What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Do You Know These 5 SAT Writing & Language Rules?

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There’s a lot to remember when it comes to the SAT, but knowing how to guide your preparation efforts is the key to doing well on the test. Do you know these five rules for the Writing and Language test? If not, start practicing now!


About the SAT Writing & Language Section

The SAT Writing and Language section measures your ability to read and interpret passages, find mistakes and weaknesses, and fix and improve these errors. The specific knowledge tested includes:


  • Command of Evidence
  • Words in Context
  • Analysis in History/Social Studies and in Science
  • Expression of Ideas
  • Standard English Conventions


Questions are based on four written passages. You’ll need to answer 44 multiple-choice questions in 35 minutes, meaning you’ll have roughly less than a minute to answer each question.


To learn more about the construction of the test, read The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT Writing and Language Section.


5 SAT Writing & Language Rules

Rule #1: Answer questions as you read them.

Rather than starting the section by reading the passage in full, which can significantly eat into the brief time you have, read the questions first and then answer them as you locate the evidence within the passage. You won’t need evidence from the full passage to answer each question, just select sections.


Learn more about this strategy in The SAT Writing Section Multiple Choice: Here’s What You Need to Know and These 5 Strategies Can Improve Your SAT Writing Score.


Rule #2: Read only what is needed to answer the question.

Once you’ve read a question or prompt, scan the passage for the evidence you’ll need to respond. That way, you won’t waste time reading irrelevant information. You should still try to skim the passage so you understand the big ideas, but unless you’re a very fast AND careful reader, you don’t need to read every word.


Rule #3: Make sure your answer is concise and relevant.

When you’re completing your essay response on the Writing and Language test, you need to make sure you’re actually answering the question at hand—not just writing what you want to write. You will be graded on how well you respond to the actual prompt, not just how well-written and argued your essay is overall. You may have come armed with a repertoire of examples that can fit multiple prompts, but be careful to ensure that they actually suit the prompt you have in front of you.


Reading plenty of passages and editing your work and that of others can help you prepare to self-edit on the test. You want to be able to pare down your response to essential ideas. Extra words will make you sound, well, wordy.

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Rule #4: Know your punctuation.

Understanding basic punctuation rules will help you scan and understand passages more quickly and easily as well as write more effectively in your essay. Here are some basic, often-misused punctuations:



Helps separate two distinct clauses that each has its own subject; comes before a conjunction

Example: I am a student, and she is my teacher.



Joins two equally important ideas: can also be used in a list that includes commas within each distinct idea

Example: I am a vegetarian; others eat meat.



Used after a sentence to further illustrate or exemplify a point with another clause, phrase, or word that follows; could also be used for a list

Example #1: Don’t forget: everything happens for a reason.

Example #2: I like many flavors: salty, sweet, and sour.



Em dash: long dash used to break up the sentence for emphasis or an aside

Example: She prefers Renaissance art—Botticelli and Michelangelo—to modern art.


En dash: short dash used for date ranges, scores, or conflicts

Example: 1998–2011



Used for compound phrases and to connect two or more nouns and adjectives that illustrate and come before another noun

Example: state-of-the-art appliance



Conveys possession or a contraction

Example #1: My mom’s car

Example #2: She’s the driver.


While you’re going over your punctuation rules, brush up on your grammar skills as well. They will come in handy for your essay. Read How to Sharpen Your Writing Skills for tips.


Rule #5: Know the relationship between ideas.

The major relationships between ideas you’ll need to understand fall into four categories: reinforcement, contrast, cause and effect, and sequence. Briefly, they are as follows:


  • Reinforcement: a point or idea that bolsters the original argument
  • Contrast: using examples or other ideas to highlight distinctions or qualities
  • Cause and effect: how one event or incident causes something else to occur
  • Sequence: identification of where events or ideas fall in a particular order


Preparing for the SAT Writing and Language Test

Understanding the construction of the Writing and Language test and applying these rules can help you be more confident and better equipped to succeed when you go into the SAT. Incorporate these rules into your overall SAT preparation strategy by using them on practice tests and questions, and you’ll be ready to master the real test.


Preparing for the SAT? Download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.


For more advice on getting ready to take the SAT, read:

Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket, and Funny-ish. View her work and get in touch at: www.lauraberlinskyschine.com.