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/NMSQT is 35 minutes long, includes 4 passages, and contains 44 multiple-choice questions.

What the Writing and Language Test Passages Are Like

The 4 passages on the test are each 400–450 words. The complexity of the passages varies: some are more challenging and others more straightforward.

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

The purpose and format of each passage varies:

  • At least 1 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 an historical event, or it might describe the sequence of events in 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 interpret together with the written part of the passage.

What the Writing and Language Test Questions Are Like

Each passage has 11 multiple-choice questions.

The questions fall into two main types: those where you improve the expression of ideas, and those 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 (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 emphasizing one point over another).

Standard English Conventions

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