The Writing and Critical Reading Sections
One key point to remember is how intertwined the skills
these section tests are. Each piece of the Writing and Critical
Reading sections looks at language from a different angle, but essentially
what’s being tested is your proficiency in good writing and the
English language as a whole. Studying for one section will help
you prepare for the others.
Bombing Runs are especially important on the Writing section.
Always do Identifying Sentence Errors first, then Improving Sentences,
and finally Improving Paragraphs. Within each item type, fly Bombing
Runs to distribute your knowledge as efficiently as possible. Remember,
unlike Sentence Completions on the Critical Reading section, the
multiple-choice items on the Writing section are not listed by order
The biggest mistake you can make on the essay is to start
writing without planning what you’re going to write. You have a
very short amount of time (25 minutes) to construct a well-organized,
well-written argument. Even though the essay is meant to be a first
draft, your essay needs to show your ability to think critically
and write accurately and forcefully.
Everything you do for the essay should flow from the scoring
rubric—the grading criteria used by essay readers. The scoring
rubric doesn’t emphasize the content of your essay
(for example, quoting Dante rather than relating an anecdote from
your life) but rather the structure of your argument
and the clarity of your writing.
Despite what you might think or may have been told, writing—even timed
SAT essay writing—is as learnable a skill as any other—it’s not magic.
To succeed on the essay, make sure you read the prompt carefully and
plan a structure for your essay before you actually start writing.
This process will take only a few minutes and will go a long way
toward improving your score.
The key is not to read long passages word for word. It’s
a waste of time—time you’ll need for the items themselves. You need
to know what to read and what to skim in the long passages. Then
you need to fly Bombing Runs among the items in the set.
Skimming is pretty simple. Instead of reading the entire
passage word for word, you want to get a general idea of what the
passage discusses. Here’s how you do it:
- Read only the first and last sentences
- Circle or underline signpost words or key terms. Terms
deemed as key will vary from reader to reader, but the idea is to
identify some important terms, as well as those important signpost
- Use your pencil to help you break the habit of reading
every word. Move the tip of your pencil
across the lines of text quickly enough to make it impossible for
you to read every word. This forces you to skip over some words
and phrases, which means you are actually skimming.
Bombing runs at the section level are more complex, as
we alluded to earlier. We discuss Sentence Completions in the next
section, but assuming those are done, you need to decide which of
the Reading Passages, if there is more than one, you should attack
In general, hit the short passages first. They are a lower
investment and yield the same number of points for each item. Decide
which to hit first based on subject matter and/or length. If the
choice is between two long passages, again, subject matter and length
should determine which set you’ll hit first. Treat paired passages
as separate long passages: read/skim passage 1 and do those items
first, then read/skim passage 2 and do those items, and finally
work on the hardest items—the compare-and-contrast items based on
The key to Sentence Completions is to have some idea of
the answer before you look at the answer choices. Fortunately, because
Sentence Completions test your reading skills at the sentence level,
the structure of the sentence stem often helps you generate a likely
answer. Sentence Completions test vocabulary in context.
If you understand the sentence in the stem, you’ll be able to come
up with your own answers for the blanks.