The Writing and Language Test

The Writing and Language test is a multiple-choice test where you read passages, find mistakes and weaknesses, and fix them.

This part of the PSAT 8/9 is 30 minutes long, includes 4 passages, and contains 40 multiple-choice questions.

What the Writing and Language Test Passages Are Like

The 4 passages on the test are each 350–400 words.

The complexity of the passages varies. Some are more challenging and complex and others more straightforward.

The passages are about a variety of topics, including careers, science, the humanities, and history and social studies.

The purpose of each passage varies:

  • At least one is a narrative, meaning it describes events in a storylike way. This passage is not a work of fiction, but it could be a nonfiction account of a historical event, or it might describe a scientific experiment.
  • The other passages are either argumentative, meaning they try to convince or persuade the reader of something, or else informative and explanatory.

Some of the passages contain charts, graphs, or infographics that you will have to interpret together with the written part of the passage.

What the Writing and Language Test Questions Are Like

Each passage has 10 multiple-choice questions.

There are two main types of questions: ones where you have to improve the expression of ideas, and ones where you have to recognize and correct errors in sentence structure, grammar, usage, and punctuation.

Expression of Ideas

These questions ask you to improve the substance and quality of the writer’s message. They can be divided into three kinds:

  • Development questions are about main ideas (such as topic sentences and thesis statements), supporting details, focus, and quantitative information in tables, graphs, and charts.
  • Organization questions focus on logical sequence and placement of information and ideas as well as effective introductions, conclusions, and transitions.
  • Effective Language Use questions ask you to improve precision and eliminate wordiness, consider style and tone, and combine sentences to improve flow and to achieve particular rhetorical effects (such as emphasis on one point over another).

Standard English Conventions

These questions focus on recognizing and correcting grammar, usage, and mechanics problems in passages. More specifically, these questions ask you to recognize and correct errors in sentence structure (such as run-on or incomplete sentences), usage (such as lack of subject-verb agreement), and punctuation (such as missing or unnecessary commas).