SAT Writing: Must Know Grammar Rules

tl;dr: This guide covers the logistics, strategies, and content of the SAT Writing and Language section. It includes an explanation of the four main passages—careers, history/social studies, science, and humanities—and four types of questions: Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Organization, and Effective Language Use. Strategies are provided for each type of question, as well as a practice passage with 11 questions.

SAT Section 2: Writing and Language

❓ What are the SAT Sections?

In the SAT, you will have 4-5 sections on the test (depending on whether you choose to take the essay section or not)! The sections are:

  1. Reading
  2. Writing and Language (aka the SAT grammar section)
  3. Math (no calculator)
  4. Math (calculator allowed)
  5. Writing/Essay ( ⚠️OPTIONAL ⚠️)

After the reading section and the much-needed 10 minute break, you're then plunged to the Writing and Language section of the SAT. In this study guide, you will learn about logistics, strategies, content, and some overall tips to ace 💯 this section!

📚 Logistics and Content of the Section

This part of the test is basically a speed round, requiring you to answer 44 questions in 35 minutes ⌚, equally distributed into 4 passages with 11 questions each.

The 4 passages are each 400-450 words and there is one passage in each of the following categories:

  • 💼 Careers: These are about major jobs and their descriptions, trends, and problems.
  • 👩🏽‍⚖️ History/Social Studies: These deal with matters in social studies, such as history, psychology, geography, economics, law, linguistics, etc. Both this passage and the science passage deal with studies and news in the field.
  • 🧪 Science: These deal with matters in fields in science in fields of computer science, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and earth science.
  • 📖 Humanities: These deal with the matters in English and the arts.

These four passages are of one of three categories:

  • 🗯️ Argument: These passages have a clear claim and try to support that claim.
  • 🗣️ Narrative: These passages tell a story in the traditional beginning, middle, and end structure. These will be nonfiction, about a real event.
  • 👨🏿‍🏫 Informative/Explanatory: These passages try to describe a topic to the reader.

One of the four passages will include some data in the form of a table or graph which will be needed for 2-3 questions in the passage. If you need a quick review of all the passages, watch Kevin Steinhauser's SAT Writing and Language Review Stream.

📝 SAT Grammar Question Types

In this section, the questions are laid out in two columns, with the left column containing the passage and the right column containing the questions to answer.

A Sample Passage
Image Courtesy of Khan Academy

There are two main types of questions in the section:

  • Expression Of Ideas 💬
  • Standard English Conventions ✒️

💬 Expression of Ideas

Questions in this category are more about how the claim is expressed as opposed to grammar and take more time than the Standard English Conventions questions. The questions that will be answered will be under the following categories:

🛠️ Development

These questions are about how the author develops the passage's claim, hence development. These fall into the following subcategories: preposition, support, focus, and qualitative information.

🧱 Preposition questions deal with adding, modifying, or removing content that relate to the main idea.

Example of a Preposition Question
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  • Answer: The answer is A, because C and D do not make sense in the context of the sentence in question, and the sentence is more of a clarification than a transition, which eliminates B as well.

🙇 Support questions are similar to preposition questions, but they deal with the details and support of the main claim, rather than the big picture.

Example of a Support Question
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  • Answer: The excerpt is about the productivity of workers, especially in the sentences surrounding the part in question. The only answer choice that continues this reasoning is B.

🔍 Focus questions are similar to the previous two, but are concerned with whether the content in question is related to the topic at hand or not.

Example of a Focus Question
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  • Answer: The paragraph is about the features of coworking spaces, while the sentence is about starting a coworking business, which does not match the focus, which is C.

Strategy for Preposition, Support, and Focus Questions

The main strategy for these questions is to answer the following:

  1. What is the main claim/purpose of the passage?
  2. What is the main claim/purpose of the paragraph section?
  3. What is the segment in question trying to say? Does it make sense?
  4. How does this fit in the larger picture?

If your answers in 3 and 4 conflict with the ones from 1 and 2, then the section should probably be removed or not be added. Otherwise, it should be good to go!

🔢 Qualitative Data questions give a graph or chart and then ask a question to use data from them to insert into the passage.

Example of a Qualitative Data Question
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  • Answer: On the graph, it says that the lowest is at 12 degrees Fahrenheit and is only a dip, which matches B.

