SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

How to get 800 on SAT Writing: 11 Strategies from a Perfect Scorer

Posted by Allen Cheng | Mar 1, 2015 4:00:00 PM

SAT Strategies, SAT Writing

 

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Are you scoring in the 600-750 range on SAT Writing? Do you want to raise that score as high as possible - to a perfect 800?

Getting to an 800 SAT Writing score isn't easy. It'll require near perfection, and mastery of both grammar rules and essay writing. But with hard work and my SAT writing strategies below, you'll be able to do it. I've consistently scored 800 on Writing on my real SATs, and I know what it takes. Follow my advice, and you'll get a perfect score - or get very close.

 

Brief note: This article is suited for students already scoring a 600 on SAT Writing or above. If you're below this range, my "How to Improve your SAT Writing Score to a 600" article is more appropriate for you. Follow the advice in that article, then come back to this one when you've reached a 600.

 

Overview

Most guides on the internet on how to get an 800 on SAT Writing are of pretty bad quality. They're often written by people who never scored an 800 themselves. You can tell because their advice is usually vague and not very pragmatic.

In contrast, I've written what I believe to be the best guide on getting an 800 available anywhere. I have confidence that these strategies work because I used them myself to score 800 on SAT Writing consistently. They've also worked for thousands of my students at PrepScholar.

In this article, I'm going to discuss why scoring an 800 is a good idea, what it takes to score an 800, and then go into the 8 key SAT Writing strategies so you know how to get an 800.

Stick with me - as an advanced student, you probably already know that scoring high is good. But it's important to know why an 800 Writing score is useful, since this will fuel your motivation to get a high score.

Final note: in this guide, I talk mainly about getting to a 800. But if your goal is a 700, these strategies still equally apply.

 

Understand the Stakes: Why an 800 SAT Writing?

Let's make something clear: for all intents and purposes, a 2300+ on an SAT is equivalent to a perfect 2400. No top college is going to give you more credit for a 2390 than a 2350. You've already crossed their score threshold, and whether you get in now depends on the rest of your application.

So if you're already scoring a 2350, don't waste your time studying trying to get a 2400. You're already set for the top colleges, and it's time to work on the rest of your application.

But if you're scoring a 2300 or below AND you want to go to a top 10 college, it's worth your time to push your score up to a 2300 or above. There's a big difference between a 2250 and a 2350, largely because it's easy to get a 2250 (and a lot more applicants do) and a lot harder to get a 2350.

A 2250 places you right around average at Harvard and Princeton, and being average is bad in terms of admissions, since the admissions rate is typically below 10%.

So why get an 800 on SAT Writing? Because it helps you compensate for weaknesses in other sections. By and large, schools consider your composite score moreso than your individual section scores. If you can get an 800 in SAT Writing, that means you only need a 1500 in SAT Math and SAT Reading combined. This gives you a lot more flexibility.

 

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Princeton's 75th percentile for Writing is 800.

 

There's another scenario where an 800 in SAT Writing is really important: if you're planning to apply as a humanities or social science major (like English, political science, communications) to a top school.

Here's the reason: college admissions is all about comparisons between applicants. The school wants to admit the best, and you're competing with other people in the same "bucket" as you.

By applying as a humanities/social science major, you're competing against other humanities/social science folks: people for whom SAT Writing is easy. Really easy.

Here are a few examples from schools. For Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Dartmouth, the 75th percentile SAT Writing score is an 800 or 790. That means at least 25% of all students at these schools have a 790 in SAT Writing.

But if you can work your way to an 800, you show that you're at an equal level (at least on this metric). Even if it takes you a ton of work, all that matters is the score you achieve at the end.

 

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Know that You Can Do It

This isn't just some fuzzy feel-good message you see on the back of a milk carton.

I mean, literally, you and every other reasonably intelligent student can score an 800 on SAT Writing.

The reason most people don't is they don't try hard enough or they don't study the right way.

Even if language isn't your strongest suit, or you got a B+ in AP English, you're capable of this.

Because I know that more than anything else, your SAT score is a reflection of how hard you work and how smartly you study.

