I have been waiting for three years for someone in the media to take the time to applaud the ambitious efforts of the College Board in 2006 to try to move our nation's schools back to the teaching of English grammar and usage.

If reporters say anything at all about the way the "new" SAT is organized, they never seem to mention the fact that the Writing section has two sub-scores, one of which tests students' English grammar and usage knowledge.

In fact, that sub-score (49 multiple-choice grammar and usage questions) is worth 70% of the Writing score; the essay only counts 30%.

The College Board took one more very ambitious step when it conducted and then published its research report on June 18, 2008 (http://www.collegeboard.com/press/releases/197359.html).This report proves that the best predictor of college success for freshmen is how well students did on the SAT Writing section. (The Writing score was even a better predictor than the Math or Critical Reading scores.)

Since 70% of the Writing score comes from grammar and usage, then obviously the best predictor of college success is how well students know their English grammar and usage.

Up until this year, the overall SAT Writing score has been the only score listed by the College Board in their yearly reports; and the two Writing sub-scores have not been publicized. 

However, this year (Graduating Class of 2008) the College Board published for the first time a breakdown of each state's two sub-scores under the SAT Writing section:  (1)  49 multiple-choice grammar/usage questions (2) the essay.

Now the public can find out how well the seniors in their state did on the grammar and usage part of the SAT and also on the essay.  The College Board refers to the score on the 49 multiple-choice grammar and usage questions as "MC." 

The national report (SAT Graduating Class of 2008, Total Group Profile Report) indicates that the multiple-choice grammar and usage (MC) score is 49.5, and the average essay score is 7.1 


To compare a state's scores with these national averages on the Writing section, people need to go to http://professionals.collegeboard.com:80/data-reports-research/sat/cb-seniors-2008, and click on the individual state report that they want to read.  

For instance, if people want to see the Texas scores, all they have to do is to go to the Texas state report:  http://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/Texas_CBS_08.pdf 

After accessing the state profile report, then people need to scroll down to Page 1, Table 1, Overall Mean Scores.  Texas' average multiple choice (MC) score is 48.5 (compared to 49.5for the national).  Texas' average essay score is 6.8 (compared to 7.1 for the national). 

COMPARISON OF SAT SCORES – 2006, 2007, 2008



The Writing score contains two subgroups:(1) Essay and (2) Multiple-Choice Grammar/Usage (MC).

Number of states with higher MC scores (all students) than Texas:

36 states (2006) -- 40 states (2007) -- 42 states (2008)

Number of states with higher essay scores (all students) than Texas:

43 states (2006) -- 41 states (2007) -- 43 states (2008)


National – MC – all students – 50 (2006) -- 49.5 (2007) – 49.5 (2008)

Texas – MC – all students – 49 (2006) -- 48.6 (2007) --48.5 (2008)

National – MC – public schools – 49 (2006) -- 48.9 (2007) --48.9 (2008)

Texas – MC – public schools – 49 (2006) -- 48.2 (2007) --48.1 (2008)

National – MC – non-public schools – 52 (2006) -- 52.7 (2007) – 51.5 (2008)

Texas – MC – non-public schools – 52 (2006) --52.2 (2007) --53.7 (2008)

National – Essay – all students – 7.3 (2006) -- 7.3 (2007) – 7.1 (2008)

Texas – Essay – all students – 7.0 (2006) -- 7.0 (2007) – 6.8 (2008)

National – Essay – public schools – 7.2 (2006) -- 7.2 (2007) – 7.1 (2008)

Texas – Essay – public schools – 7.0 (2006) --6.9 (2007) – 6.7 (2008)

National – Essay – non-public schools – 7.5 (2006) -- 7.6 (2007) – 7.3 (2008)

Texas – Essay – non-public schools – 7.3 (2006) -- 7.4 (2007) – 7.5 (2008)

Composite score (essay and MC) -- National (all students) -- 497 (2006) -- 494 (2007)

-- 494 (2008)

Composite score (essay and MC) -- Texas (all students) -- 487 (2006) -- 482 (2007)

