On the Writing and Language Test, there are four key ways you can mark up the test:
1) Circle or underline important elements of passages
To do your best, you’ll need to read passages on the Writing and Language Test just as actively as you read the passages on the Reading Test. That means underlining and circling the most important elements so you can stay engaged with the point the author is making.
More on active reading strategies here.
TOP TIP: Understand what the passage is saying! Contrary to what some people think, the SAT Writing and Language Test is not just about grammar. Grammar-related questions (also called “Standard English Conventions”) make up just one part of your score on the Writing and Language test. The other questions (the ones that fall into the “Expression of Ideas” category) require you to understand the point of the passage and the function of each paragraph within it, along with the function of each sentence in each paragraph. Underlining, circling and annotating can help.
2) Circle or underline important elements of questions
Many of the more challenging “Expression of Ideas” questions on the Writing and Language Test tell you very specifically what the correct choice has to do. It can help a lot to zero in on that part of the question, and just do what the question wants.
TOP TIP: A wrong word can disqualify a choice! Always remember that a single word can make a choice wrong. If you find yourself making excuses for a choice, eg: “Well, this could totally work if only…” or “I could see how this might work…”, the choice is probably wrong. If a shoe doesn’t quite fit, try a different pair of shoes. The College Board calls the ELA portion of the SAT “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing” for a reason: the answer to every question will have evidence to support it.
NOTE: Remember that there are many questions on the Writing and Language Test that don’t have questions at all – these are called “stemless” questions and your job is to select the best version of a brief underlined portion of the passage itself. These are always grammar questions that will contribute to your “Standard English Conventions” subscore.
3) Cross out extra words to simplify complex sentences
If you’re having trouble figuring out a grammar question, it can help to simplify the structure of complex sentences by crossing out extra words that describe – or “modify” – the subject or the verb. This can help a lot on subject-verb and pronoun agreement questions like the one below:
[What’s going on here?]
4) Use Process of Elimination!
When you physically cross out a choice you have ruled out, it makes the rest of your task easier on your brain. Bad choices stop being distractions if you don’t look at them again.
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