SAT Writing is Designed to Trick You. You Need to Learn How

Here's why: the SAT is a weird test. When you take it, don't you get the sense that the questions are nothing like what you've seen in school?

You've learned grammar before in school. You know some basic grammar rules. But the SAT questions just seem so much weirder.

It's purposely designed this way. The SAT can't test difficult concepts, because this would be unfair for students who never took AP English. It can't ask you to decompose Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. The SAT is a national test, which means it needs a level playing field for all students around the country.

So it HAS to test concepts that all high school students will cover. Subject verb agreement, run-on sentences, pronoun choice, etc. You've learned all of this throughout school.

But the SAT still has to make the test difficult, so it needs to test these concepts in strange ways. This trips up students who don't prepare, but it rewards students who understand the test well.

 

Example Question

Here's an example: find the grammar error in this sentence:

The commissioner, along with his 20 staff members, run a tight campaign against the incumbent.

 

This is a classic SAT Writing question.

The error is in subject/verb agreement. The subject of the sentence is commissioner, which is singular. The verb is "run," but because the subject is singular, it should really be "runs."

At your level, you probably saw the error. But if you didn't, you fell for a classic SAT Writing trap. It purposely confused you with the interrupting phrase, "along with his 20 staff members." You're now picturing 20 people in a campaign - which suggests a plural verb!

The SAT Writing section is full of examples like this, and they get trickier. Nearly every grammar rule is tested in specific ways, and if you don't prepare for these, you're going to do a lot worse than you should.

Here's the good news: this might have been confusing the first time, but the next time you see a question like this, you'll know exactly what to do: find the subject and the verb, and get rid of the interrupting phrase.

So to improve your SAT Writing score, you just need to:

  • learn the grammar rules that the SAT tests
  • study how the SAT tests these grammar rules and learn how to detect which grammar rule you need in a question
  • practice on a lot of questions so you learn from your mistakes

I'll go into more detail about exactly how to do this. First, let's see how many questions you need to get right to get a perfect score.

 

What It Takes to Get An 800 in Writing

If we have a target score in mind, it helps to understand what you need to get that score on the actual test.

As you probably know, writing combines your raw score on the multiple choice section with your essay score to give your final Writing score out of 800.

Here's a sample raw score to SAT Writing Score conversion table. (If you could use a refresher on how the SAT is scored and how raw scores are calculated, read this.)

  Essay Raw Score

Writing Raw Score

12

11

10

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

0

49

800 800 800 800 790 760 750 730 720 710 690 680

48

800 800 780 770 750 720 710 690 680 670 650 640

47

790 770 760 740 720 700 680 660 650 640 630 620

46

770 750 740 720 700 680 660 650 630 620 610 600

45

750 740 720 710 690 660 650 630 620 610 590 580

44

740 730 710 690 670 650 630 620 600 590 580 570

43

730 710 700 680 660 640 620 600 590 580 560 550

42

720 700 680 670 650 630 610 590 580 570 550 540

41

700 690 670 660 640 610 600 580 570 560 540 530

Source: College Board

 

In this grading scale, there are a variety of ways to get to an 800:

  • Score a perfect raw 49 on multiple choice and a 9-12 on the essay
  • Score a 48 on multiple choice, and 11-12 on the essay.

The exact score conversion chart depends on the difficulty of this test. This particular score chart is as strict as it gets - sometimes, you can get a 47 on Writing and still get an 800 if you score a 12 on the essay.

Regardless, the safest thing to do is to aim for perfection. On every practice test, you need to aim for a perfect raw score for an 800, and an essay score of at least 10.

It's pretty clear then that you need to try to answer every question. You can't leave any questions blank and get an 800, which means you need to get to a level of mastery where you're confident answering each question.

Whatever you're scoring now, take note of the difference you need to get to a 800. For example, if you're scoring a 700 now, you need to answer 6-8 more questions right to get to an 800.

As a final example, here's a screenshot from my exact score report from March 2014, showing that I missed 0 questions, got a 10 on my essay, and earned an 800.

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OK - so we've covered why scoring a higher Writing score is important, why you specifically are capable of improving your score, and the raw score you need to get to your target.

