PSAT Writing and Language: Organization

PSAT Writing and Language: Organization

Organization questions on the PSAT require you to assess the logic and coherence of a Writing & Language passage. These questions differ in scope; you might be asked to organize the writing at the level of the sentence, the paragraph, or even the entire passage.

There are two kinds of PSAT Organization questions:

  • Logical Sequence

    These questions ask you to reorder the sentences in a paragraph or paragraphs in a passage to ensure that information and ideas are logically conveyed.
    When rearranging sentences or paragraphs, begin by determining which sentence or ­paragraph most logically introduces the paragraph or the passage, respectively.

  • Introductions, Conclusions, and Transitions

    These questions task you with improving the beginning or ending of a passage or paragraph, making sure that the transition words, phrases, or sentences are being used effectively not only to connect information and ideas but also to maintain logical structure.
    While introductions and conclusions focus on the beginning and ending of a passage or paragraph, respectively, transitions are a bit more complicated. It’s important to identify what two ideas the transition is linking and how it is doing so. Common types and examples of transitions are listed below.

Contrast Transitions 

  • although
  • but
  • despite
  • even though
  • however
  • in contrast
  • nonetheless
  • on the other hand
  • rather than
  • though
  • unlike
  • while
  • yet

Cause-and-Effect Transitions

  • as a result
  • because
  • consequently
  • since
  • so
  • therefore
  • thus

Continuation Transitions

Providing an example:

  • for example
  • for instance

Showing emphasis:

  • certainly
  • in fact
  • indeed
  • that is

Showing a parallel relationship:

  • also
  • furthermore
  • in addition
  • and
  • moreover


Organization questions require you not only to improve grammar and style but also to ensure that these elements accurately express the author’s logic and reasoning.

Let’s look at the following Writing & Language passage and questions. After the passage, there are two columns. The left column contains test-like questions. The column on the right features the strategic thinking a test expert employs when approaching the passage and questions presented.

Sample PSAT Writing and Language Question 1

Individualized Voting
It has long been believed that the best system of government is one where everyone in a given society would vote on each and every law. Such a system of referendum would prevent corrupt politicians from serving their own self-interests when voting on a law. In the past, such a system could only be considered for small communities, as it would be impossible to execute efficiently on a psatwriting1 large scale. Indeed the existence of modern technology renders this objection moot. If our society so desires it, all of us may one day cast votes on individual laws from the comfort of our homes.

B. large scale, since the
C. large scale, but the
D. large scale; the

  • Is a transition underlined? What is it? Yes, “Indeed” is part of the underlined portion.
  • What kind of transition is “indeed”? A continuation transition that shows emphasis
  • What does the author write before the transition? That “such a system could only be considered for small communities . . .”
  • What does the author write after the transition? That the objection is “moot,” or not debatable
  • Is “indeed” an accurate transition? What kind of transition is necessary here? No, it should be a contrast transition.

  • What answer choice(s) can you eliminate and why? Eliminate (A) because the transition is incorrect as is. Eliminate (B) because “since” also indicates continuation. Eliminate (D) because it eliminates the transition.

  • Plug in the remaining answer choices and select the most correct, concise, and relevant one
  • What is the answer? Choice (C)

Sample PSAT Writing and Language Question 2

Recognizing Expressions
[1] Some psychologists believe that humans have developed special nervous systems capable of recognizing subtle expressions out of necessity, due to the weight of such recognition in human communication. [2] The birds were not only able to distinguish between expressions but were also able to match each correctly to the same expression displayed by photographs with different faces. [3] To test this theory, researchers showed photographs of people displaying emotions of joy, anger, and surprise to a group of trained pigeons. [4] While the experiment’s results do not conclusively prove that the pigeons can comprehend the meaning of the tested expressions, it does cast doubt upon the theory proposed by the psychologists.

2. In order for this paragraph to be cohesive, sentence 3 should be placed
A. where it is now.
B. before sentence 1.
C. after sentence 1.
D. after sentence 4.

  • What is the issue? Sentence 3 is not properly placed within the paragraph.
  • What is sentence 3 about? How scientists tested a theory

  • What answer choice(s) can you eliminate? Eliminate (A) because sentence 3’s location is incorrect as is. Eliminate (B) because the sentence is not a proper introduction to the paragraph. Eliminate (D) because sentence 4 describes the results of the experiment testing the theory.

  • Plug in the remaining answer choices and select the most correct, concise, and relevant one
  • What is the answer? Choice (C)

Sample PSAT Writing and Language Question 3

The Facts of History
 Since studying ancient history in this university many years ago, I had as a special subject “Greece in the period of the Persian Wars.” I collected 15 or 20 volumes on my shelves and took it for granted that there, recorded in these volumes, I had all the facts relating to my subject. Let us assume—it was very nearly true—that those volumes contained all the facts about it that were then known, or could be known. It never occurred to me to inquire by what accident or process of attrition that minute selection of facts, out of all the myriad facts that must have once been known to somebody, had survived to become the facts of history. I suspect that even today one of the fascinations of ancient and medieval history is that it gives us the illusion of having all the facts at our disposal within a manageable compass: the nagging distinction between the facts of history and other facts about the past vanishes because the few known facts are all facts of history.

B. While
C. Despite
D. Before

  • What kind of word is underlined? A transition word
  • What kind of transition is it? Cause and effect
  • Is the transition appropriate given the context of the sentence? No, there’s no particular relationship between the two parts of the sentence.

  • What answer choice(s) can you eliminate? Eliminate (A) because the underlined portion is incorrect as written. “Despite” is a contrast transition, which also doesn’t make sense in context, so eliminate (C). Eliminate (D) because the word “Before” creates a past-to-present transition that doesn’t exist in the sentence.

  • Plug in the remaining answer choices and select the most correct, concise, and relevant one
  • What is the answer? Choice (B)

PSAT Writing and Language Practice Question Explanations

Question 1
When a transition is underlined, make sure it correctly connects the ideas on either side of it. The underlined transition, “Indeed,” shows continuation and emphasis, but the two ideas it separates are contrasting. Therefore, a contrast transition is needed. Choice (C) accomplishes this.
Question 2
When reordering a sentence within a paragraph, pay attention to how the sentence begins so you can figure out what it should logically follow. The sentence in question begins with the phrase “To test this theory.” Therefore, sentence 3 must follow a sentence that states a theory. Sentence 1 states what “some psychologists . . . believe,” so the correct answer is (C).
Question 3
Introductions to sentences with multiple clauses should accurately set up the relationship between those clauses. The sentence to which the underlined portion of the text belongs conveys that the narrator specialized in a specific period when he was studying ancient history. Therefore, the sentence’s two clauses occupy the same period of time. Choice (B) accurately expresses this contemporaneous relationship.

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