Joining the chorus

There are a lot of great standardized test sites on the Internet, and I read them all frequently. You should, too. They give sage advice about how to succeed on a range of tests.

I’d like to add my voice to the chorus, and maybe sing a solo every once in a while, too. To start, I’ll give my own basic rundown of the parts of the SAT with which I have the most experience: the Critical Reading and Writing tests. Today, we’ll talk a little bit about the latter test:


The Writing test consists of three sections. The lowest score you can get is a 200; the highest, an 800.

The first (and it’s always first; just get used to it) is the essay. You get 25 minutes to record your most profound thoughts on a wide range of philosophical issues. It’s a lot easier than it sounds, I promise. The essay is scored on a 6-point scale by two readers; the sum of those two numbers is your final essay score. It accounts for around 30 percent of your score, but its ultimate importance relies on your multiple choice score.

Sections 2 and 3 are usually Math and Reading, and then one of the sections between 4 and 6 is another Writing section, this time a 25-minute multiple choice behemoth of 35 questions. Like Caesar’s Gaul, this section is divided into three parts:

  1. Sentence Correction: For these 11 questions, you must read a sentence, figure out what (if anything) is wrong with it, and then find the answer choice that corrects that error the most stylishly. There are sometimes multiple answers that are grammatically correct, but only one that sounds pretty. Aesthetics matter, on the SAT and in real life. Sentence Correction problems are arranged roughly in order of difficulty, from easiest to hardest–though the well-prepared test-taker often finds that the statistically hard questions are actually quite easy.
  2. Finding the Errors: This part of the long Writing section frequently flummoxes test-takers. Much like those of the previous section, Finding the Errors problems require you to identify a mistake. However, you get no potential corrections. This means you have to rely on your ability to notice errors, not merely your ability to compare different ways of saying something. Well-trained test-takers often find this section to be a breeze, for they know all the common problems. These are also ordered–roughly–from easiest to hardest.
  3. Paragraph Correction: These 6 problems ask questions about two or three paragraphs of a student’s rough draft. In addition to simple grammar questions, they also test your skill in structuring essays and making  contextual connections.

The final section of every SAT, section 10, is also always a Writing section. For these 14 Sentence Correction problems, you get 10 minutes; work fast. Again, the first question is generally easy, and the last question, hard.

So that’s what you’re up against on the Writing portion of the SAT. It’s intimidating for some people, and a superficial glance at the numbers confirms this fear: on average, members of the class of 2012 did more poorly on the Writing section (488) than they did on Math (514) or Reading (496).

But the good news is that you can fix a low score in Writing very, very, very, very, very, very easily, even if you get terrible scores on your grammar in school. Trust me. I’ve helped people improve by as much as 400 points with a few months of practice. Stay tuned over the next few days for some basic tips.

And remember: practice makes perfect. 


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