Now we'll get into the meat of the article: actionable strategies that you should use in your own studying to maximize your score improvement.

 

Strategies to Get an 800 on SAT Writing

 

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What's your greatest weakness?

 

Strategy 1: Understand Your High Level Weakness: Time Management, Content, or Essay Score

Every student has different flaws in SAT Writing. Some people don't have full mastery of the grammar rules. Others run out of time on the test. Yet others aren't fluent in their essay writing.

Here's how you can figure out which one applies more to you:

  • For each section, use a timer and have it count down the time allotted for that section. Treat it like a real test.
  • If time runs out for that section and you're 100% ready to move on, then move on. If you're not ready to move on, keep on working for as long as you need. For every new answer or answer that you change, mark it with a special note as "Extra Time."
  • When you're ready, move on to the next section, and repeat the above until you finish all Writing sections.
  • Grade your test using the answer key and score chart, but we want two scores: 1) The Realistic score you got under normal timing conditions, 2) The Extra Time score. This is why you marked the questions you answered or changed during Extra Time.

 

Get what we're doing here? By marking which questions you did under Extra Time, we can figure out what score you got if you were given all the time you needed. This will help us figure out where your weaknesses lie.

If you didn't take any extra time, then your Extra Time score is the same as your Realistic score.

Here's a flowchart to help you figure this out:

Was your Extra Time raw score a 43 or above?

If NO (Extra Time score < 43), then you have strategy and content weaknesses. (A raw score of 43 would let you get a 700 with an essay score of 10). All the extra time in the world couldn't get you above a 700, so your first angle of attack will be to find your weaknesses and attack them (We'll cover this later).

If YES (Extra Time score > 43), then:

Was your Realistic raw score a 43 or above?

If NO (Extra Time score > 43, Realistic < 43), then that means you have a difference between your Extra Time score and your Realistic score. If this difference is more than 4 raw points, then you have some big problems with time management. We need to figure out why this is. Are you taking too much time for each question? Or are particular types of questions slowing you down? More on this later.

If YES (both Extra Time and Realistic scores > 43), then you have a really good shot at getting an 800. Compare your Extra Time and Realistic score - if they differed by more than 2 points, then you would benefit from learning how to solve questions more quickly. If not, then you likely can benefit from shoring up on your last content weaknesses and avoiding careless mistakes (more on this strategy later).

Hopefully that makes sense. Typically I see that students have both timing and content issues, but you might find that one is much more dominant for you than the other. For example, if you can get an 800 with extra time, but score a 700 in regular time, you know exactly that you need to work on time management to get an 800.

Essay Score

The essay score is more straightforward: by the time you take your test, you should consistently be scoring a 10-12 on every essay. On most grading scales, an 8 essay will disqualify you from an 800.

The essay score takes up nearly 1/3 of your total Writing score, so it pays to work on it. We'll cover how to improve your essay in detail later in this guide.

 

 

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Strategy 2: Comprehensively Learn the Grammar Rules

There's just no way around it. You need to know all the grammar rules tested on the test and how they work.

Certain grammar rules, like subject/verb agreement, appear far more often than other rules. But because we're going for perfection, you'll need to know even the less common rules.

In our PrepScholar program, we've identified the following as the most to least important grammar rules:

  • Number Agreement: Subject/Verb Agreement, Pronoun Number Agreement
  • Idioms and Wrong Word (Examples: affect/effect, neither...nor)
  • Parallel Construction
  • Verb Forms: Tense, Conjugation
  • Conciseness: Eliminating waste from sentence phrasings
  • Sentence Fragments, Run-on Sentences
  • Pronouns: Pronoun Choice, Pronoun Case
  • Faulty Modifier
  • Adjective vs Adverb

There are a lot of rules, but they differ from each other in how commonly they appear on the test, and how hard they are to study.

For example, Number Agreement is by far the most common skill on SAT Writing, but it only uses a few separate concepts. The Idioms skill is also very common, but it uses a wide range of idioms, such that each unique idiom appears no more than once on each test.

It's therefore important for you to focus your time on studying the highest impact grammar rules. Our PrepScholar program, for example, quizzes you in relation to how common each grammar rule is, so that you focus your efforts on the rules that make the biggest difference to your score.

