10 Easy SAT Writing Tips to Get a Perfect Score in 2024

Bonus Material: Download free grammar practice developed by Ivy-League educators

Scoring well on the SAT is an important part of the college admissions process. Even with the new test-optional policies, a strong SAT score will still help students get into college.

What’s more, strong test scores can be used to win scholarships or be admitted to honors programs and other special opportunities.

On the new Digital SAT, the Reading and Writing section combines questions on reading comprehension with questions that test your knowledge of key grammar concepts. The two Reading and Writing modules make up half of your potential score.

Fortunately, effective study and exercises can help students to improve their SAT Reading and Writing scores. Grammar is a set of rules that can be learned and practiced. I should know, because back when I took the SAT I earned a perfect 800 on the Writing section on my first try!

Through following these tips, we’ve helped students to improve their SAT scores by as much as 380 points!

Although the SAT itself is changing in 2024, we’ve got good news: English grammar is staying the same. That means that all of the rules covered in this post apply equally to the new and old versions of the SAT!

For our breakdown of the new, Digital SAT, check out our comprehensive post here.

For more tips and exercises, download our Essential Grammar Workbook!

Jump to section:

Tip #1: Don’t avoid the “no change” answers
Tip #2: Pace yourself
Tip #3: The semicolon trick
Tip #4: Understand dependent vs independent clauses
Tip #5: Shorter is (almost always) better
Tip #6: Read it out loud
Tip #7: Don’t change verb tenses
Tip #8: Know your transition words
Tip #9: Eliminate duplicate answers
Tip #10: Practice!
What is the SAT?
What is the SAT Reading and Writing section?
How is the Reading and Writing section on the SAT scored?
How can students improve on the SAT Reading and Writing section?


Tip #1: Don’t avoid the “No change” answer

One of the easiest ways to improve your performance on the SAT Writing section is to treat the “No change” multiple-choice answer just like any other option.

That’s because there is no difference between “no change” and the other answers. They are all equal contenders. For example, in this example, “no change” is definitely the correct choice!

from SAT Practice Test #1

Students often avoid picking “no change” because they feel like they have to do something to fix the sentence. But the “no change” option is just one of four possible ways of fixing it, all equal. It’s purely a formatting decision that the SAT has made — and it’s changing on the new digital SAT, perhaps because the College Board has realized that it tends to confuse students.


Tip #2: Pace yourself

Pacing is a challenging aspect of every part of the SAT. On the Reading and Writing section, students have two take two “modules,” each of which gives you 32 minutes to answer 27 multiple-choice questions. The questions are not ordered by difficulty on the Reading and Writing section, but the difficulty of the questions in the second module depend on your performance on the first module.

If you spend too much time on a hard question, you’ll potentially run out of time and miss out on the chance to answer several easier questions.

If you find yourself spending more than a minute on a given question, make your best guess and move on. You can mark the question to come back to at the end of the section if you have enough time.

(This is why it’s a great idea to bring a watch with a second hand on test day.)


Tip #3: The semicolon trick

My favorite grammar hack is super short and sweet.

There are a lot of grammar questions about semicolons on the SAT. The semicolon is the punctuation mark that looks like this:

In your own writing, you may rarely use semicolons. However, our theory is that the SAT likes to focus on the semicolon because they’re a great way to check if students understand independent clauses (more on that in the next tip). On the SAT, you’ll see lots of questions like this one:

from SAT Practice Test #1

There’s a great hack to tell if a semicolon is being used appropriately or not. Just replace the semicolon with a period.

Does it work? Do you have two complete sentences, each one with a subject and a main verb? Then great, that semicolon is being used correctly.

Does it leave you with a sentence fragment? Is one of the sentences lacking a subject or a main verb? Then nope, you can’t use a semicolon there.

Check it out in action:

Last summer, my family adopted a dog from the shelter; a black lab mix. → Last summer, my family adopted a dog from the shelter. A black lab mix. (This doesn’t work — the second sentence is a fragment!)