The main strategy is to answer the following:

  1. What is this chart saying?
  2. Does this answer choice match what the graph shows? If yes, then this may be your correct answer. If there are multiple, then answer this third question:
  3. Does the answer choice support what the passage is trying to say?

🧹 Organization

These questions are about the order and placement of ideas in the passage and also the flow between one part and the next. They fall into two subcategories: logical sequence and introductions, conclusions, and transitions questions.

🤔 Logical sequence questions ask you to put a paragraph or sentence in the correct location in the passage.

Example of a Logical Sequence Question
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  • Answer: The sentence in question belongs before the narrator has come to the facility, but after plans have been made, which is between sentences 2 and 3, option C.

For logical sequence questions, answer the following questions:

  1. What is the excerpt in question trying to say?
  2. Why doesn't this fit where it currently is?
  3. Where is there a possible gap in information? Does this excerpt fit here?

🏁 Introductions, conclusions, and transitions questions are about making sure that the passage flows properly between one point and another.

Example of an Introductions, Conclusions, and Transitions Question
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  • Answer: There is not enough info in the screenshot to give an answer.

For these questions, answer the following questions:

  1. How are the parts before and after the word in question related?
  2. Which word in the following table feels like it fits the best?

Chart of Transitional Words and Phrases
Image Courtesy of Ginger Software

🙊 Effective Language Use

These questions are about conveying ideas in a way that makes sense to other readers without any unnecessary words. They fall into the following subcategories: precision, concision, style and tone, and syntax.

🗣️ Precision questions are about making sure that the words used have the most accurate meaning as is applied to the passage.

Example of a Precision Question
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  • Answer: When comparing advantages and disadvantages, the word that is most commonly used is outweigh, option D.

⛓️ Concision questions are about expressing an idea in the least amount of words possible.

Example of a Concision Question
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  • Answer: For this question, see the shortest one that is grammatically correct because all the choices have the same meaning. The shortest one is D, which is also grammatically correct.

🤬 Style and tone questions are about making sure that a word or phase matches the intended style and tone of the passage.

Example of a Style and Tone Question
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  • Answer: This passage has a formal tone, which corresponds to option C, while the rest of the options are more informal.

Table of Tone Words

Tone word Definition
Apologetic sorry
Appreciative grateful, thankful
Concerned worried or interested
Critical finding fault
Curious wanting to find out more
Defensive defending
Direct straightforward, honest
Disappointed discouraged, unhappy
Encouraging optimistic
Enthusiastic excited, energetic
Formal respectful
Frustrated angry, despair
Hopeful optimistic
Humorous funny
Informal not formal, relaxed
Inspirational encouraging, reassuring
Ironic different than expected
Judgmental critical, judging others
Lighthearted happy, carefree
Mocking scornful, ridiculing
Negative unhappy, pessimistic
Neutral neither good or bad
Nostalgic thinking or wishing from past
Objective without justice, discrimination, or opinion
Optimistic hopeful, cheerful
Pessimistic seeing the bad side
Sarcastic scornful, mocking, ridiculing
Satirical poking fun to show weakness or to teach
Sentimental thinking about feelings
Sincere honest, truthful, earnest
Sympathetic compassionate
Urgent insistent


Table Courtesy of

Strategy for Precision, Concision, and Style and Tone Questions

For these categories of questions, you should answer the following:

  1. What is this trying to say? What is the style of the text? (informative, judgmental, etc.)
  2. Is this the simplest way that it can be expressed?
  3. Does this change or deviate from the intended meaning of the text?

Syntax questions are about applying structure for rhetorical purposes, such as combining sentences or phrases.

Example of a Syntax Question
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  • Answer: D is a run on, while the others are grammatically correct, but A answers it in the most concise way.

Table of Sentence/Phrase Connectors/Separators

Connector Function
. To separate two unrelated sentences, making 2 separate sentences
; To separate two somewhat related sentences to make 1 sentence
, + coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) To connect two sentences that are related
; + subordinating conjunction/conjunctive adverb + , To connect two sentences that are related, but where one sentence is more important than another
, + gerund (verb ending with -ing) To show that two sentences are related in somewhat of a causal relationship

All other forms not listed here are either fragments or run-on sentences. For these questions, most of the time, the shorter answer will be the more effective choice.