 

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Strategy 3: Do a Ton of Practice, and Understand Every Single Mistake

On the path to perfection, you need to make sure every single one of your weak points is covered. Even one mistake on all of SAT Writing can knock you down from an 800.

The first step is simply to do a ton of practice. If you're studying from free materials or from books, you have access to a lot of practice questions in bulk. As part of our PrepScholar program, we have over 1,500+ SAT questions customized to each skill.

The second step - and the more important part - is to be ruthless about understanding your mistakes.

Every mistake you make on a test happens for a reason. If you don't understand exactly why you missed that question, you will make that mistake over and over again.

I've seen students who did 20 practice tests. They've solved over 3,000 questions, but they're still nowhere near an 800 on SAT Writing.

Why? They never understood their mistakes. They just hit their heads against the wall over and over again.

Think of yourself as an exterminator, and your mistakes are cockroaches. You need to eliminate every single one - and find the source of each one - or else the restaurant you work for will be shut down.

Here's what you need to do:

  • on every practice test or question set that you take, mark every question that you're even 20% unsure about
  • when you grade your test or quiz, review every single question that you marked, and every incorrect question. This way even if you guessed a question correctly, you'll make sure to review it.
  • in a notebook, write down the gist of the question, why you missed it, and what you'll do to avoid that mistake in the future. Have separate sections by grammar skill (eg Number Agreement, Idioms, Sentence Fragments)

It's not enough to just think about it and move on. It's not enough to just read the answer explanation. You have to think hard about why you specifically failed on this question.

By taking this structured approach to your mistakes, you'll now have a running log of every question you missed, and your reflection on why.

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No excuses when it comes to your mistakes.

 

Always Go Deeper - WHY Did You Miss a Writing Question?

Now, what are some common reasons that you missed a question? Don't just say, "I didn't get this question right." That's a cop out.

Always take it one step further - what specifically did you miss, and what do you have to improve in the future?

Take the Subject/Verb Agreement example I gave above (with the Interrupting Phrase trick). You likely already know how Subject/Verb Agreement works. But if you missed that question, you'd need to think about why you missed it (because the interrupting phrase made you confuse the subject and verb). Then you need to write down a strategy for noticing this in the future.

Here are some examples of common reasons you miss a Writing question, and how you take the analysis one step further:

Content: I didn't learn the grammar rule needed to answer this question.

One step further: What specific rule do I need to learn, and what resources will I use to learn this grammar rule?

 

Overlooked Rule: I knew the grammar rule, but the SAT question was written in a way that made me miss it.

One step further: How do I solve the question now? Is there a strategy I can use to notice this grammar rule in the future?

 

Careless Error: I knew the grammar rule and normally would get this right, but I slipped up for some reason.

One step further: Why did I make this careless mistake? Was I rushing? Did I misread the question? What should I do in the future to avoid this? 

 

Get the idea? You're really digging into understanding why you're missing questions.

Yes, this is hard, and it's draining, and it takes work. That's why most students who study ineffectively don't improve. 

But you're different. Just by reading this guide, you're already proving that you care more than other students. And if you apply these principles and analyze your mistakes, you'll improve more than other students too.

 

Bonus: If all of this is making sense to you, you'd love our SAT prep program, PrepScholar.

We designed our program around the concepts in this article, because they actually work. When you start with PrepScholar, you’ll take a diagnostic that will determine your weaknesses in over forty SAT skills. PrepScholar then creates a study program specifically customized for you.

To improve each skill, you’ll take focused lessons dedicated to each skill, with over 20 practice questions per skill. This will train you for your specific area weaknesses, so your time is always spent most effectively to raise your score.

We also force you to focus on understanding your mistakes and learning from them. If you make the same mistake over and over again, we'll call you out on it.

There’s no other prep system out there that does it this way, which is why we get better score results than any other program on the market.

Check it out today with a 5-day free trial:

SAT Free Signup

 

Strategy 4: Justify Every Answer. Point Out Specific Grammar Errors

Many top students take a "soft approach" to SAT Writing. They learn the grammar rules when studying, but on the test they go "by ear": if a sentence sounds off, they'll assume it's wrong without thinking too hard about why.

