SAT® Writing and Language Prep: Practice Tips for Writing

How to Practice for the SAT Writing and Language Test Section

Prepping yourself for the SAT Writing and Language Test is about understanding grammar and language, which is why we’ve created tips to help work through the section with greater proficiency. Learn more about what to expect from the SAT Writing and Language section, then check out Sylvan’s SAT Writing and Language tips below!

All questions on the SAT Writing and Language Test are multiple choice and based on a passage. Like the Reading Test, some passages have informational graphics, such as tables, graphs and charts. The Writing Test requires you to look at each passage (and informational graphic) with a critical eye so you can improve the passage as an editor would. You will be presented with four passages, each of which is 400-500 words.

There are 44 multiple-choice writing and language questions, and you will have 35 minutes to complete them. What do the Writing and Language questions ask you to do?

  • Command of Evidence. Improve the way passages develop information and ideas.
  • Words in Context. Improve word choice.
  • Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science. Read and revise passages with a critical eye.
  • Expression of Ideas. Improve a passage for organization and intended impact.
  • Standard English Conventions. Revise sentence structure, usage, and punctuation.

5 SAT Writing and Language Tips to Help You Practice

Tip 1: Do Your Grammar Homework!

The best way to improve your score on the Writing and Language Test is to know the rules of standard written English. While some strategies—such as process of elimination or looking for clues in sentences—may help you save time and answer some questions correctly, knowing your grammar is your best strategy.

Nearly half of the questions on the test address your knowledge of standard written English conventions. Those conventions, or writing rules, fall within the following categories: sentence structure, conventions of usage, conventions of punctuation.

Questions about sentence structure and formation address problems in the building of whole sentences—whether a sentence has a subject and verb, and whether all related parts of a sentence are in a correct order. These questions also test your ability to recognize and correct inappropriate shifts between sentences (ie shifts in pronouns or verb tense).

Practice Question 1: Sentence Structure

While mosquitos can be annoying and even dangerous to humans and pets, playing an important role in the food chain.

B. pets play an important role in the food chain.
C. pets: playing an important role in the food chain.
D. pets, they play an important role in the food chain.

The example sentence is not a complete sentence. The conjunction “while” makes the first part of the sentence a dependent clause—or a full sentence able to stand on its own. But the second part of the sentence lacks a subject.

Answer choice D creates a complete sentence by adding a subject and changing the verb to agree with it.

Practice Question 2: Sentence Structure

Maggie was riding her bike when their front breaks stopped working.

B. her
C. its
D. whose

The pronoun “their” is a plural pronoun; however that pronoun acts as a replacement for the noun “bike,” which is singular.

Therefore, the correct pronoun in this case is answer C, “its.”

Practice Question 3: Conventions of Usage (frequently confused words example)

While walking home from school, Lena thought that she saw a bear, but it turned out to be an allusion.

B. being an allusion.
C. to be an illusion.
D. being an illusion.

In this example, “allusion” is used incorrectly for the word “illusion.” Therefore, C is the correct answer.

Practice Question 4: Conventions of Usage

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is the world’s largest steel arch bridge. It 1 was not only a famous and beautiful landmark, it is also a vital transit structure that connects the northern and southern shores of Sydney.

B. is
C. has been
D. were

Answer A, “No Change” isn’t an option since the verb tense is incorrect. Answer choice C, “has been,” is also an incorrect verb tense. Answer choice D isn’t an option, as “were” is incorrect subject/verb agreement.

Therefore, answer choice B, “is,” is the correct answer to make the answer present tense and consistent in that tense.

Conventions of punctuation include commas and dashes within sentences, apostrophes indicating possession, commas separating items in a series, commas separating parenthetical information and punctuation wrongfully included in a sentence.

Practice Question 5: Conventions of Punctuation

The gentleman in front of me moved so slowly—without a care in the world, that I missed my train.

B. world—that
C. world; that
D. world! That

Notice that in this example, a complete break in thought interrupts the sentence. The writer needs a second dash to set off the break in thought, so B is the correct answer here. 