✒ SAT Grammar Rules

Questions in this category are mainly grammar questions that deal with common mechanics that may appear in everyday and academic writing. These are also called questions without a question as it’s just the question number followed by the answer choices with one being “NO CHANGE.” These questions ask you to essentially revise the underlined part. The questions that will be answered will be under the following categories:

🧱 Sentence Structure

These questions have to do with how sentences are formed and also the relationship between different words in the same sentence. They fall into the following subcategories: sentence formation and inappropriate shifts in construction.

⚙️ Sentence formation questions ask you to make sure that sentences are grammatically correct. These include issues with modifier placement, parallel structure, sentence boundaries, and subordination and coordination.

For sentence boundary and subordination and coordination questions, see the Table of Sentence/Phrase Connectors/Separators from the section above. ⬆️

For parallel structure questions, you will usually get a list of two or more verbs or verb phrases (although these can be any part of speech), and to answer these, choose the option that makes all of the "items" in the list have the same structure.

Example of a Parallel Structure Question
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  • Answer: All these verbs are present participle forms ending in -ing without a subject in that "list item," and D continues this pattern.

For modifier placement questions, when you get a statement like "Aaron turned off the blender, watching the news on YouTube," you have to move the action to just follow the noun it modifies, or move the noun just before the action it does. For example, the correct version of the above is, "Aaron, watching the news on YouTube, turned off the blender."

💱Inappropriate shifts in construction ask you to make sure that pronoun and verbs agree in tense and number. That is, singular nouns go with singular verbs and pronouns and likewise for plurals. You can usually tell the tense of the verb by the other verbs in the sentence or in nearby sentences, as they will usually be the same tense, but not 100% of the time.

Example of an Inappropriate Shifts in Construction Question
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  • Answer: The tense is supposed to be present and plural for agreement and to match the rest of the sentence, which matches B.

👩‍🏫Conventions of Usage

These questions are all about the proper usage of terminology and words grammatically. They fall under the following subcategories:

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦Pronoun questions are about the proper use of pronouns, especially with clarity between a pronoun and what it is taking the place of. If you can explicitly tell the antecedent of a pronoun (what it stands for), then use the pronoun. Otherwise, use the noun instead of the pronoun.

👁️‍🗨️Possessive determiner questions ask you to use the correct word with pronoun possessives and their frequently confused alternatives.

Pronoun Possessives and Commonly Mistaken Words

Word Definition
There To show location
They're They are
Their Possessive of their
Its Possessive of it
It's It is

Example of a Possessive Determiner Question
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  • Answer: We want to use the possessive plural pronoun form as we are talking about "snow and ice," which is their, D.

😊 Agreement questions ask you to make sure that nouns, pronouns, and verbs agree with each other in terms of tense and number. Just make sure that it stays consistent throughout and doesn't abruptly change.

Frequently confused words questions deal with terms that may be easily confused, whether they have similar spellings or pronunciations. A list of them can be found here with their definitions.

Example of a Frequently Confused Words Question
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  • Answer: We are talking about the internet, so the correct term is site as in websites, so the correct answer is B.

💡 Logical comparison questions ask you to see if a comparison makes sense. To answer these questions, make sure that you're not comparing a part to the whole or comparing apples to oranges. "I did better than my school" is incorrect, while "I did better than the rest of my school" is correct,

Example of a Logical Comparison Question
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  • Answer: The things being compared are the types of crops and not the buyers or the act of buying them, which leaves removing the underlined portion, or D, to be the correct answer.

🗨️ Conventional expression questions ask you to make sure that a phrase matches what is commonly said in written English. For this, trust your gut instincts as these are common idioms and phrasings that you use a lot.

Example of a Conventional Expression Question
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  • Answer: The common expression is that an item "serves as" when we talk about purpose, which is B.

⁉️ Conventions of Punctuation

These questions are all about the proper usage of punctuation within and between sentences. They fall into the following subcategories:

🔚 End-of-sentence punctuation questions ask you to use proper punctuation at the end of the sentence. z

End of Sentence Punctuation

PunctuationFunction.To mark the end of a declarative/regular sentence.!To mark the end of an exclamation, to show surprise or excitement?To mark the end of a question

🖖 Within-sentence punctuation questions ask you to use proper punctuation in the middle of a sentence.

