This complete guide includes everything you need to know about SAT Writing. As experienced tutors, we’re all too familiar with the shortcomings of most test-prep materials, so we've created our own free guide to SAT Writing, which we believe is the best available (even compared to expensive books from big-name companies!).
To create this guide, we carefully analyzed real SATs, read the best SAT books we could find, and thought carefully about what you actually need to know to succeed on SAT Writing. Rather than trying to condense all the info we came up with into one page (which would be insanely overwhelming!), we’ve created this article to serve as a table of contents and take you through the different parts of the SAT Writing section.
The first part of our guide covers high-level ideas about the test, such as general structure and important big-picture concepts. The second part outlines every grammar skill you’ll need to know and the best strategies for approaching SAT Writing questions. The final section rounds up all kinds of strategies and tips that you can use both on the test and as you study. It also includes detailed explanations of how to plan your prep time, and suggestions for where you can find further practice tests and study material, should you need them.
How you use this information will depend on what you’re hoping to get out of it. This guide is designed to work as a complete walkthrough of the SAT Writing section, the same as you would find in a test-prep book—simply read through each guide and practice the skills they explain. If, however, you’re only looking to brush up on specific topics or find some helpful tips for test day, just scroll through this page to find what you need!
High-Level Guidance for SAT Writing
One of the key ideas you must understand about the SAT is that it's completely different from the tests you take in school. SAT Writing might test some of the same grammar rules that you've learned in the past, but it does so in its own unique way. In order to do well on SAT Writing, you need to understand how it's structured. These guides will help you do so.
The first step to succeeding on SAT Writing is knowing what’s on it. These two guides outline all the basics, including how the SAT Writing section is formatted, what kinds of reading passages it has, and which grammar rules it tests.
On the SAT, Writing makes up half of your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) score (the other half is the Reading section). This guide goes over how the two sections are scored together, and gives you a few tips on how to excel on both of them.
The SAT underwent a big redesign back in 2016, which included a makeover to the SAT Writing section. If you're curious about how the current Writing structure differs from the old one, check out this guide.
Since all SAT Writing questions are based on passages, it's important to be able to read passages both fast and effectively. We explain the best ways to approach passages on SAT Writing so that you'll save time and give yourself a better shot at choosing the right answers.
The main point of the SAT Writing section is to test your understanding of English grammar. Read this guide to learn the 12 most important grammar rules likely to appear on test day.
This question type (and subscore) on SAT Writing asks you to improve word choice and syntax in sentences selected from passages. Use this guide to learn how often you can expect to see these questions on the test and the best way to approach them.
Another subscore on SAT Writing is Command of Evidence. These questions deal with choosing evidence to support your answers and making sure the answers you select accurately reflect the information in the passage.
These Writing questions ask you where to place a certain sentence or paragraph in a passage. But knowing where a certain sentence fits can be difficult. This guide covers how to recognize these questions and offers a step-by-step approach you can use on the test.
With these questions, you must figure out whether to add or delete a sentence from a passage. This article touches on what these questions look like on the SAT and gives clear guidance on how to solve them.
The "No Error" option is a source of stress for many students. Make sure you know how frequently you can expect it be the right answer on SAT Writing.
SAT Writing Grammar and Punctuation Skills
Don't fall into the trap of thinking you can just listen for the errors because you speak English, after all. SAT Writing tests specific grammar and punctuation topics in specific ways, and you need to know them to do well on the test. We've written guides for each topic on the test (listed roughly in order of their importance).
Above, we gave you a link to our guide on the 12 most important grammar rules—but these aren't all the grammar rules you'll see on the test. This guide summarizes every possible grammatical structure you can get on SAT Writing.
In addition to grammar, punctuation plays a major part on SAT Writing. Read this guide to learn all the most important comma, colon, and dashes rules you'll need to know, as well as how to spot them on the test.
Aside from commas, colons, and dashes, you'll need to know how to use apostrophes correctly if you wish to get a high score on SAT Writing. This guide expands on the punctuation one above by specifically going over how to identify apostrophe problems on the test.
SAT Writing doesn’t explicitly ask you to identify parts of speech, but you’ll need to know the grammatical basics in this article in order to understand the rest of our skill guides. Start here to begin building your foundation in grammar.
Diction questions, which deal with picking the right word for a given context, pop up often on SAT Writing. These questions are tricky because the exact words they test vary.
Remember how your teacher used to tell you to use transitions to connect different ideas? Well, the same basic principle applies to the SAT. These questions require you to choose the correct transitional word (such as "therefore," "however," etc.). Take a look at this guide to learn what kinds of transition-related words and questions will be on the test.
Fragments and run-on sentences appear a lot on the SAT Writing section. Learn the telltale signs of these types of errors with this guide.
One of the key rules is that given more than one grammatically correct answer, the right answer will likely be the most concise one. Make sure you know what this means in the context of SAT Writing.
Verb issues in general, and verb forms specifically, are also tested on SAT Writing. It’s especially important to make sure you understand how to use gerunds (“ing” verbs such as “jumping” and “celebrating”).
