The Hardest Official SAT Writing Questions of the Day by Student Response Rate

I’ve been taking a closer look at the math questions of the day available on The College Board SAT app recently. It’s quite helpful and serves as great practice. I highly recommend it.


As you can see, the app tells you the percentage of responses that were correct for each question. It also tells you the official difficulty level.

On the whole, the correct response rate was about 69%, which means on average, each question was answered correctly 69% of the time.

After going through all the writing questions in the archive (up until March), I noticed something peculiar. Some of the questions that were designated as hard had correct response rates that were actually quite high.

For example, the January 12th, 2016 question (supposedly difficult) had a correct response rate of 91%, which is way higher than the average for all questions.

On the other hand, quite a few easy and medium questions had correct response rates as low as 55%.

This discrepancy could be due to several factors:

  • The top students only bother with the most difficult questions.
  • What The College Board considers difficult is different from what most students would consider difficult.
  • Because the exam is new, The College Board does not have an accurate idea of how difficult each question truly is.

All factors are probably at play.

In any case, it’s worthwhile to look at the questions with the lowest correct response rates. These are the questions that are actually difficult.

The Toughest SAT Writing Questions according to Correct Student Response Rates

1. October 8th, 2015 (Only 56% were correct) and February 29th, 2016 (Only 59% were correct)

The creation of today’s animated films, frequently hailed for their lifelike artistry, relies heavily on mathematics. Aspiring animators would benefit from a strong background in math if they wish to create, for instance, the rounded shapes making up an old man’s knobby knuckles or a young girl’s bouncy hair. One of the algorithms now considered an industry standard repeatedly subdivides a polygon by splitting and averaging the midpoint of a line. Developed by Pixar Animation Studio’s Tony DeRose, this algorithm eliminates the problem of discernible edges of polygons by replacing them with the seamlessly rounded curves of the parabolas that emerge as a result of the polygon subdivision process. Innovations such as DeRose’s depend on an understanding of applied mathematics in areas such as geometry, linear algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.

    B) have relied
    C) are relying
    D) rely
  2. Which choice most effectively sets up the information that follows in the paragraph?


    B) Animators use algorithms, or sequences of mathematical steps,

    C) The animation industry has grown increasingly dependent on computer-generated imagery

    D) In fact, animators draw on a variety of skills, many of them in fields outside of traditional understanding of art,

2. October 4th, 2015 (Only 54% were correct)

While working together at the Jane Goodall Institute’s Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Sanctuary in the Republic of Congo, cognition researchers Felix Warneken and Alexandra Rosati conducted an experiment comparing chimpanzees’ decisions in two situations: a “raw-delay” condition and a “cooked-delay” condition. In the raw-delay condition, Warneken and Rosati offered the chimpanzees a choice between receiving a piece of raw food immediately and waiting for one minute to receive three pieces of raw food; the chimpanzees chose the larger, delayed reward 60 percent of the time. In the cooked-delay condition, in which the chimpanzees could receive one piece of raw food immediately or wait one minute for three pieces of cooked food, they chose the larger, delayed reward approximately 85 percent of the time.

Which choice most effectively introduces the main topic of the paragraph?


B) In a series of behavioral tests approved by Harvard University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee,

C) To determine whether chimpanzees are more likely to delay gratification for a cooked food reward than they are for a raw food reward,

D) As part of some fascinating work being conducted in the field of cognitive science,

3. February 5th, 2016 (Only 56% were correct) and November 1st, 2015 (Only 56% were correct)

A number of growing career fields are facing a crisis: a shortage of educators to train a future workforce. However, postsecondary training programs in trade and industrial (T&I) occupations such as welding, manufacturing, and auto repair lack enough qualified instructors to prepare students to embark on these career paths. The problem is compounded by the fact that it is difficult to lure skilled workers away from jobs in these more lucrative trades for jobs in the modestly paying field of education. To address the shortage, postsecondary training programs would do well to recruit skilled professionals from T&I fields to teach as adjunct faculty (part-time instructors). Teaching part-time would allow experienced professionals to help educate the future workforce while retaining their positions in the private sector.

    B) In addition,
    C) As such,
    D) Specifically,
  2. Which choice most effectively articulates a claim supported by the next sentence of the paragraph?


    B) Some skilled professionals in T&I fields teach full-time, while others teach part-time as adjunct faculty.

    C) It is incumbent upon us to commit more educational resources to develop a trained, skilled workforce in T&I careers.

    D) Therefore, high schools and postsecondary training institutions should carefully consider how best to allocate financial resources.

4. January 4th, 2016 (Only 57% were correct)

One of the primary shortcomings of the Homestead Act of 1862, a program through which the federal government offered free plots of land to US citizens willing to establish farms in the American West, was that the plots were too small to sustain a farm. Land in the semiarid Great Plains region received twenty or fewer inches of rain per year, so plots there were best left half unplanted each growing season to conserve water. With farms consisting of a mere 160 acres, however, this practice would not have produced sufficient harvests. Moreover, raising cattle was impossible because the tiny homesteads would quickly become overgrazed. According to geologist and explorer John Wesley Powell, sustainable homesteads on the Great Plains actually needed to be a staggering 2,560 acres.

B) Farms consisted
C) Farms that consisted
D) Farms, consisting

5. January 28th, 2016 (Only 59% were correct)

To show how a common desk fan cools a person, Rhett Allain, a physics professor and writer for Wired magazine, performed a simple experiment. He wet a paper towel with warm water and wrapped it around a thermometer. Allain wrapped a second thermometer in a dry paper towel, and then he set both thermometers in front of a fan. Initially the fan was turned off. The temperature of the thermometer wrapped in the wet paper towel decreased, at first rapidly, and then more slowly, eventually dropping below room temperature. After the fan was turned on, the temperature of the wet thermometer underwent another rapid decrease. By contrast, the temperature of the thermometer wrapped in the paper towel barely changed during the entire experiment. This experiment demonstrated the power of evaporation to cool wet objects, such as a sweaty person, and the role of a fan in making evaporation more effective.

B) objects, such as a sweaty person
C) objects such as, a sweaty person,
D) objects—such as a sweaty person

Post your answers in the comments. For more challenging questions, I highly recommend my SAT Writing book. Check it out.


3 thoughts on “The Hardest Official SAT Writing Questions of the Day by Student Response Rate

  1. Hey, I’m a rising sophomore and have been studying for the SAT Writing section. Can you provide a simple explanation for any questions I get wrong?
    1.1 A
    1.2 B
    2.1 C
    3.1 D
    3.2 A
    4.1 A
    5.1 A

      • As for 3.1, I think D is correct.
        The following sentence deals with lack of trainers in the postsecondary programs which is more specific than a shortage of educators shaping the future workforce in the previous phrase.

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