Within-Sentence Punctuation

PunctuationFunction:To introduce a list or a reason;To separate 2 different independent clauses in the same sentence without a cunjunction—To show a break or separation in a sentence, to show emphasis

Example of a Within-Sentence Punctuation Question
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  • Answer: This is splitting up a main clause and a parenthetical/supporting phrase so we need a comma after equipment; however, when introducing a list with "such as," we do not use punctuation after it, thus A is correct.

🏠 Possessive noun and pronoun questions ask about the proper punctuation of possessive nouns and pronouns. Possessive pronouns don't have apostrophes, but pronoun contractions do. However, possessive nouns have apostrophes, while plural nouns don't.

  • Examples of possessive pronouns: your, their, its
  • Examples of pronoun contractions: you're, they're, it's
  • Examples of possessive nouns: house's, ball's, star's
  • Examples of plural nouns: houses, balls, stars

🔠 Items in a series questions ask you to correctly punctuate a list. We always use commas to separate distinct items in a list, and we also use the Oxford comma, which is a comma before the and/or preceding the last item. Example of an Items in a Series Question
Image Courtesy of Khan Academy.
  • Answer: The only punctuation we need is a comma before and, option C.

🔄 Nonrestrictive and parenthetical elements questions ask you to use proper punctuation to set aside parenthetical elements, elements that are not needed, from the rest of the sentence. For example, "elements that are not needed" is a parenthetical element. You can separate them using commas, em dashes, or parentheses, but if you do so, the punctuation that ends must match the starting punctuation, except at the end of a sentence when the ending punctuation must be a period.

Example of a Nonrestrictive and Parenthetical Elements Question
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  • Answer: The part from "an" to "State" is a nonrestrictive element, so we separate them with the same punctuation, in this case, commas, which is option C.

Unnecessary Punctuation questions ask you to remove any extra punctuation in a sentence. Usually, if there are any awkward pauses in the middle of a sentence, then that punctuation is unnecessary.

Example of an Unnecessary Punctuation Question
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  • Answer: There is no punctuation needed between suggests and that, so D is the correct answer.

🤔 General Strategy

There are some tips that will work in general for most types of SAT Grammar questions.

1. 🦜 Read it Loudly (in Your Head, of Course)

When answering these questions, read the sentence in your head to see what sounds right.

2. ✏️ Mark and Annotate!

It is perfectly okay to mark the text, and I suggest annotating in order to understand what the passage is saying at a certain point. This will help very much for Expression of Ideas questions!

3. ❎ Use Process of Elimination

Usually, in a question with four answer choices, two of them are answers that do not make sense, one is the correct answer, and the remaining one is a distraction that seems to be the correct answer, but isn't. Most of the time, you can get rid of the two that don't make sense, and if you don't know the correct answer, at least you can guess between two and not four answer choices, increasing your chance at success.

📜 SAT Grammar Practice

This section includes a practice passage with 11 questions to try! This should take 9 minutes under normal SAT pacing. Good luck!

  1. Imagine a computer in 1. subzero temperatures, being controlled primarily by lasers. That's what researchers at the McMahon Lab at Cornell are studying. Quantum information science is a fascinating new area of computer science with so many possible areas of exploration.
  2. At the McMahon Lab, there are many areas of research, ranging from finding more effective ways to make these computers 2. to finding applications. These applications include finding solutions to complex math problems that are currently unsolvable. 3. Unsolvable math problems are a big pain for students studying math. Unlocking answers to these different areas would mean much more efficient computing and a change in our way of life as current information security systems are now 4. trash.
  3. Outside of the McMahon Lab, other companies are also trying to harness the power of quantum computing as well, IBM Google, Intel and Rigetti. Quantum computers have 5. increased over 2 times in power in 2019 compared to the first ones in 1998. The main goal of these companies is to search for 6. quantum supremacy — where a quantum computer can do a task impossible by current computers, creating a race between these companies to be a first.
  4. In this lab, undergraduate students also have the opportunity to learned 7. allot about how quantum computers work, with each student being able to join their own group. They will be working with current graduate students who will teach the necessary physics and computing skills needed for this research. 8. These students will gain skills which will be transferable to jobs and also graduate school through this research. 9.
  5. After quantum supremacy, the next step is to improve these devices. Quantum computers are currently very costly because of the specialized conditions that they have to be stored in, including being in temperatures near absolute zero. Moreover, 10. their materials are rarely found and must be fabricated by a high cost. This is a job done by physicists and material science engineers who are harnessing the power of different alloys and materials using their known properties.
  6. 11. With all these people in different roles, so many important discoveries can be made in different areas with some working to improve present quantum computing technologies and others working on future alternatives. With all their work, who knows? Perhaps, you could be one of the first to have the first quantum computers for everyday people in five to ten years!