When you've mastered grammar rules, this can serve you well. For example, if I said "The bee fly to the hive." You know this is wrong instantly - it just feels wrong. You know simple subject/verb agreement so well that you can tell something is wrong before you can articulate what exactly it is.

However, most students never get to this level of familiarity with all SAT grammar rules. This makes trusting your ear unreliable for many rules.

What's the strategy to counter this? Point out the specific error, and justify it to yourself.

The two major types of Writing questions - Sentence Error and Improving Sentences - need to be treated a little differently.

Sentence Error Strategy

Let's take one of the most difficult questions in a SAT practice test:

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Here's what I'm thinking as I read the question (a "stream of consciousness"):

" 'Because the American Indian rodeo includes games and exhibitions developed as early as the seventeenth century'...'as early as' is an idiom, and this looks ok. 'they predate'...what does 'they' refer to? 'rodeo,' which is singular. This is a pronoun number agreement error - it should be 'it predates.' The question is tricking me by making me think 'they' refers to 'Games and exhibitions.' My tentative answer is B, but let's read on...they predate by a few hundred years...'predate by' is the correct idiom. 'they predate by a few hundred years the form of rodeo now seen on television'...'[noun] predates [noun]' is the correct construction. Therefore answer B is the answer as it has an obvious error."

Now, I'm not literally thinking all these words in my head, but it matches my thinking process as I go through the question and evaluate each answer choice.

As you learn the different grammar skills and how they appear on the test, you'll start evaluating answer choices for common ways that the SAT tries to trick you.

Is a verb underlined? I'm going to check the subject to see if it follows subject/verb agreement. Then I'll check the verb tense.

Is a pronoun underlined? I'm going to check the antecedent to see if it matches.

Does an underline come right after a comma? I'm going to check if there's a faulty modifier error.

I can justify every one of my answers because I know the grammar rules. This makes my answering more robust, not just based on whether some thing 'feels' right or wrong.

 

Improving Sentences Strategy

Similar to the above, in these questions it's important to figure out what the error is in the sentence before moving onto the answer choices.

In addition, you have to then find the answer choice that solves this error without introducing new ones.

Here's another difficult example:

body_writing800_improving

I'll start my stream of consciousness after I read the question:

"ocean, which can last for several days" is underlined. Typically when a question is phrased like this, there's a potential dangling modifier error. So what does "which can last for several days" currently refer to? "Ocean." But it should really describe the process of contamination by sewage. So I need an answer choice that solves this:

  • A: same as original, which is wrong
  • B: has the same error as A - the ocean is not what lasts for several days
  • C: has a comma splice error. Plus "it" has an unclear antecedent which is another error.
  • D: this isn't technically wrong, but "while" isn't the right way to connect these two concepts. In this case "while" is used like "although," but the second phrase doesn't contradict the first. So this is logically wrong.
  • E: this is the only choice that is grammatically correct. This must be the answer.

You can see how I first identified the dangling modifier error in the original sentence. That made it very clear to me how I could find an answer choice that fixed this error.

Note that in these questions, the SAT often fixes the original error in an answer choice - but then introduces another error. You need to make sure the answer you choose is 100% correct, in terms of both grammar and logic.

Don't be intimidated if you can't do this right now. With practice and reflection, you will get to this point.

Once again, it's like "the bee fly to the hive." You want to get to a point where all SAT grammar rules automatically sound as wrong as that sentence.

 

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Find patterns to your mistakes, and make sense of the chaos.

Strategy 5: Find Patterns to Your Weaknesses and Drill Them

Remember Strategy 3 above, about keeping a lot of every mistake? You need to take this even one step further.

If you're like most students, you're better at some areas in SAT Writing than others. You might know pronouns really well, but you'll be weak in sentence constructions and fragments. Or maybe you really like parallel construction, but have no idea what faulty modifiers are.

If you're like most students, you also don't have an unlimited amount of time to study. You have a lot of schoolwork, you might be an athlete or have intense extracurriculars, and you have friends to hang out with.