The other type of verb error is subject-verb agreement issues, which occur when the subject is plural but the verb is singular, or vice versa (e.g., “he talk” or “they is yelling”). This guide walks you through the different ways this error can appear on the test, many of which you might not expect.
Pronoun errors come in a few different forms, but, generally, they occur when you use a pronoun that doesn’t match the noun it’s referring to, such as in the sentence "The doctor couldn’t believe their cooking class was canceled" ("their" should be "his" or "her"). Pronoun errors can be among the hardest to spot because we routinely misuse pronouns in everyday English.
Pronoun-case questions, which deal with the difference between subject (“I”) and object (“me”) pronouns, appear less often on SAT Writing than pronoun-agreement ones do. Nonetheless, it’s important to know how to answer these questions, especially if you want a high score.
Parallel structure questions require you to recognize that all the words or phrases in a list need to be in the same form. Though they aren’t the most common topic on SAT Writing, they’re still important to know.
Faulty modifiers, which include both dangling modifiers and the less common misplaced one, occur when a modifying word or phrase is placed in the wrong part of a sentence. They are one of the trickiest topics on SAT Writing because we often make these mistakes when we speak and write.
Idioms can be a couple of different types of phrases (including common sayings such as "one step forward, two step backs"). But on SAT Writing, the term refers to questions about consistent preposition, conjunction, and gerund use (e.g., "I’m excited to go to Disneyland” rather than “I’m excited going at Disneyland").
Faulty comparisons are another weird error you might not be familiar with. They occur when you compare two things that aren’t of the same type, such as “Juan’s favorite band” and “Tim.”
Occasionally on SAT Writing, you’ll see an adverb (e.g., “sadly”) used where an adjective (e.g., “sad”) is needed, or vice versa. This guide explains how to spot these errors as well as those with superlatives and comparatives.
Questions specifically about relative pronouns (who, which, where, etc.) aren't super common, but these words play important roles in other types of questions. Make sure you understand how to use them correctly.
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Building an SAT Writing Study Plan
Now that you've got a basic understanding of the test, you probably want to start doing some SAT Writing practice. Great! The guides in this section will help you understand how to make your SAT Writing prep as efficient and effective as possible.
If you’re studying for the SAT independently, it can be hard to figure out how to best organize your SAT Writing prep. This guide lays out everything you must know to study effectively on your own.
All the prep time in the world won’t do you any good if you’re using bad materials. We’ve collected all the best SAT Writing practice tests, for free and for sale, and explained what qualities to look for and what to avoid in practice materials. You can also practice with any official SAT practice test.
If you’re looking for further reading on grammar rules or how to read passages, these two guides have got you covered. We’ve reviewed the best SAT prep books out there, for both the Writing section in particular and the test as a whole. Use these books to guide your study sessions.
SAT Writing Tips and Tricks
In this section, I've collected all our best test-day tips and general advice to help you ace SAT Writing. Read these to understand how best to approach questions on this section, and get advice on how to attack tricky questions and how to navigate the unique structure of the test.
This article rounds up key big-picture strategies for studying SAT Writing. For the best results, be sure to incorporate them into your practice.
If you’re struggling with a low score, this guide can help. Here, a perfect SAT scorer offers his top eight strategies for raising a low SAT Writing score closer to (or even beyond) the 600 (30) range.
Aiming for a super high Writing score? This guide, written by a 1600 scorer, explains the top nine strategies you need for a perfect score on SAT Writing. You'll also learn helpful tips for keeping yourself motivated and focused.
There are a few mistakes that routinely bring down students’ SAT Writing scores. Make sure you know how to avoid them with this guide.
These suggestions can help raise your SAT Writing score even if you’re taking the test tomorrow, but they’ll be even more helpful if you use them every time you practice.
On SAT Writing, you're guaranteed to see at least one data chart; thus, it's extremely important to be able to read charts and other data graphics. This guide tells you how to do just that on both the Reading and Writing sections.
If grammar and punctuation aren't your fortes, you'll need to come up with a different approach to SAT Writing. This guide, which specifically targets math and science whizzes, offers tons of helpful tips for attacking the Writing section head-on and getting the score you want.
This article explains the answers to some of the hardest SAT Writing questions. If you’re shooting for a score below 700 on EBRW, you will likely want to skip these types of questions. But if you’re aiming for a high score, make sure you know how to attack even the most challenging questions.
You hopefully have a good idea what your next step should be: practice! Reading about the SAT can only teach you so much. To really understand SAT Writing, you have try out these strategies and tips on a real test.
Before you go over your practice test, make sure you know how to review missed questions. The fastest way to improve is to learn from your mistakes.
This guide includes everything you need to build an effective SAT Writing program for yourself, but if you're feeling overwhelmed by the idea of doing it all on your own, consider giving our prep program a try. Built by Harvard grads and SAT full scorers, our online SAT program learns all your strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics and then customizes your program to your needs to give you the most effective prep possible.
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Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.