Here’s What Students Need to Know About the SAT Writing Section
By Peter, IvyWise Master Tutor
Understanding test content, formatting, and changes are important when preparing for the SAT – especially the writing section. There have been a number of changes to the SAT writing section since the launch of the new exam in 2016, and IvyWise is here to help students better understand how to master this portion of the SAT.
There are two main factors at work in the SAT Writing section. Like the Reading section, the Writing section’s structure has been overhauled to imitate the sort of reading and editing work students complete in school “everyday.” The SAT Writing section, like other sections, also more closely resembles the look and feel of the corresponding ACT section now more than ever.
A More Straightforward Test
The College Board’s description for the redesigned SAT Writing Section begins with the heading “It’s about the everyday” – simply read, identify errors, and fix them. The description is so straightforward; it’s hard to imagine the test had been any other way, but it was! In fact, it’s helpful to look at how the SAT Writing section has evolved over the past 12 years in order to best understand what changes were made for the 2015 SAT redesign and why.
The flow chart below highlights the essential differences in how the pre-2005 SAT, 2005-2015 SAT, and the current SAT test concepts covered overall in the Writing section – grammar, vocabulary, and logical reasoning.
There are two distinct trends that emerge as we look through the test’s history. First, it appears that the questions have become less and less abstract– it’s hard to imagine the SAT fielding those analogy question types that it did before 2005! Both the analogy and error identification question types look comparatively awkward and gimmicky compared to the more natural flow of the current format which now, like its ACT counterpart, features an entire text passage running down the left column of the page and a corresponding flow of questions running down the right.
This new format enables the SAT to field questions types more sophisticated than before, questions that simulate the sort of challenges a student would face editing an in-class essay or taking an AP Language and Composition exam. However, it is also the case that those aspects that had been most conducive to rote memorization – vocabulary and grammar rules – are now de-emphasized in favor of material that is far more difficult to pick up by way of memorization: idiomatic expressions, rhetorical style, and flow of argument.
Context, context context.
The SAT has historically evolved in how it tests for writing and composition skills by expanding the scope of what can be tested, moving from the level of words to sentences to, in the current version, entire paragraphs and passages. The current section takes advantage of its new passage based format by having the student stand in as the editor for the given passage and evaluate the relations between sentences and paragraphs. This level of context-based judgment is new for the SAT.
Usage over Grammar
To be sure, the test still does test grammatical concepts; however, categories such as redundancy, concision, sentence awkwardness, and logical flow of argument now form the foundation of the writing section. This change is motivated in part by what has been a generational shift in how writing and composition is taught in grade school, in order to make the case that a student’s performance on the Writing section correlates to his or her writing work in school as well as the student’s future composition work in university.
Prepare for the Writing, Reading, and Essay section in tandem.
Because of the broadened scope of the SAT writing redesign, every passage in the Reading section is also an opportunity to think about Writing style questions and vice versa; the Essay section as well is an excellent opportunity to apply those editorial-style questions from the Writing section to the essay writing process. This sort of ‘cross-training’ will make one’s preparation for the Writing section as efficient as possible.
Also, be sure to read Peter's other section breakdowns, including his guide to the SAT Reading section.