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The March 2016 SAT Writing and Language Test: An Overview

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Continuing our look at the revised version of the SAT that will be offered from March 2016 onward, today we’re going to give an overview of the Writing and Language Test. Designed to take the place of the current Writing section, the Writing and Language Test marks a significant change from its predecessor. In addition, it strongly resembles the ACT English Test. If you are more familiar with the ACT than the SAT, or if you plan to study for both exams, this is the section of the new SAT that you should start with.

Differences between SAT Writing and SAT Writing and Language

The current SAT Writing exam includes three types of questions: Improving Sentences, Identifying Errors, and Improving Paragraphs. Improving Sentences questions ask students to pick the best version of a sentence from the choices offered. Indentifying Errors questions require students to simply pick out the grammar error (if there is one) in a sentence. Improving Paragraphs questions involve making a limited number of revisions to an early draft of a short essay. Neither Improving Sentences nor Identifying errors questions require context clues to successfully answer them. Only Improving Paragraphs questions task students with considering how their answer choices relate to a piece of writing as whole.

The Writing and Language Test, on the other hand, is all about context. The exam presents several passages on the left side of the page. Each passage has a series of deliberate errors. Questions are presented on the right side of the page. Each question is directly across from the error that it is asking about. The scope of questions varies widely. Some cover only small grammar errors. Others relate to one or more paragraphs or to the passage as a whole. All require students to consider the context in which they appear to some degree.

Types of Questions on the Writing and Language Test

Questions are grouped into two broad categories based on the English writing skills that they are designed to test. Expression of Ideas questions focus on the effective use of language. These are basically the same as ACT English Rhetorical Skills questions.  Standard English Conventions questions, which are analogous to ACT Usage and Mechanics questions, involve various kinds of grammar errors.

The Expression of Ideas category is further divided into Development, Organization, and Effective Language Use questions. Development questions involve adding, revising, retaining, and deleting material to better achieve a writer’s purpose. This sometimes involves incorporating additional information from a chart, graph, or table. Organization questions ask students to place sentences in their most logical order and to improve introductions, conclusions, and transitions.  Effective Language Use questions deal with choosing the best word(s), consolidating words/sentences/ideas, and maintaining a consistent style and tone.

The Standard English Conventions questions are grouped into the following subcategories: Sentence Structure, Conventions of Usage, and Conventions of Punctuation. Sentence Structure questions test a student’s ability to recognize and correct for sentence formation problems and shifts in sentence construction. Conventions of Usage questions revolve around errors in pronoun usage, possessives, agreement, comparisons, and so forth. Conventions of Punctuation questions deal with end of and mid-sentence punctuation, possessive nouns and pronouns, series/lists, nonrestrictive vs. restrictive clauses, and unnecessary punctuation. Standard English Conventions questions test only those grammar rules that are more or less settled. The test deliberately avoids areas of “disputed usage,” such as the Oxford comma.

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