This means for every hour you study for the SAT, it needs to be the most effective hour possible.

In concrete terms, you need to find your greatest areas of improvement and work on those.

Too many students study the 'dumb' way. They just buy a book and read it cover to cover. When they don't improve, they're SHOCKED.

I'm not.

Studying effectively for the SAT isn't like painting a house. You're not trying to cover your bases with a very thin layer of understanding.

What these students did wrong was they wasted time on subjects they already knew well, and they didn't spend enough time improving their weak spots.

Instead, studying effectively for the SAT is like plugging up the holes of a leaky boat. You need to find the biggest hole, and fill it. Then you find the next biggest hole, and you fix that. Soon you'll find that your boat isn't sinking at all.

How does this relate to SAT Writing? You need to find the grammar rules that you're having most trouble in, and then do enough practice questions until it's no longer a weakness. Fixing up the biggest holes.

For every question that you miss, you need to identify the type of question it is, and why you missed it. When you notice patterns to the questions you miss, you then need to find extra practice for this grammar rule.

Say you miss a lot of misplaced modifier questions. You need to find a way to get lesson material to teach yourself the main concepts that you're forgetting. Then you need to find more practice questions for this skill so you can drill your mistakes.

This is the best way for you to improve your Writing score.

Once again, this is exactly how I designed our PrepScholar online SAT prep program to work. It automatically figures out your greatest weaknesses so you don't have to. We use advanced statistics with data from our thousands of students. With PrepScholar, you don't need to worry about what to study - you just need to focus on learning.

Because it's worked for thousands of students, I'm pretty sure it'll work for you too.

Click here to learn more.

 

Strategy 6: Be Careful with No Error Answers

In SAT Writing, most questions have a No Error option. In Improving Sentences types, A is the answer choice that doesn't change the underlined section.

The SAT loves tricking students using these answer choices, because it knows that students who don't know grammar rules won't see anything wrong with the sentence. No Error is a really easy answer to choose.

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No errors are one of the most common careless mistakes - make sure you don't fall for them.

 

Be very careful whenever you choose one of these No Error answer choices. Typically, these are correct answers around 20% of the time - not much more. If you find that you're choosing No Error 40% of the time, you're definitely not detecting grammar errors well enough.

Every time you choose No Error, try to doublecheck the other answer choices to make sure you're not missing a grammar error. Especially take note of grammar rules that you tend to ignore mistakenly. Like I mentioned in Strategy 2 above, if you write down your mistakes and study your weaknesses, you'll be able to know which grammar rules you're weak at, and pay special attention to.

Personally, this was my most common careless error mistake. When I could see the error, I got the question correct nearly 100% of the time. The only times I missed questions were when I accidentally ignored an error.

I solved this by doublechecking each of the answer choices to make sure I wasn't leaving any stone unturned.

 

Strategy 7: Think About Grammar in Everyday Life

Among all subjects, Writing on the SAT is special because it appears in your everyday life.

For school, you have to read a lot and you have to write a lot. Use these experiences as opportunities to notice grammar rules and sentence constructions.

This is unique to SAT Writing. SAT Math is so bizarre compared to everyday life that you won't just naturally find ways to apply the Pythagorean theorem at breakfast. SAT Reading similarly requires very specific skills when reading a passage.

But you can practice your grammar skills throughout the day. Here are some ideas:

  • Proofread your friends' essays. Challenge yourself to uncover every grammatical error.
  • Read high quality, formal publications, like the New York Times or the Economist. These articles go through editors, so they rarely have grammar errors. You'll develop that ear for language I mentioned.
  • Notice common errors around you. A lot of people comma splice, for example.

The more you think about grammar as a fundamental skill rather than something specialized for SAT, the more natural it will feel to you.

 

Strategy 8: Ace Improving Paragraphs Questions

I haven't talked much about the 6 questions on every SAT Writing test - improving paragraphs.

This is because I largely believe these questions are more common sense and logic oriented. Plus, there are so few of them that they're typically not the best way for students to improve their score.

But once again, you need to master every question to get a perfect 800 score.

