SAT Tip of the Week: Breaking Down the Writing Section

SAT Tip of the Week - FullFor many students, the writing portion of the SAT is the easiest section to study and prepare for. There a variety of contributing factors towards this phenomenon, but most importantly is the set structure of the writing sections.

Every test will start with the essay. Every test will end with a ten minute, fourteen question writing section. Somewhere in between section two and section seven will be a twenty five minute, thirty five question section. If there are two, you can quickly identify that the writing portion is the experimental section on the test.

The structure provides a measure of comfort to students as they prep for the test. While the math and reading comprehension sections are also fairly predictable, they still have a degree of variability that is not present in writing. Students feel more assured as they enter the test, knowing it will start and end the same way all of the practice tests have. This mental boost plays a major role in helping students get in the right mindset to succeed on the writing section. In addition to this inherent bonus, there are some other easy tips and tricks that can help any student significantly improve their score.

Come in with your essay already written. The prompt is not revealed ahead of time. However, SAT prompts almost exclusively focus on very broad topics. If you have solid examples ahead of time that you feel comfortable applying in any context, you will ace the essay. It is best to use a variety of examples, pulling from current events as well as your education in literature and history.

Most essays should follow the same template on the SAT. The only real difference between practice essays and your real one will be the explanation of your evidence. You should have a template that you feel comfortable with and have it ready to go prior to the test. This will substantially boost your essay performance. Additionally, when you leave the first section feeling great about the test, it can pay off later as you will be mentally engaged and ready to conquer the meat of the test.

Use order of difficulty to your advantage. On the two writing multiple choice sections of the test, the order of difficulty increases as the questions continue. On the twenty five minute section of the test, numbers one through eleven increase in difficulty on each problem. It restarts and continues from number twelve to twenty nine. Thirty through thirty five are improving paragraphs, and the rule does not continue there. On section ten, it will be a straight increase as number one will be the easiest and fourteen the hardest.

While it’s pretty simple to understand this, taking advantage of this structure is a bit harder. Knowing this, it is important to do all the easy ones first. You don’t want to leave any points on the table by spending too much time on a difficult one, and not having time to even analyze an easier question. Furthermore, sometimes some of the more difficult questions will seem like they have no error. A lot of times, these are idiom type questions and are harder to spot errors. Be cognizant of this fact and really examine the question in detail. That being said, if nothing sounds wrong don’t hesitate to go with no error as there are generally a few questions that are correct.

Ignore prepositional phrases. This is something you should be doing on almost every question. I see the most benefit on these with subject-verb agreement questions. There will be three or four questions on each test where the error becomes readily apparent the minute you ignore the prepositional phrase. Just from these questions, you can see a tremendous jump in your scores.

Knowing all this, with a lot of practice and preparation, every student has the ability to ace the writing section. Best of luck and happy studying!

Still need to take the SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, and follow us on Twitter!

Jake Davidson is a Mork Family Scholar at USC and enjoys writing for the school paper as well as participating in various clubs. He has been tutoring privately since the age of 15 and is incredibly excited to help students succeed on the SAT.