The shelter said the dog was about four years old; however, we’ll never know for sure. → The shelter said the dog was about four years old. However, we’ll never know for sure. (This works — both sentences are complete!)

We named the dog Apollo; after the ancient Greek god. → We named the dog Apollo. After the ancient Greek god.

I had underestimated how much work it was going to be making sure that Apollo got enough exercise every day; but it was worth it knowing that he was happy. → I had underestimated how much work it was going to be making sure that Apollo got enough exercise every day. But it was worth it knowing that he was happy.

My parents were also happy that Apollo was too tired from running and playing with me to make a mess at the house; that had been the one concern that my dad expressed before we got our dog. → My parents were also happy that Apollo was too tired from running and playing with me to make a mess at the house. The one concern that my dad expressed before we got our dog.

I’m looking forward to introducing Apollo to my friends; everyone has been asking to meet him, but we’re taking it slowly so he’s not too overwhelmed. → I’m looking forward to introducing Apollo to my friends. Everyone has been asking to meet him, but we’re taking it slowly so he’s not too overwhelmed.

Using this one trick will help you answer several questions on the SAT correctly!


Tip #4: Understand dependent vs independent clauses

Half of the questions on the SAT Writing section are about grammar, and if we had to pick one single grammar concept to know, it would be understanding how to identify dependent clauses versus independent clauses.

Why? Because so many of the grammar questions are fundamentally about this concept. Once you know how to identify if a clause is independent or dependent, you can memorize a few short rules about how to connect two independent clauses.

In a nutshell, a clause is independent if it can stand on its own as a sentence. With some rare exceptions, it will always have a subject + a main verb.

Here’s some examples, with independent clauses highlighted in green and dependent clauses highlighted in yellow:

Last spring, I took the SAT for the first time.

Some of my friends thought it was easy, but most of my friends thought it was hard.

I’m not sure how I did on the test; I’ll have to wait a few weeks to get my scores back.

Fortunately, when we finished the test we all went out for ice cream together at the little shop that’s near the school.

After I had spent three hours concentrating hard on the test, I felt like I deserved to get an extra scoop of ice cream.

If you have two independent clauses in one sentence, they can be connected with:

  1. A semicolon (or sometimes a colon)
  2. A period (just make them two sentences)
  3. A FANBOYS conjunction: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, or so

On the other hand, if you’re connecting a dependent phrase or clause to the rest of the sentence, you don’t want to use any of the things on this list! Depending on the sentence, you’ll either want no punctuation or just a comma. (We often work on the tougher nuances of this with our tutoring students.)

For more exercises and examples of independent clauses vs dependent clauses, check out our free Essential Grammar Workbook. Thousands of SAT students have used it to improve their Writing scores on the SAT!


Tip #5: Shorter is (almost always) better

Half of the questions on the Reading and Writing section are about grammar and punctuation, but the other half of the questions are about what the SAT calls “Effective Use of Language.”

In other words, the SAT will ask you to judge which version of a sentence or a paragraph is the best one, even if all of them are grammatically correct.

These questions often feel challenging to students because all of the sentences sound okay, and it feels subjective.

However, it’s less subjective than you might think! The trick is to think like a test creator, and know what the SAT considers to be “good writing.”

One of the biggest hacks on the Reading and Writing section is to choose the shortest answer, if all of the answers seem correct grammatically.

That’s because the SAT values concision, which is saying something in the shortest amount of time necessary and not using extra words.

Eliminate words or phrases that are repetitive, and avoid sentences that seem more convoluted than they need to be.

The shortcut here is to simply choose the shortest answer.

Check out this example:

from SAT Practice Test #1 — the correct answer is the shortest one, “A) no change”

Now, once in a while there will be something wrong with the shortest answer, and the correct answer will be the second-shortest answer. So ideally you should double-check your answer after using this shortcut.

But the vast majority of the time, yes, the shortest answer will be the right one.

Using this hack will make sure that you answer up to 18% of the questions on the Reading and Writing section correctly!


