PSAT Writing and Language: Passage Types

PSAT Writing and Language: Passage Types

You will see four Writing & Language passages on the PSAT, each of which will have 11 questions. Recognizing the text type of a Writing & Language passage helps you focus on the questions as they relate to the passage’s general purpose. Knowing the overarching aim of the passage will help you answer questions more efficiently and accurately.

Writing & Language Passage Types
1–2 Argumentative texts Author will advocate a point, idea, or proposal
1–2 Informative/Explanatory texts Author will explain, describe, or analyze a topic in order to impart information without necessarily advocating
1 Nonfiction Narrative text Author will use a story-like approach to convey information or ideas


The PSAT rewards critical thinking in context. Pay attention to the text type to answer Writing & Language questions more efficiently.

Let’s look at three short Writing & Language passage excerpts (without errors) and see how a PSAT expert identifies the text type of each. The left column features the passage excerpt, while the right column demonstrates the strategic thinking a test expert employs when identifying Writing & Language text types.

Sample Argumentative Passage

It has long been believed that the best system of government is one in which 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 large scale. However, 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.

Strategic Thinking

  •  What does the opening phrase, “It has long been believed,” suggest? The author might be challenging a belief or advocating something against that belief.
  • What does the word “however” indicate? A change in direction in the passage
  • What is the author advocating? Voting from home
  • What text type is this? Argumentative

Sample Informative/Explanatory Passage

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. To test this theory, researchers showed photographs of people displaying emotions of joy, anger, and surprise to a group of trained pigeons. 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. 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.

Strategic Thinking

  • What does the introductory phrase, “Some psychologists believe,” indicate? That the author is reporting on a behavior or phenomenon
  • What other phrases indicate this “reporting” approach? “To test this theory, researchers . . . ” and “While the experiment’s results . . .”
  • What is the author describing in this passage? A theory of expression recognition
  • What text type is this? Informative/Explanatory

Sample Nonfiction Narrative Passage

When 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.

Strategic Thinking

  • How is this passage different from the previous two passages? It is written in the first person.
  • How do you know? The author uses personal pronouns such as “I” and “me.”
  • What text type is this? Nonfiction narrative

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