Test Prep

3 Things to Avoid on SAT Writing and Language

iStock

Trying to find the key to acing the SAT? Well, I’ll tell you that understanding how each section is scored can be half the battle. For the SAT Writing and Language test, it might seem like an impossible objective. Can you really test writing with multiple-choice questions? From the perspective of the test makers, the answer is a definite yes.

There are plenty of strategies for SAT Writing and Language, but I often find that learning from other students’ mistakes can be just as important in your SAT prep. And because each section is different, I’ve put together a list of the mistakes most commonly made on the Writing and Language section. Read on to learn how to avoid these pitfalls on test day!


Trying to Be A Grammar Expert

A big misconception about the SAT is that the test expects you to be a master of the English language. That’s simply not true. The test makers tend to play it safe and only offer questions with answers that are 100 percent, without a doubt, correct.

This means the test writers are looking for very simple requirements when posing your answer choices. Essentially, you need to check one of three things for any given sentence:

- Is it consistent?

- Is it precise?

- Is it concise?

Don’t overcomplicate the questions by thinking that you’re expected to make the passages sound nicer, fancier or prettier — that is never the goal of the SAT. In fact, when choosing between a “fun and exciting” answer and a “boring but correct” answer, go with the boring answer!

Playing It by Ear

Speaking of the way sentences sound, wouldn’t it be great if all we had to do was listen to an answer to determine its accuracy? In a perfect world, that’s all we would have to go on! But the ways in which we speak to one another can be different from the way we write. And you can bet the writers of the SAT are counting on that — they’ll often place answers that sound correct among your options, knowing that the familiar sound may prompt you to choose one of them.

Let’s look at an example:

According to the report, the committee said they disagree with the findings of the study.

This sentence sounds correct, doesn’t it? Sure, but it actually has a glaring pronoun-noun agreement error! That they disagree is plural when it really shouldn’t be. Since it is “the committee” that disagrees (and collective nouns such as “committee” are singular), the pronoun should be “it” -- not “they.”

So, if you’re basing an answer on the way a sentence sounds, make sure you double-check the context to avoid missing an otherwise easy question.

Ignoring the Passage

Each question on the Writing and Language section is going to isolate a specific part of the passage. If you’re only being asked about a few words, then the answer must reside within that sentence, right? Wrong! The information you need will always be in the passage, but the necessary context isn’t necessarily right there!

The writers of the test anticipate that students will want to save time by reading as little as possible, and so they provide answers that work for the immediate section, but not the larger sentence or passage. Do yourself a favor and read a little beyond what’s underlined — doing so can save you and your score. This is especially important with long sentences that contain an underlined portion early in the sentence – if you don’t start by reading at least the entire sentence BEFORE you answer the question, you’re likely to fall into one of the SAT’s traps!

This is far from a full list of the mistakes students make on the SAT — each student is different, so everyone is bound to make unique mistakes, too! That’s why it’s important to take practice tests before the big day, so you can become familiar with the test and how you react to it under realistic testing conditions. It’s also great to use guides like our Cracking the SAT for more tips and tricks on how to score well on each section. Once you know what you need, you can put together a comprehensive course for your SAT prep, and be on your way to a higher score!