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Lucas Fink

SAT Writing Question Types

SAT Writing: Aside from the essay…

There are three scored writing sections on the SAT, one of which is the essay. Of course, the essay question (link to “The SAT Essay Prompt”) is something worth picking apart on it’s own, so we won’t worry about it here.

Instead, let’s look at the types of questions that make up the other two writing sections on the SAT.


Type 1: Improving sentences

These are, by far, the most common format of SAT writing question. There are a total of 35 of them on the test, with eleven in the 25 minute writing multiple choice section and fourteen in the final, 10 minute section (which is only improving sentence questions).

They look like this:

Joan has always wanted to be a ventriloquist; she especially wants to use a hobo sloth dummy that her grandfather made, and lessons haven’t been taken by her yet.

  1. made, and lessons haven’t been taken by her yet.
  2. made while her lessons haven’t been taken yet.
  3. made, she didn’t take any lessons, however.
  4. made, but lessons haven’t been taken by her yet.
  5. made although she hasn’t taken lessons yet.

In order to answer the question, you have to find the problem in the underlined section, if there is one, and then choose the best answer to fix whatever the problem is.

And even though these questions have supposedly already located the error for you, they often underline a pretty big chunk of the sentence to work with. Beyond that, they also give you answer choice (A), which has no change, so you need to be able to tell that there’s an error at all.


Type 2: Identifying sentence errors

These look different from any other question on the SAT because they don’t list answer choices under the question. Instead, it’s all put together into one chunk of text.


In the long writing section, there’ll be 18 of these questions. Identifying sentence error questions aren’t all that different from the improving sentences questions above. In a way, they’re easier—you don’t have to know how to solve the problem, only that it exists.


Type 3: Improving paragraphs

You’ll see one set of questions that refers to a mini-reading passage (strewn with errors, of course). There are six questions about the passage in each SAT, and they all test pretty much the same things that improving sentences questions do. There’s one major difference: they often ask you to improve the text by adding or combining sentences, and that means you have to understand the purpose of the text on some level.

Make sure you don’t treat the passage like SAT reading, though. Improving paragraphs questions should be approached a little differently. You can get some practice with the format here on the Magoosh SAT blog, if you’d like.


About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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