B. subzero temperatures being controlled

C. subzero temperatures: being controlled

D. subzero temperatures; being controlled

2. Which choice most effectively combines the two sentences at the underlined portion?

A. to finding applications, these applications include finding

B. to finding applications, and some of these applications include finding

C. to finding applications, of which these include finding

D. to finding applications, including finding

3. The author is considering deleting the underlined sentence. Should the sentence be kept or deleted?

A. Kept, because it describes more about the complex math problems

B. Kept, because it shows why these applications are useful

C. Deleted, because it repeats a point earlier stated in the paragraph

D. Deleted, because it is not related to the main focus of the passage

4. Which choice best maintains the tone established in this passage?


B. junk

C. rubbish

D. obsolete

5. Which choice most accurately and effectively represents the information in the graph?


B. decreased over 60 times

C. increased over 60 times

D. stayed constant


A. no change

B. quantum supremacy, where a quantum computer can do a task impossible by current computers, creating a race

C. quantum supremacy, where a quantum computer can do a task impossible by current computers — creating a race

D. quantum supremacy, where a quantum computer can do a task impossible by current computers creating a race



B. allotted

C. many

D. a lot



B. These undergraduate students

C. They

D. These graduate students

9. The best placement of paragraph 4 is

A. After Paragraph 2

B. After Paragraph 5

C. After Paragraph 6

D. After Paragraph 1



B. there

C. they're

D. its

11. Which choice most effectively introduces this paragraph?


B. In contrast, with

C. Altogether, with

D. Similarly, with

✅ Solutions and Strategies

This passage is a typical explanatory science passage with a graph which falls in the upper difficulty scale of what the passages will look like on the test.

  1. B—This is a within-sentence punctuation and unnecessary punctuation question. Here we do not need the comma as it breaks the flow of the passage.
  2. D—This is a syntax question. Choice A creates a comma splice, while choices B and C are redundant and wordy, leaving choice D as the correct answer.
  3. D—This is a focus question. The sentence should be removed because the focus of the paragraph is on applications and benefits of the research. The sentence is unrelated to this focus.
  4. D—This is a style and tone question. The tone in this passage is a more serious, informational tone, while the other three choices are more informal.
  5. C—This is a quantitative information question. In 1998, the number of qubits was only 2, while in 2019, it was 128, which is a 64-fold increase, which is over 60 times.
  6. B—This is a nonrestrictive and parenthetical elements question. For A and C, the starting and ending punctuation are inconsistent, while D creates a run-on.
  7. D—This is a frequently confused words question with the words in question being "allot" and "a lot." The word we want to use here is for a large quantity, which corresponds to the latter.
  8. B—This is a pronoun clarity question where the correct subject are the undergraduate students. The other choices are vague or misidentifies the subject.
  9. A—This is a logical sequence question. The paragraph in question continues to talk about the research group and placing it where it currently is will break the flow and cause confusion.
  10. A—This is a possessive determiners question where the determiners in question are "they're, their, and there." We want to show possession, so their is the correct term.
  11. C—This is an introductions, conclusions, and transitions questions. Here, there needs to be a transition in order for the passage to flow properly. B and D have a compare-and-contrast purpose, which is improper to introduce the conclusion. Thus, C is the remaining and correct answer.

Need more resources? Check out our 5 best resources for PSAT/SAT English sections. Pressed on time? Learn how to cram to get an 800 on SAT humanities and watch the Night Before the SAT cram session. Go forth and conquer -- you got this 🥳.

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