Tip #6: Read it out loud

One great way to tell if a sentence has correct grammar is to read it out loud.

When we read silently, our brains tend to “fix” the sentence for us. When we read it out loud, we can more easily “hear” any grammatical mistakes.

Of course, in the real test room on testing day you can’t make sound while you’re taking the SAT. However, it’s still a powerful tool to physically move your mouth as if you’re silently whispering to yourself!

Don’t worry about feeling silly doing this. It’s part of how I scored a perfect 800 on the first try!

student practicing the ACT

This hack is especially useful for determining whether you should have a comma or no comma. If reading the sentence without a pause sounds fine, then you don’t need a comma there!

(Use this to decide if you need punctuation or no punctuation — not what type of punctuation to use. It’s probably impossible to “hear” the difference between a comma and a semicolon, since they’re both a pause, but hearing the difference between a pause and no pause is definitely possible.)


Tip #7: Don’t change verb tenses (without a good reason)

On the Reading and Writing section of the SAT you’ll see lots of questions about verbs.

One easy tip is that you shouldn’t change the tense of the verb unless you have a specific good reason to do so. 

Most of the time, just take a look at the other verbs nearby and match their tense.

Here’s an example of how this will look on the real SAT:

from SAT Practice Test #1

We explain grammar questions involving verbs in a lot more detail in our free Grammar Guide, developed by Princeton graduates.


Tip #8: Know your transition words

Too often, SAT students spend hours trying to memorize vocabulary words with flashcards. 

We don’t recommend this, because it’s not a very effective way of studying and improving your score! It’s hard to memorize words out of context, and the chances that you’ll encounter the exact word you learned on the test is very, very small.

The one exception to this is transition words. These are words that signal how sentences relate logically to one another. Transition words are really important in clear writing!

Usually about 18% of the questions on the SAT Writing section are about transition words. That’s a lot!

Because of that, we do recommend making sure that you know the meaning of all of these transition words:

The SAT will ask you to choose the type of transition that makes sense, like this:

from SAT Practice Test #1

For more practice, check out our free guide to SAT Reading and Writing:


Tip #9: Eliminate duplicate answers

This is a sneaky hack that can be applied to many types of questions on the Reading and Writing section.

If you see two answers in the multiple choice that are essentially the same, you can eliminate both of them.

That’s because the SAT is never going to make you choose between two answers that are equally correct. 

As much as the Writing section might feel subjective at times, it’s really not. There’s always only one right answer, and if you know the rules, the right answer is usually very clear.

That’s how I got a perfect 800 score on the Writing section — I knew the grammar rules and how to pick the most concise or clear version, so it was always clear which answer to choose. I’ve also used the same grammar and writing rules to help professors at Harvard and Yale edit their books for publication!

For example, if you see two choices on a transition-word question that mean the same thing, you can eliminate them both. 

In this example, “in addition” and “also” mean the same thing, so neither of them is correct, because the SAT will never make us choose between them!

Same thing with many grammar questions. If you see both a period and a semicolon in the multiple-choice, neither is correct, because they are grammatically pretty much the same! (see tip #3)

This is an example of how thinking like test creators can help us to answer questions more accurately.


Tip #10: Practice!

In the end, the best way to improve on the Reading and Writing section is to practice.

Drill specific concepts with targeted practice that focuses on that one grammar or writing skill. A great SAT tutor can help you find good exercises for this kind of drill, or even create custom practice sentences to help you truly understand.

Then put everything together by taking full timed practice sections from real SAT tests. Track your progress over time! 

student success

With hard work, our test prep students have improved their SAT scores by as much as 200–400 points. The trick is to make sure that you’re practicing effectively and not wasting your time with the wrong practice.

Sign up for one-on-one tutoring with our Ivy-League tutors for experienced guidance!


What is the SAT?

The SAT is one of two main tests (along with the ACT) used by colleges and universities in the US and sometimes internationally for admissions purposes.

The SAT covers basic high school material and is used to measure college readiness.