-- 480 (2008)



National average (all students) – 503 (2006) -- 502 (2007) -- 502 (2008)

Texas average (all students) – 491 (2006) -- 492 (2007) -- 488 (2008)

National average (public schools) – 500 (2006) -- 498 (2007) -- 497 (2008)

Texas average (public schools) – 487 (2006) -- 487 (2007) --484 (2008)

National average (non-public schools) -- NA (2006) -- 520 (2007) -- 517 (2008)

Texas average (non-public schools) --NA(2006) -- 528 (2007) -- 542 (2008)

[Upon request, this information was furnished to Donna Garner on 9.11.08 by Andrew Wiley, Executive Director, Research & Analysis, the College Board, AWiley@collegeboard.org.If you should want to see the spreadsheet of the SAT 2008 results from all states, please contact me at donna.garner@mystudyhall.com.]

Two-thirds of the 2006 - 2008 SAT Reasoning Test™ measures skills mostly learned in English / Language Arts / Reading (ELAR) classes. 


Changes to the new SAT (2006)


  • A new writing section has been added to the test. Students are asked to write an essay that requires them to take a position on an issue and use reasoning and examples to support their position.
  • The essay is similar to the type of writing required on in-class college essay exams.
  • Multiple-choice questions [49 QUESTIONS] measure a student's ability to identify sentence errors, improve sentences, and improve paragraphs.


60 minutes (One 25-minute essay, one 25-minute multiple-choice section, and one 10-minute multiple choice section)

Multiple-Choice Questions:

Improving Sentences (25 questions)

This question type measures a student's ability to:

• Recognize and correct faults in usage and sentence structure

• Recognize effective sentences that follow the conventions of standard written English

Identifying Sentence Errors (18 questions)

This question type measures a student's ability to:

• Recognize faults in usage

• Recognize effective sentences that follow the conventions of standard written English

Improving Paragraphs (6 questions)

This question type measures a student's ability to:

Edit and revise sentences in the context of a paragraph or entire essay

• Organize and develop paragraphs in a coherent and logical manner

• Apply the conventions of standard written English



60 minutes
35-minute multiple choice; 25-minute essay


Multiple-Choice: Identifying Errors, Improving Sentences and Paragraphs [49 QUESTIONS]

Student-Written Essay: Effectively Communicate a Viewpoint, Defining and Supporting a Position [PERSUASIVE]



Multiple-Choice Subscore: 20-80

Essay Subscore: 2-12


  • The critical reading section, previously known as the verbal section, includes short and long reading passages.
  • Analogies have been eliminated, but sentence-completion questions remain.
  • Sentence Completions, Passage-Based Reading, Extended Reasoning, Literal Comprehension, Vocabulary in Context
  • Scored from 200 to 800 points

Critical Reading

70 minutes (Two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section)

Passage-Based Reading (48 questions)

The reading questions measure a student's ability to read and think carefully about passages ranging in length from about 100 to about 850 words. Passages are taken from the humanities, social studies, natural sciences, and literary fiction. They vary in style and can include narrative, argumentative [persuasive], and expository elements. Some selections consist of a pair of related passages on a shared issue or theme that students are asked to compare and contrast.

The following kinds of questions may be asked about a passage:

Vocabulary-in-Context: These questions ask students to determine the meanings of words from their context in the reading passage.

Literal Comprehension: These questions assess students' understanding of significant information directly stated in the passage.

Extended Reasoning: These questions measure students' ability to synthesize and analyze information as well as to evaluate the assumptions made and the techniques used by the author. Most of the reading questions fall into this category. Students may be asked to identify cause-and-effect, make inferences, recognize a main idea or an author's tone, or follow the logic of an analogy or an argument.

Sentence Completions (19 questions)

This question type measures a student's:

• Knowledge of the meanings of words

• Ability to understand how the different parts of a sentence fit logically together

To help students to learn these all-important English grammar and usage skills, please visit MyStudyHall.com which is an online, interactive tutorial.


September 21st, 2008

Donna Garner

Education Policy Commentator EducationNews.org

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