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Writing Section

Question format, types, and content on the SAT

Writing questions on the SAT® have two formats: a direct measure in the form of an essay and multiple-choice questions. Here is a breakdown of the questions:

Question types # of QuestionsTime
Essay 1 25 minutes
Multiple-choice 49 35 minutes (one 25-minute section and one 10-minute section)
 Total: 50 60 minutes

The content covered in the multiple-choice writing questions includes:

Content# of Questions
Improving sentences 25
Identifying sentence errors 18
Improving paragraphs 6

SAT essay

The essay is always the first question on the SAT. Students are given 25 minutes to respond to the question by writing an essay in longhand on the answer sheet, using a No. 2 pencil. The essay measures a student's ability to:

  • Develop a point of view on an issue presented in an excerpt
  • Support a point of view using reasoning and examples from their reading, studies, experience, or observations
  • Follow the conventions of Standard Written English

Students are given a prompt or assignment, which is a short (no more than 80 words long) quotation or statement on an issue that is carefully selected to:

  • Enable students to react and respond quickly in a variety of ways
  • Be easily accessible to the general test-taking population, including students for whom English is a second language (ESL)
  • Be free of figurative, technical, or specific literary references

Sample essay prompt

Here is a sample essay prompt:

Essay Prompt:

Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.

Even scientists know that absolute objectivity has yet to be attained. It's the same for absolute truth. But, as many newspaper reporters have observed, the idea of objectivity as a guiding principle is too valuable to be abandoned. Without it, the pursuit of knowledge is hopelessly lost.

Adapted from "Focusing Our Values," Nieman Reports

Assignment: Are people better at making observations, discoveries, and decisions if they remain neutral and impartial? Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

See sample essay responses to this prompt and learn more about how the essay is scored.

View more essay prompts from the most recent SAT administration.

Multiple-choice writing questions

The multiple-choice questions assess students' ability to:

  • Communicate ideas clearly and effectively
  • Improve a piece of writing through revision and editing
  • Recognize and identify sentence-level errors
  • Understand grammatical elements and structures and how they relate to each other in a sentence
  • Recognize correctly formed grammatical structures
  • Clearly express ideas through sentence-combining and use of transitional words and phrases
  • Improve coherence of ideas within and among paragraphs

Multiple-choice writing questions are used in three areas:

  1. Improving sentences
    This type of question presents a sentence in which part, or all, of the sentence is underlined, followed by five choices of phrasing to replace the underlined section. The questions assess the ability to:
    • Recognize and correct faults in grammar and sentence structure
    • Recognize effective sentences that follow the conventions of Standard Written English
  2. Identifying sentence errors
    This type of question presents a sentence with four portions underlined. The student is asked to select which of the underlined portions represents a grammatical or usage error, or, if no errors are present, to select choice "E No error." The questions measure the ability to:
    • Recognize faults in grammar and usage
    • Recognize effective sentences that follow the conventions of Standard Written English
  3. Improving paragraphs
    This type of question presents a passage and asks questions about the passage. Some questions refer to particular sentences or parts of sentences and ask the student to improve sentence structure or word choice. Other questions ask the student to consider the organization and development of ideas in the passage. This type of question measures the ability to:
    • Edit and revise sentences in the context of a paragraph or entire essay
    • Organize and develop paragraphs in a coherent and logical manner
    • Apply the conventions of Standard Written English

Reviewing writing concepts

The student pages of this site offer resources that will assist your students, including:

Students can also take a practice test and access more practice materials at SAT Practice.

Customized Entry Pages

Contact

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