Practice Question 6: Conventions of Punctuation

Emmas day was going well until his history teacher surprised the class with a quiz.

B. Emmas'
C. Emma's
D. Emmas's

The correct answer is C. A singular possessive noun needs an apostrophe and “s.”

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Tip 2: Keep the Big Picture in Mind

Some questions will ask you to examine the entire passage. Be sure you understand the author’s message and purpose when answering these questions. Choose answers that are consistent with the central ideas and purpose of the text. Be sure your answer choice makes sense within the context of the paragraph and the passage as a whole.

Tip 3: Make Sure Answers are Precise

One type of question asks you to revise a portion of a text for appropriate word choice. When you revise for word choice, you determine the most precise, or exact, word to use to convey the author’s intended message. When you come to a question about word choice, follow these steps to choose the best answer:

STEP 1: Read two sentences before and after the underlined word or phrase.

STEP 2: Determine the meaning of the sentence and the word or phrase in question.

STEP 3: Read each answer choice in context.

STEP 4: Select the most contextually appropriate word or phrase.

Read the excerpt. Then use these tips to answer the SAT Writing and Language practice problem

Practice question: The author has always been a 1 solid and thoughtful writer. In her memoir, she excavates the most significant relationships in her life to uncover truths about human nature. She uses her experiences to talk about topics that are universal: love, loss, and redemption.

B. serious
C. hard
D. impenetrable

The SAT tests your ability to choose a precise word based on context. Here, the word “solid” conveys a connotation of something hard or impenetrable, which does not fit the context of the sentence. Answer B, “serious,” better describes someone who wrote a memoir about love, loss and redemption.

Tip 4: Make Sure Answers are Concise

A concise sentence will have a clear meaning while avoiding unnecessary wordiness. Watch out for answer choices that correct wordiness but introduce punctuation or other errors. Also eliminate answer choices that change the meaning of the sentence. If you are deciding between two grammatically correct answer choices, pick the one that is shorter, as it demonstrates the most concise way of expressing an idea.

Read the excerpt. Then use these tips to answer the SAT Writing and Language practice problem

Practice question: Only when consumers stop purchasing products that contain toxic ingredients in them will companies be forced to eliminate toxic ingredients from their product lines.

A. that contains toxins will the companies force
B. containing toxins will companies be forced to eliminate
C. containing toxic ingredients in them, will companies eliminate
D. that in them contain toxic ingredients, will companies be eliminating

Answer choice A is incorrect because it changes the meaning of the sentence. Answer choice C is incorrect as “in them” is redundant. And answer choice D is incorrect because it is an awkward sentence.

The most concise answer is B: “containing toxins will companies be forced to eliminate.” Reread the sentence replacing the underlined portion with answer B to see how it flows better and is much more concise.

Tip 5: Eliminate the Unnecessary

Another way to determine how best to correct a writing error is to eliminate the unnecessary—to narrow down the sentence to its most essential parts. By doing so, you can better focus on the relationship between sentence parts. Practice the strategy of eliminating the unnecessary when correcting errors in compound nouns and interrupting phrases.

Compound nouns:

A compound noun phrase can be made up of two nouns linked with the word “and.” Often the second noun in the phrase is a pronoun—for example, “John and I.” One way to test whether the pronoun is in the correct case is to remove the first part of the compound noun, leaving only a pronoun.

For example, find the compound noun in the following sentence:

During the criminal investigation, the determined lawyer accused John and he of withholding evidence.

STEP 1: Cross out the first noun and the word “and.”

During the criminal investigation, the determined lawyer accused John and he of withholding evidence.

STEP 2: Determine the meaning of the sentence and the word or phrase in question.

During the criminal investigation, the determined lawyer accused John and he him of withholding evidence.

Interrupting Phrases:

A verb must agree with its subject. Don’t let an interrupting phrase between a subject and verb confuse you. Eliminating the unnecessary phrase can help you determine the correct subject/verb agreement.

For example:

The children who compete for the title of Spelling Bee Champ prepares months in advance.

The correct sentence should be:

The children prepare months in advance.

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