SAT Answer Plan: How to optimize your score – Writing

This article will discuss tips and tricks for the math section of the SAT and is a continuation of the general SAT tips article. The SAT writing section consists of three subsections: one 25-minute essay, and two multiple choice sections (one 25 minutes long, and the other 10 minutes long). The major area tested in these sections is your ability to spot and correct grammatical and syntactical errors in sentences and paragraphs.

SAT Writing - The Essay

  • Don't go over the length limit You are given two pages to write your essay. That's it. No more. Do not try to fit in more words by cramming information under the last line on the second page. Don't write up the sides in the margins. Graders will look down on this. When practicing the essay, sticking to the line limit is an important skill to learn.
  • Write firmly and clearly First impressions do count. Even though neatness isn't supposed to be a graded area, you can bet that graders sitting in dark, drafty rooms and reading with tired eyes will find any reason to mark down a sloppy paper. You should also know that graders are not reading the original pencil versions of your essay and only have a copy to read. If you do not write firmly, your copy will be of a poor quality and very difficult to read. Do everything you can to make your grader's time with your essay pleasant.
  • Stick to a structure You do not have to write the classic 5-paragraph essay (intro, 3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion) if you don't want to. However, make sure that you have a coherent structure. The 5-paragraph essay will always work, so if you're worried about your structure, stick to it.
  • Use 2-3 examples to support your argument One example isn't enough to make a well-rounded essay. Four examples are too many, and you cannot give the depth to each necessary in only 2 pages. Try to come up with 2-3 solid academic examples to support your point (such as those from history, literature, or current events).
  • Write as if the essay will be read by the admissions committee Try to sound as educated and intelligent as you possibly can on your essay. Do not use any slang (anything appropriate in Instant Messenger or text message conversations is not appropriate for the SAT), do not take any potentially offensive positions (you never know who is going to be reading your essay), and keep your writing simple and on-topic.
  • Practice, practice, practice (and then do that again) The only way your writing skills will improve is if you write essays. When taking practice SATs, don't skip the writing section. Make sure to time yourself and write the best essay you possibly can. You might also want to bring the essay to your English teacher and ask for some feedback. Remind him or her that you wrote it in only 25 minutes and that it should be considered a first draft, hand over the essay and the topic, and see what advice you can get.
  • Read the dedicated SAT essay article for even more tips.

SAT Writing - Multiple Choice

  • Don't rely on what sounds right The writers of SAT questions know that the majority of test takers will simply run through each of the answer choices and say them in their heads and pick whichever one sounds the best. As a result, they are going to make incorrect choices which sound fine, and correct choices that sound hideous. They do this to fool you. Going by your ear won't work. Instead, learn rules of grammar, and see if you can spot and correct the error without looking at the answer choices. If you're absolutely stumped, make an educated guess or skip it and move on.
  • Spelling is tested too No, you won't have to spot misspellings like "edjukated", but you will be expected to know the difference between words like 'discreet' and 'discrete'. Fortunately, these types of questions are pretty rare. If you're having difficulty spotting a grammar problem in the question, try to find any words that are commonly misspelled and see if the correct form is being used. You should also check this article for the top 10 most common word choice questions.
  • Process of elimination helps Sometimes you're not looking for the best answer, but rather the least worst answer. The correct choice may not be the way you would word the sentence, but it still may be grammatically correct nonetheless. The grammar is all that matters.
  • If all else fails, the shortest answer tends to be right This is because the SAT abhors sentences in the passive voice or with needless verbiage. The correct answer will always be short, pointed, and active. If you're stuck between two answer choices, both of which seem to be grammatically correct, pick the shorter one.

Make sure to read my other SAT tips, including general SAT tips, SAT math tips, and SAT reading tips.

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