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Strategies for the Writing Section 1,645 views

Teacher/Instructor Danielle DeLancey
Danielle DeLancey

Harvard University
PSAT expert

Danielle is a high scorer on the PSAT, National Merit Scholarship finalist and "Teach for America" corps member. She has masters in Education from Harvard University.

The newest section on the PSAT is the writing section. And it’s the one that students often time think it’s the hardest. Let’s take a look at exactly what you’re going to see on the writing section.

As I mentioned, there is one 30-minute section for the writing. Unlike the SAT, there is no essay on the PSAT, which is a great thing. Essays can take a lot of energy and a lot of work, but this is just multiple choice questions.

Now, you’re going to have three question types. The first type that you’re going to have is something called an Identifying Errors Questions. Let’s take a look at what one of this question types looks like.

Here we have an example of an Identify Errors Question. As you can see, you’re just going to have a sentence. Sometimes it’s long, sometimes it’s short. And you're going to have four things in the sentence underlined. These things are A, B, C, D, these are your answer choices. What you’re also going to have is you’re going to have something at the end it says no error, which his designated with E as an answer choice.

What you’re required to do in these sentences, is to first determine if there is an error. If there is an error, you have to identify which of the answer choices is incorrect. And then bubble that corresponding mistake on your answer sheet. It’s actually pretty easy. These are some of the simplest questions to do on the PSAT and the SAT. So often times, you should really do these first.

The other type of question that you’re going to see, is something called an Improving Sentence Questions, these are a little bit long than the Identifying Errors Questions. Let’s take a look at one of those looks like.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and then we have a whole section underlined. And it says, “A museum which upon opening in 1935 opened being the first museum on the west coast.” And then the rest of the sentence. What you’re required to do and the for the PAST and for the SAT, is to look at each of these answer choices, and to identify which one would work best.

Now something that’s a little bit tricky, that takes students a little bit to get is that the answer choice A is always the same as what’s underlined in the sentence. So if there is no change, or like the Identifying Errors Questions no error, you’re always going to pick A.

Now, the answer choices are either going to be ones that say the meaning of the sentence better, or ones that don’t contain grammatical errors. So it’s really important to know your grammar rules and then to also be comfortable enough with them in application, that you can answer these types of questions.

The third and the final question type in the writing section, is something called Improving Paragraphs. Now these are often times the longest ones. You’re only going to have a couple of them on the PSAT and the SAT, but they are still really important.

Now let’s take a look at what an Improving Paragraphs Questions will look like. On the PSAT, like the SAT, you’re going to have a couple of this. And you’re going to basically have one to two paragraphs that have numbers next to the sentences. Now these numbers aren’t random. Basically the numbers help you identify which order the sentences occur in the improving paragraphs questions. So that way it’s easier to answer the questions on the left. So for example, a question will look like, "Sentences 1 and 2 in the passage are best described as what?"

It really helps to have these numbers on the paragraph, and to know what they mean so that you can answer the questions a lot more easily. So in a nut shell, those are the three types of questions you’re going to see on the PSAT writing section. As you improve and as you practice, you’re going to become much more familiar with them. And you'll probably find which one you’re most comfortable with so that you can answer those first.

Let’s take a look at a couple of strategies that you can use on the writing section, that are really going to help you out.

Well the writing section of the PSAT, and the SAT for that matter, is really content heavy. There are a few things that you can remember, when studying for the writing section of the PSAT and while taking it.

The first, avoid long and wordy answer choices. Well what do I mean by this? Let’s take a look at few examples. Now, you’re not going to see sentences like this in the PSAT. But what you are going to see is improving sentence questions or identifying errors that contains in the same concepts. What you want to do is, you want to make sure that the answer choice that you select, isn’t wordy or redundant. Now we may speak like this in our everyday lives, but on the SAT and PSAT, it’s not really correct.

