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SAT Writing

Teacher/Instructor Eva Holtz
Eva Holtz

Harvard University
Perfect scores on the SAT and 4 SATIIs

Eva is a certified admissions counselor and the founder of PrepPoint, a premier test prep company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Welcome to the writing section. I know you must be totally excited to be here because who doesn't love grammar and essays? Okay so most people don't but the good news is that you can get comfortable with the essay and what the graders are expecting and learn some grammar that's pretty easy to get used to and shows a up a ton on the test and do great on test day. So I also want to make you a little more comfortable by introducing you to the ingredients of the test and the structure of the test so you know what to expect.
Let's start by talking about the essay, first of all it's going to be 25 minutes long and they're going to give you a prompt so you'll know what to write on and for details on that, check out the episode on the essay that goes into way more detail. You should also know that it's worth about a third of your overall writing score. There is of course the multiple choice as well and that's going to be one 25 minute section and also a single ten minute section later in the test and that's going to be two thirds of your overall writing score. Now let's see what those three multiple choice question types are.
First of all you have identifying errors; you also have improving sentences and finally improving paragraphs. Now let's look at more detail on those three types. So the first type of essay to your writing problem I'm going to introduce you to is, identifying errors. Basically I want you to have a look at it; you're going to be presented with four underlined words or phrases and no error at the end. You just have to find the one that is grammatically incorrect or stylistically incorrect, which means it sounds really bad. Let's talk about some other things you should know about the identifying errors question type. You should find the underlined portion that's wrong, like I just said, and you always want to do these first. They are pretty fast because first of all they're short and second of all what's really nice is that the portions of the sentence are underlined. So they are telling you where to look for the wrong part of the sentence, they are really directing your attention, it's pretty easy. By the way, no error, the last answer choice, is right one fifth of the time. It makes some people nervous to choose no error but it's right just as much as any other answer choices. And lastly keep in mind that only an underlined part can be wrong. A lot of times people see something that sounds weird in front of an underlined part or right after an underlined part and that makes them want to pick the underlined part, but if you cannot fix the error by changing around the underlined part, that's not the answer you should be picking. So keep that in mind.
The next question type is going to be this one and this is improving sentences. This one's pretty overwhelming you can imagine why you'd want to do this after the last question type. It can take more time and be more confusing so let's see what you should know about this question type. First of all you should consider the given sentence of first draft and you should go looking for an improved version among the answer choices and FYI, the first answer choice is always going to be a repeat of what's already underlined in the original sentence. So one nice thing about that fact is if you read the original sentence and you can tell it's wrong, you can automatically eliminate answer choice A and keep on zooming through the answer choices, save time that way. Also it's important to read the answer choices in context.
A lot of times students will just look at the underlined part and just look at the answer choices that replace the underlined part and if they find something there that sounds fine, they assume they automatically have found the right answer but sometimes a change in the underlined part fixes the underlined part and then breaks a different part of the sentence. So before choosing an answer choice, plug it in, read it in context and see if the whole sentence sounds fine with the choice you're thinking of picking. And lastly, you want to know that the right answer will be grammatically correct, yes, but also well written so that means concise, it sounds elegant and basically sounds like good writing.
So the third multiple choice question type is improving paragraphs. Now this one you want to leave for last because it can be time consuming. As you can see there's a passage on the left and a question on the right so there's a lot of reading involved. Now FYI, there are two basic kinds of questions you'll see, some of them like this one are about the author's intents and what he's trying to achieve and the other type is more common, it's about revisions, whether that's editing stuff out, combining stuff together inserting stuff in. Some other things you should know are as follows, the passage you'll be asked to read is usually two to four paragraphs and FYI it's really poorly written so it's going to be quite a different experience than reading a passage from the reading section for instance.
Also you should know that you should start by skimming the whole passage. In addition to giving you a picture of what it's about of course, it will also give you a sense for the author's tone and purpose, which there may be questions about. And lastly you should know that most questions ask you to revise, that could mean cutting content out, inserting content, clarifying content that's already there, stuff like that. So those are the three question types that will come up in the multiple choice writing section.
So the bottom line is that we have an essay and that's one third of your score and a 25 minute section. There's also the multiple choice which is two thirds of your score broken up into a 25 minute section and a ten minute section. Within that multiple choice there are three question types, the identifying errors, the improving sentences and the improving paragraphs and don't worry if it seems like a lot of information all at once, we're definitely going to go deeper in our individual lessons in the writing section so for instance we'll go over grammatical concepts like modifiers, commas places, subject verb agreement and you'll get a chance to get comfortable with those grammar rules and we'll also do practice problems in each section so you can see sample SAT problems in action and get comfortable with how you approach them, what wrong answers look like, what right answers look like and how to do better on test day.