The writing test was added to the SAT in March, 2005. However, parts of it have been around in one form or another as part of the PSAT, the SAT II, and editions of the SAT for over 40 years. So this kind of test is nothing new for your opponents, the staff at the College Board. In fact, if you took the PSAT, you’ve already experienced the majority of the writing test. You just haven’t written the essay.

There are two major subsections of the test: an actual writing sample that is referred to as “The Essay”, and a series of multiple-choice editing exercises.

The Essay

You will have 25 minutes to write a short, first-draft essay as part of the test. The good news is that it is the first section of the test, so you will be getting it behind you right away.

Your essay will comprise only 30% of your total writing score. Two highly trained and experienced professionals will score your essay on a scale of 0-6. Their scores will be added together to give you a final score from 0-12. If the scores of the two scorers are more than one point apart, a scoring specialist will evaluate your essay and that score, after being doubled, will become your final score. In short, don’t worry about whether the scoring will be fair or not. It will be and there are safeguards to assure you that your final score represents an accurate assessment of your essay. In fact, there are only three ways you can get a “0.” The first one is if you fail to address the topic presented by the test question (the prompt). The second one is if your writing is illegible. If your cursive is hard to read, I recommend you print your essay. Of course, if you leave it blank, you’ll get a “0” too!

The College Board understands you only have 25 minutes to complete the essay. That’s not much. So they are not looking for a finely polished sample of your writing. The scorers will treat it as a “first draft.” They are primarily looking for overall criteria such as: a focus on the topic, support for your position, organization, use of language, sentence structure, and grammar.


Two sections of the test will assess your editing skills and determine 70% of your writing score. (Maybe if you score high enough the College Board will hire you to grade essays next year! Just kidding.) You will see three different formats of multiple-choice editing exercises. I have different names for them than the College Board since mine represent what you need to do on the test rather than what the question assesses (College Board’s name for them). I refer to them as “Find the Error,” “Fix the Sentence,” and “Fix the Passage.”

Find the Error

There are 18 multiple-choice questions that test your ability to recognize grammar and usage errors. They are question numbers 12-29 in the first multiple-choice writing section of the test. They are organized from easy to hard.

You will see a sentence that has four underlined parts labeled “A” through “D.” You will need to look at the underlined words or phrases to see if any of them is a grammar or usage error. If there isn’t one, the answer will be “E”—No error. The good news is that you don’t have to fix the error—just find it! For example:

Me and my friends went to the mall
this past weekend to see a movie and to shop
for some new school clothes. No error


Fix the Sentence

There are 25 multiple-choice questions that require you to fix a specific, underlined portion or all of a sentence. There are 11 questions in the first writing section. Fourteen more of these questions will be the only questions in the last section of the test. The Fix the Sentence questions are always arranged from easy to hard.

Fix the Sentence questions are somewhat more challenging than Find the Error questions. The good news is that you don’t have to find the problem in the sentence because the test writer underlines it. The bad news is you have to fix it by picking the best revision. Of course, to keep the whole process from being too easy, answer “A” will always repeat the underlined part of the sentence just as it originally appeared. So if the original underlined section is better than all the alternatives, you don’t make a change. Pick “A.”

Here’s a sample question.

Kristi had many friends that she could count on when she needed help.

A)    that

B)    whom

C)    who

D)    which

E)    whose

Answer #2

Fix the Passage

Six multiple-choice questions require you to edit a short passage. They will be the last six items on the first writing test section. They are not organized from easy to hard; rather, they are organized sequentially based on how they relate to the passage.

The section will begin with a short passage that is approximately a half column in length—about 12-15 sentences. Then the 6 questions will refer you to specific places, sentences, or words in the passage and ask you to improve them. Some sentences ask you to address issues of organization and/or development. The key will be your ability to use the requirement of standard written English.

You will see questions that ask you to do things like:

  1. describe relationships between sentences,

  2. insert new sentences,

  3. change a sentence or phrase,

  4. insert, delete or change words,

  5. insert, delete or change sentences,

  6. modify structure, like insert a paragraph break,

  7. recognize writing strategies, and

  8. understand the effects of the written word.

The thing you need to remember is that this is a test of written, not spoken, English. How you and your friends speak may not be a good guideline. You need to understand the standards of written English and use them on the test.

 For a terrific review of common written English errors, take a look at the following website:


Writing Homework

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