Let’s take a look at what I mean. In order to reduce the rate of criminal activity, the building will constantly be monitored at all times. Sounds okay and technically it is. There are a few things you can do, in order to make the sentence better. First, you can eliminate redundancy or wordiness. Let’s see, Constantly means the same thing as all times. If we eliminated the words 'at all times', the sentence would still mean the same. Also crime means the same thing as rate of criminal activity same thing as crime. If you substituted the word crime for rate of criminal activity, the sentence would still be correct. Let’s go ahead and read it, "In order to reduce crime the building will constantly be monitored," it makes sense.

However, we could even go a step further. You could eliminate the words 'in order', again the sentence still make sense. "To reduce crime the building will constantly be monitored." Now it’s short and it's sweet. And when you have answer choices that eliminate redundancy or wordiness, chances are they’re going to be correct.

Let’s take a look at one more example. "The award-winning typist’s per-minute typing speed reached up to 120 words per minute." Again, grammatically correct it makes sense. But there is a better way that we could say it. Let’s take a look. Well we repeat the words per minute twice. So if you go ahead and eliminate this last one 'per minute', it actually still makes sense. "The award-winning typist per minute typing speed reached up to 120", it makes sense.

Now we also repeat the word typist and typing. Well since she is a typist, we know that she is typing right? What else would she be doing? Let’s go ahead and reduce the word typing. So here we have the shortest and most concise way to say this sentence. "The award winning typist per minute speed reached up to 120." Short sweet, still makes sense and it’s grammatically correct. If you see an answer choice that eliminates redundancy and wordiness in the writing section, choice it. It’s going to be correct most of the time.

The second strategy that you’re going to want to know, remember, is to Read Literally. Now, when we talk in everyday language when we're not taking the PSAT, often times we say things that when you read it literally, or say it literally, doesn’t make sense. What do I mean by this?

Let’s take a look; "Delightfully sweet, the bakery sold out of the cupcakes within thirty minutes." Well sounds okay, but if you look at this part right here, which is actually technically called the modifier. The modifier describes the noun following it. So it says delightfully sweet the bakery. Well is the bakery delightful sweet? No. What they’re really talking about being delightfully sweet, is the cupcakes. But when you read this literally, it doesn’t make sense. Even though when you talk in everyday language, you may say things like this all the time. Be really careful to read literally and not only the PSAT, but also the SAT. It’s really going to help you out.

The second thing; "Compared to last week, this week’s weather is far more mild." I think I even said this morning, it sounds right. But what you’re actually doing, is you’re comparing last week to this week’s weather. You can't compare weather to a week, or to time. It doesn’t really quite makes sense. But when you speak in everyday language, you say stuff like this. Be really careful to read something literally, and to determine what the question is saying or what it’s describing. It will really help you out. Do this with not only the answer choices, but with the question itself.

Let’s take a look at the third strategy that’s really going to help. Reviewing your grammar rules. Now, this is painful. A lot of people just don’t get grammar, I’m one of them. I’m not a grammar expert at all. But when you take the PSAT, if you’re weak on some of the grammatical rules, it’s really important to brush up. Some of the ones that occur most often are rules with pronoun reference, pronoun case, modifier, paralysis all those things that just make you cringe when you hear them. Pull out your textbook, pull out the grammar book. Go ahead and just review those rules that show up the most often.

The fourth and the final thing you can do when taking the writing section, is to be comfortable with No CHANGE. Remember, no change is an answer choice approximately 20% of the time. Statistically, that also means that it’s correct twenty percent of the time. People always think that there is a mistake, when you’re looking at the answer choices or answering the question. But that’s not always the case. Be comfortable with it. Remember, it’s going to show up and be correct about 20% of the time.

So I know that the PSAT writing section can cause a lot of grief, and people can get really stressed out about it. But remember, you can’t lose when taking the PSAT. At the very least you will get a detailed report that will tell you which grammatical rules to brush up on. And you’ll get great practice for taking the SAT. So do your best, remember this strategies and you’ll do great when you sit down to take the test.