Improving Paragraphs questions test the following skills:

  • Macro Logic: how paragraphs relate to each other and to the main point
  • Transitional Logic: how sentences and ideas connect to each other
  • Redundant Sentences: whether sentences or ideas are extraneous and can be deleted
  • Conciseness and Style: how to choose words to express ideas succinctly and clearly

I won't go further into dissecting this section because, once again, there are rarely super difficult questions in this section (I've never seen a difficulty 5 question in Improving Paragraphs).

But just like I said above in Strategy 2, make a note of every mistake you make, and if you notice a pattern, drill down more deeply into it.

 

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Strategy 9: Get Your Essay Score To a 10+, Reliably

Finally, we get to essays. The rest of this guide will be about how to ace your essay.

As we explained above in the score chart, you should get to a point where you reliably score a 10 on every essay you write. Ideally, you'd break into the 11/12 range.

You probably already know the basics of how to write an SAT essay, and you know roughly how they're scored.

Getting to a 10-12 essay score requires mastery of what they're looking for. You need to know by heart how to structure your essay, how to brainstorm ideas, and how to develop your essay fully. You then need to practice this until it's completely fluid.

Here are a few must-dos to maximize your score:

  • Get to two full pages of writing, reliably. Studies show that essay length and score are very tightly correlated. This requires you to monitor your time carefully and run your essay writing like a machine. You can't waste a minute.
  • Vary up your language and style. Use more complicated sentence constructions, with dependent clauses linked to independent clauses. Use SAT vocab that you've learned (but only if you know how to use them correctly in context).
  • Never, ever forget your introduction and conclusion. Omitting one of these basically automatically drops you down to below a 10. There's no formal SAT rubric rule that specifies this, but we've seen it from experience.

We've written detailed guides on how to write reliably scoring essays. First, read our 15 tips to improving your SAT essay score. Then, read our how to write a 12 essay guide

In these guides, we talk in more detail about how to structure your writing time and how to really impress the essay grader.

 

Strategy 10: Pre-plan Your Essay Examples

The SAT essay prompts tend to be pretty predictable. They center around a few common themes, like authority, independence, knowledge, and other important-sounding concepts.

Because these are predictable, the examples that you use to support your theses can also be predictable.

One of the greatest strategies I know for essays is to pre-plan a set of examples you can use to support a broad range of theses. When you get to the test, you don't need to rack your brain about what to write about - you just need to filter through your preset ideas and choose the best ones for that prompt.

For example, I like the following examples and tend to use them over and over again:

  • Steve Jobs: a compelling biography that can be connected to prompts about independence of thought, courage, understanding what people want, and many others
  • Use of atomic bombs in World War 2: relates to moral dilemmas, whether the ends justify the means, the cost of knowledge and technology
  • Hitler's fighting on both fronts (Russia and Europe): a classic example of repeating history, as Napoleon suffered the same loss through a similar strategy

Here's an overview of what you should do:

  • Brainstorm a list of 8-10 examples that can be used broadly
  • Research each one enough so you can write confidently about it, and take notes in a document
  • Practice outlining on a range of prompts so you can test which examples work for which types of prompts

We wrote a detailed guide to SAT essay examples you can use. Read this to get more advice about how to develop and choose essay examples.

 

We believe the SAT Essay is so important that in our PrepScholar SAT prep program, we have an expert SAT instructor grade each of your SAT essays and give you customized feedback on how to improve your score. This can mean an instant jump of 80 points on the Writing section alone.

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Strategy 11: Practice Your Essays with Pencil and Paper

Writing an essay in 25 minutes is a very atypical task. You'll pretty much be writing nonstop to hit your 2-page target.

For someone out of practice in handwriting like me, my hand starts to ache and impede my writing.

When you practice your essay, you must practice on paper, using the pencils that you would be using on the real test. Remember that on the SAT, you can only use Number 2 pencils.

This is a minor strategy, but many people overlook this and end up being surprised on the real test.

 

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Strategy 12: Finish With Extra Time and Double Check

Your goal at the end of all this work is to get so good at SAT Writing that you solve every question and have extra time left over at the end of the section to recheck your work.

