5 SAT writing tips

5 Must-Know SAT Writing Tips

The SAT Writing & Language Test is the second section on the SAT, and it tests you on both grammar and effective use of language. The SAT Writing section consists of 44 questions to complete in 35 minutes, which means you have less than a minute to complete each question. While this may seem fast, it is very doable with the right approach. The tips below will help you work through this section accurately and efficiently.

[ RELATED: Top 5 SAT Math Tips & Top 5 SAT Reading Tips ]

SAT Writing Tip #1

Answer questions as you read

With roughly 48 seconds to answer each question, you certainly don’t have time to read with much depth. Begin skimming through the passage to understand the main idea and to identify the style. When you encounter an underlined segment, determine the issue—if there is one—and select the best answer choice.

SAT Writing Tip #2

Save longer questions for the end

In addition to the underlined segments scattered throughout the passage, you will also see actual question stems that may ask you about sentence or paragraph placement. Alternatively, they could ask you to determine whether the passage accomplishes the author’s intended purpose and why or why not. Since these questions are based on the passage as a whole, they are better answered after you’ve read through the whole passage.

SAT Writing Tip #3

Make sure your answer is both concise and relevant

When more than one choice seems to work well grammatically in the passage, you should gravitate towards shorter choices to eliminate wordiness. Furthermore, if an answer choice seems to go off-topic, eliminate it immediately. The correct answer will always be relevant to the material surrounding it.

SAT Writing Tip #4

Know your punctuation

Roughly two questions per passage on the Writing & Language section will specifically test you on punctuation, and you’ll be able to use your punctuating skills to answer many others. Below is a summary of some important punctuation rules.

Commas (,) are used for many different reasons, but the SAT tests them in four main ways:

  • Separate three or more items in a list (apples, bananas, and oranges)
  • Separate two or more independent clauses with a FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So) conjunction (My mom was going to pick me up from school, but my dad came instead.)
  • Set off introductory information from the rest of the sentence (In 2008, the Phillies won the World Series.)
  • Set off non-essential descriptive information within or at the end of a sentence (I ran across the floor, which was painted with school colors, to meet Steve. OR I ran across the floor to meet Steve, who greeted me with a high five.)

Semicolons (;) are used to join two independent clauses without the use of a FANBOYS conjunction.

The sentences on both sides of a semicolon must be complete and able to stand alone. (I entered the competition early; however, I decided to withdraw a week later.)

Colons (:) are used to introduce and/or emphasize short phrases, quotations, explanations, examples, or lists.

The portion of the sentence before the colon must be an independent clause. (The greatest obstacle to completing my homework was imminent: the finale of Grey’s Anatomy.)

Dashes (—) have 2 main purposes:

  • Indicate a hesitation/break in thought (I saw John the other day and he looked great—no, it was actually Greg.)
  • Set off an explanatory example or list from the rest of the sentence. (Many facets of Jill’s personality—among them empathy, respect, and kindness—make her a great friend and human being.)

Apostrophes (‘) also have 2 main purposes:

  • Indicate possession (Bob’s book, my friends’ phones)
  • Create contractions (there’s the rabbit, it’s important, who’s in charge)

SAT Writing Tip #5

Know the possible relationships between ideas

Questions on the Writing & Language Test will ask you to make appropriate and effective transitions between ideas. In general, there are 4 relationships you’ll need to know, and you should select the right type of transition word to establish the correct relationship.

When you see a transition word underlined, ask yourself, “How are these ideas related?”

  1. Reinforcement means one idea supports or builds off another, so transitions to use include in addition, furthermore, for example, and also, among others.
  2. Contrast means one idea opposes another. Here, the right transitions might be however, on the other hand, despite, and unlike.
  3. Cause-and-effect means one idea directly leads to another. To indicate this relationship, use transitions like consequently, therefore, since, and because.
  4. Sequence transitions are used for items part of a series. Words like first, then, afterwards, and finally would establish this relationship.