Since the spring of 2020 and challenges to testing caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, many schools have adopted temporary test-optional policies.

However, test scores are still an important way to show colleges your abilities. (These days, if you can take the test and don’t submit your scores, colleges are likely to assume that your scores were low.)

If you are able to take the SAT or ACT, you should still take the test. To the best of your abilities, you should still prepare for the test and take it seriously.


What is the SAT Reading and Writing section?

The Reading and Writing section on the SAT tests students’ abilities in reading comprehension, grammar, and “effective writing,” which is writing in a way that is concise, clear, and logical.

Students have to take two modules, each of which gives them 32 minutes to answer 27 multiple-choice questions. Why have two sections with the same exact format? Because the new adaptive SAT will tailor the second “module” based on your performance on the first.

Roughly half of the questions in this section are about grammar and punctuation. Unfortunately, we’ve found in our work helping students that many schools no longer teach students grammar rules!

That’s where our free Essential Grammar Guide can step in and help.

The other half of the questions in the Reading and Writing section present different versions of a sentence or a paragraph and ask students to choose the one that makes the most sense.

Students working with our one-on-one tutors receive a free companion guide that covers these questions about Effective Use of Language.

There is no longer an Essay component for the SAT. All of the Reading and Writing questions are multiple-choice, and students will not have to write their own answers.


How is the Reading and Writing section on the SAT Scored?

Students are scored based on the number of questions they answer correctly. Every question is worth the same amount of points, and there are no penalties for wrong answers.

The Reading and Writing part of the SAT makes up exactly half of your total Digital SAT score. The Reading & Writing section is scored out of 800. The average score for this section in the US is 533.

Distribution of SAT scores

Students also earn a score out of 800 for the Math section, and their total SAT score is out of 1600. Anything above 1060 is above-average, and students should aim for a score in the 1500s to be competitive applicants at the most selective colleges and universities.

For a decade (between 2005 and 2016), Writing was a separate score out of 800 on the SAT. Students earned up to 800 points for Reading, Writing, and Math, with total SAT scores out of 2400. In spring 2016, the SAT went back to a 1600-point scale with combined Reading & Writing scores.

SAT historical averages, 1967-2021


How can students improve on the SAT Reading and Writing section?

If you’re planning years in advance, there are some general activities that students can do that will lead to higher scores on the SAT Reading & Writing section. 

Reading extensively, with whatever books or other media students enjoy the most, is incredibly powerful. 

Studying another language besides English is also helpful for understanding grammar better. Languages that share a significant etymological history with English like Spanish, French, Latin, and Ancient Greek are especially useful.

student writing research paper

However, there are lots of things that students can do to improve their scores on the SAT Reading and Writing section with only a few months or even weeks of effort! In fact, grammar questions on the Writing section are some of the most common question types where students tend to see the most improvement.

It’s important for students to familiarize themselves with the general structure of the test.

Students should also learn the main grammar rules tested on the SAT. These rules are absolutely predictable — because I knew the rules of English grammar, I earned a perfect score on the SAT Writing on my first try.

Unfortunately, most schools these days don’t teach the rules of grammar. Many of the students we work with don’t know grammar rules, and that’s not their fault — they never learned grammar at school.

A great SAT tutor can help students to learn the rules and feel confident on the SAT. Our tutors are from the Ivy League and many have impressive backgrounds in professional writing, publishing, and teaching.

Finally, the best way for students to improve on the SAT Writing section is to practice effectively, using the right materials. There is some limited SAT writing practice available for free via Khan Academy. Our experienced tutors can also guide students through the best practice exercises tailored to their specific needs.

Request a short test-prep consultation today!

Bonus Material: Download our free Essential Grammar Guide, developed by Ivy-League educators


Top SAT Posts


Emily

Emily graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University and holds an MA from the University of Notre Dame. She was a National Merit Scholar and has won numerous academic prizes and fellowships. A veteran of the publishing industry, she has helped professors at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton revise their books and articles. Over the last decade, Emily has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.