In high school and even now, I can finish a 25 minute Reading section in 15 minutes or less. I then have 10 minutes left over to recheck my answers two times over.

The best way to get faster is, as explained above, to get so fluent with SAT grammar that you rapidly zero in on the grammar mistakes without having to think hard about it.

Try to aim for a target of spending 30 seconds on each Sentence Error question, and 45 seconds on each Improving Sentences question. This gives you enough time to doublecheck comfortably.

What's the best way to doublecheck your work? I have a reliable method that I follow:

  • Doublecheck any questions you marked that you're unsure of. Try hard to eliminate those answer choices. If it's a No Error question, doublecheck that you're not missing any grammar mistakes.
  • If I'm 100% sure I'm right on a question, I mark it as such and never look at it again. If I'm not sure, I'll come back to it on the third pass.
  • At least 2 minutes before time's up, I rapidly doublecheck that I bubbled the answers correctly. I try to do this all at once so as not to waste time looking back and forth between the test book and the answer sheet. Go 5 at a time ("A D E C B") for more speed.

If you notice yourself spending more than 30 seconds on a problem and aren't clear how you'll get to the answer, skip and go to the next question. Even though you need a near perfect raw score for an 800, don't be afraid to skip. You can come back to it later, and for now it's more important to get as many points as possible.

 

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Quick Tip: Bubbling Answers

Here's a bubbling tip that will save you 2 minutes per section.

When I first started test taking in high school, I did what many students do: after I finished one question, I went to the bubble sheet and filled it in. Then I solved the next question. Finish question 1, bubble in answer 1. Finish question 2, bubble in answer 2. And so forth.

This actually wastes a lot of time. You're distracting yourself between two distinct tasks - solving questions, and bubbling in answers. This costs you time in both mental switching costs and in physically moving your hand and eyes to different areas of the test.

Here's a better method: solve all your questions first in the book, then bubble all of them in at once.

This has several huge advantages: you focus on each task one at a time, rather than switching between two different tasks. You also eliminate careless entry errors, like if you skip question 7 and bubble in question 8's answer into question 7's slot.

By saving just 10 seconds per question, you get back 200 seconds on a section that has 20 questions. This is huge.

Note: If you use this strategy, you should already be finishing the section with ample extra time to spare. Otherwise, you might run out of time before you have the chance to bubble in the answer choices all at once.

 

 

In Overview

Those are the main strategies I have for you to improve your SAT Writing score to an 800. If you're scoring above a 600 right now, with hard work and smart studying, you can raise it to a perfect Writing score.

Even though we covered a lot of strategies, the main point is still this: you need to understand where you're falling short, and drill those weaknesses continuously. You need to be thoughtful about your mistakes and leave no mistake ignored.

One last tip: try to keep a steady head while you're taking the test. It's really easy to start doubting yourself because you know you need a near-perfect raw score. Even if you're unsure about two questions in a row, try to treat every question as its own independent test. If you start doubting yourself, you'll perform worse, and the worse you perform, the more you doubt yourself.

Avoid this negative spiral of doubt and concentrate on being confident. You'll have studied a lot, and you'll do great on this test.

Keep reading for more resources on how to boost your SAT score.

 

What's Next?

We have a lot more useful guides to raise your SAT score.

Read our complete guide to a perfect 2400, written by me, a perfect scorer.

Read our accompanying guides on how to get an 800 on SAT Math and how to get an 800 on SAT Reading.

Learn how to write a perfect-scoring 12 SAT essay, step by step.

Make sure you study SAT vocab using the most effective way possible.

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 240 points? We have the industry's leading SAT prep program. Built by Harvard grads and SAT full scorers, the program learns your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics, then customizes your prep program to you so you get the most effective prep possible.

I built the PrepScholar program based on the principles in this article - the principles that worked for me and thousands of our students. 

Check out our 5-day free trial today:

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Allen Cheng
About the Author

As co-founder and head of product design at PrepScholar, Allen has guided thousands of students to success in SAT/ACT prep and college admissions. He's committed to providing the highest quality resources to help you succeed. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and earned two perfect scores on the SAT (1600 in 2004, and 2400 in 2014) and a perfect score on the ACT.



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