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PSAT – Writing and Language

What does the PSAT Writing and Language Section test?

The PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) Writing and Language section assesses your skills in grammar, usage, and style. This section is designed to test your ability to understand and improve written passages. It does not directly test your knowledge of specific grammar rules, but rather focuses on your ability to identify and correct errors, improve sentence structure, and enhance the overall clarity and effectiveness of writing.

The Writing and Language section consists of multiple-choice questions that are based on passages taken from a variety of sources, such as books, articles, and essays. These passages could cover a range of topics, from history and science to literature and social studies. You’ll be asked to read the passages and answer questions that address various aspects of writing, including:

  1. Expression of Ideas: These questions assess your understanding of sentence structure, organization of ideas, and coherence in writing. You might need to identify the best way to combine sentences or choose the most appropriate transition words.
  2. Standard English Conventions: These questions focus on grammar, punctuation, and usage. You’ll be asked to correct errors in verb tense, subject-verb agreement, pronoun usage, parallel structure, punctuation, and other aspects of writing mechanics.
  3. Command of Evidence: This type of question requires you to analyze how specific sentences or phrases function within a passage. You might be asked to choose the best piece of evidence to support a particular claim or to evaluate the impact of a change in wording on the passage’s meaning.
  4. Words in Context: These questions test your vocabulary skills by asking you to understand the meaning of words based on their usage within a passage.

Overall, the Writing and Language section aims to evaluate your ability to revise and edit written text effectively. It’s not just about memorizing grammar rules, but about applying your understanding of language conventions and your critical thinking skills to improve the clarity and cohesiveness of written communication. Your performance on this section contributes to your overall score on the PSAT/NMSQT and provides insights into your readiness for college-level reading and writing tasks.

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PSAT Writing and Language Sample:

Read the passage which is followed by several questions. Some questions will reference an underlined portion in the passage; others will ask you to consider a part of a passage or the passage as a whole. For each question, choose the answer that reflects the best use of grammar, punctuation, and style. Some questions will have NO CHANGE as a possible response. Choose that answer if you think the best choice is to leave the sentence as written.


(1) The ancient Egyptians ate food that is not much different from what we eat today. Because the Nile River supplied them with a constant water source, the Egyptians were able to grow many different kinds of crops in their desert environment. Common crops included grains, vegetables, and fruit. The Egyptians relied on these crops as their main food source, because it is expensive to raise animals. Therefore, most domestic animals were used as work animals rather than as food. Often, Egyptian families hunted wild animals in order to add meat to their diets. The Egyptians ate many different kinds of bread. The dough was made from grain, yeast, eggs, butter, salt, milk, and spices. In early times, it was cooked over an open fire. (2) Pre-heated stone slabs were used. (3) The bread was usually flat and round, but it might be shaped in rolls for special occasions. It could be plain or filled with beans, vegetables, or other ingredients. If sweet bread was desired, it would be flavored with honey, fruit, or dates. (4) Honey was the main sweetener for the Egyptians because they had not yet discovered sugar.  They also believed that honey had healing properties.

Writing and Language Sample Questions:

Sample Question #1
B. eat
C. have eaten
D. had eaten

Answer:  A – The word is correct as written in the past tense form.

Sample Question #2

Which transition should be added to sentence (2)?
A. Later,
B. Therefore,
C. However,
D. Furthermore,

Answer:  A – This sentence is added as part of a series, referring to time. The word “later” is the best transition word to indicate that.

Sample Question #3
B. on
C. with
D. into

Answer:  D – The correct word is “into.” This preposition is used when movement, action, or a transformation of state occurs.

Sample Question #4

Which edit is needed to correct sentence (4)?
A. Add a comma after Honey
B. Add a comma after sweetener
C. Add a comma after Egyptians
D. Add a comma after had

Answer:  C – The clause “…because they had not discovered sugar,” is a subordinate clause which is also non-restrictive. Becasue this clause can be moved, a comma should separate it from the rest of the sentence.

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