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The SAT: How to Prep for SAT Writing and Critical Reading

More and more Canadian universities are requesting the SAT test as one of the requirements for admission. I am delighted to have our guest blogger back again today, sharing how to study for the SAT Writing and Critical Reading portions of the SAT test for your homeschooler! Be sure to check out the great links she’s included! Click here for last week’s post on How to Study for SAT Math. ~ Kimberly

The SAT: Writing and Critical Reading

The SAT “Verbal” consists of three multiple-choice Critical Reading sections and two Writing sections. The Critical Reading sections have two types of questions: Sentence Completions and Reading Comprehension passages. The Writing sections have three types of questions: Improving Sentences, Identifying Sentence Errors, and Improving Paragraphs.

To start getting familiar with the types of problems you’ll see on Test Day, buy the blue Official Guide. Once you register from the test online, and explore the SAT College Board site, you’ll need to get busy with some serious practice questions. You can buy the OG here:  It’s $22, but contains 10 official SAT Practice Tests with answer keys, as well as strategy advice and tips for handling every question-type. It’ll be a vital resource in your studies. Here’s some quick tips to jumpstart your SAT Verbal studies:

Develop a step-by-step strategy for each question-typec. Since each of the 5 question-types that make up the Writing and Reading sections are very different, you’ll need a specific approach for each one. However, for all of them you’ll want to think critically and try to predict the correct answer before looking at the answer choices.

Build your knowledge of the tested concepts. The best thing about the SAT Writing sections is that it only tests about a dozen grammar concepts:

·         Idioms

·         Run-ons and sentence fragments

·         Wordiness

·         Parallelism

·         Subject-verb agreement

·         Transitions

·         Modifiers

·         Pronouns

·         Verb tenses

·         Comparisons

·         Passive voice

Learn these concepts and you’ll be able to recognize the errors on most of the questions!

Circle, underline, and take notes on the Reading passages as you read. The longer reading passages take a lot of mental focus and energy, so be sure to read actively. Circle keywords that help indicate the author’s opinion or point of view, and write down the author’s purpose next to each paragraph.

For short passages, read the questions first. Shorter passages will only have 1-2 questions, so it’s fine to read the question stems first. That way, you’ll know what to look for as you read. Longer passages can have anywhere between 5-13 questions, so it’s much more difficult to remember the stems.

Try to think like the test-makers. Try to develop an understanding of what the test-makers “prefer” in terms of the answer choices. For example, after studying the SAT Writing sections for some time you’ll notice how overall the SAT test-makers prefer less wordiness and economy of language. This kind of understanding will help you make better “educated guesses” on harder problems.

For tough vocab on Sentence Completions, look for prefixes, suffixes, and word roots. Harder vocabulary words can often be broken down into their component parts. Always ask yourself: do I see parts of this word in other words? If we didn’t know what “diction” meant, we could still see that it looks like “dictionary” and “dictate” which both have to do with words. Therefore, it’s a good guess that the prefix “dict-“ has to mean “word.”

Finally, learn the directions early. Don’t waste valuable time on your SAT test day reading and re-reading instructions. Each question-type has its own set of directions. Familiarize yourself with them now, so you can save time the day of the exam.

Vivian Kerr is a Los Angeles-based test prep tutor, blogger, and content creator for Learnist with 7+ years experience. She offers tutoring online via Skype for all sections of the SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT with