back this up with specifics: “I see
people checking their Blackberries while in line at the supermarket, on
the bus, and while out on the beach with their friends
- Practice Outlining an Essay. When you don’t have time to practice
writing a whole essay, practice coming up with an outline for an essay in
5 minutes. You can comb through a dictionary or website that lists quotations
and sayings, and use these as sample essay topics. For your outline: write
out your thesis, decide how many paragraphs you are aiming for, and write
out what specific examples you are going to use to develop your argument.
Often students say the most challenging part of the essay is coming up with
appropriate examples, but this too, can improve with practice.
- Get an idea of the essay scoring system and the level of writing required
to get a high score. The “Official SAT Study Guide” released by
the College Board provides example essays, their scores on the 1 to 6 scale,
and a detailed explanation of why each essay received the assigned score.
By reading these essays and the scoring criteria, you can get a much better
idea of what distinguishes a good essay from a bad essay, and what elements
are needed to get a high score.
- For the multiple choice questions, make sure to review the common rules
of grammar. Most SAT prep books provide a section that reviews what you need
to remember about agreement, case, the proper use of prepositions, dangling
modifiers, and how to identify run on sentences and sentence fragments. Ignore
this section at your peril! Although many error identification and sentence
improvement questions can be answered by using your intuition of what “sounds
right”, many are tricky with two or more answer options that seem correct.
- Another great way to learn the grammatical rules you’ll need to
identify errors and improve sentences is to take practice tests, making sure
to look at the detailed explanations of WHY a particular answer choice is
the correct one. These explanations will give you more confidence in the answers
you knew ‘sounded right’ and help you learn the rules that you
might need for trickier questions.