Don’t be daunted by the writing portion of the SAT. Even if you think you’re not the best writer on the block, you, too, have the potential to write a top-scoring essay.
I took the SAT’s twice and scored an 11 and 12 on the writing section. I didn’t have to take any special writing courses, neither did I have to stay up all night thinking about how I was going to plan my essay. Take this course of action that I took, which requires very minimal preparation, and you’ll breeze through the essay section.
READ THE QUESTION TWICE.
Reading the question only once doesn’t register much in your brain. You’re just reading the question to read it. Read it twice and you’re more likely to pick up on key words, such as “how,” “why,” “explain,” etc. Circle the key words if that helps.
KNOW WHAT THEY’RE ASKING.
If you don’t answer the question, you won’t get the points. Be straightforward and don’t make them have to second-guess what your points are. Answer the question within the introductory paragraph.
KNOW THE BASIC ESSAY FORMAT.
If you start with the introduction, move down to two or three body paragraphs, and end with an analytical, “takes it a step further” conclusion, you’ll get your points in no time. Sure, it might seem a little generic, and many people format their essays this way, but it’s the best way to organize your essay if you’re not skilled at other formats. Writing in this basic manner allows you to better reiterate your thoughts. To keep up with the time, use four or five long sentences within each paragraph. The first sentence in each paragraph should be the topic sentence, and the last should be a “concluding” sentence. The two or three sentences inbetween should give your examples, analysis, and viewpoints on the subject.
SHOULD I USE “I”?
Many of the SAT questions I’ve come across (real and practice) deal with broad circumstances that take it to the personal level. Don’t be afraid to use the pronoun “I” if the question calls for personal experiences. If it doesn’t explicitly say “Give details of your personal experiences,” don’t use “I.” The readers know your essay is your opinion; using “I” and “I think” just repeats that and makes them look dumb.
USE AT LEAST THREE EXAMPLES.
In every SAT essay that I wrote, I used at least three examples. Those examples were largely taken out of my own experiences, which I then used to broaden common concepts. This is a question taken from collegeboard.com: “Should people always be loyal? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.” As you can see they tend to ask for examples taken from your life; you can use one reading example, one personal experience, and one broad observation.
KNOW HOW TO WRITE PERSUASIVELY.
Do you know the three (or four) persuasive appeals? They are ethos, pathos, and logos. Know that persuasive writing means being able to convince the reader that you have authority on the subject (i.e. you’ve written on it before, you’ve been educated in that subject before, you have direct personal experiences as examples, etc.); persuasive writing also means using style that elicits emotions from the reader; it also means being logical. Use those three appeals and your writing suddenly becomes more exact.
Sure, some people just can’t get out of the habit that they’ve formed over the years, or maybe they just have messy handwriting. If you’re one of those people, try your very best to write more neatly. This is the one that needs practice the most if you have messy handwriting. Practice plenty of times before the actual test. Write some paragraphs on whatever you like, timing yourself for 25 minutes. Try to write neatly but don’t compromise your time. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, do the same thing for the real test.
DON’T SWEAT IT.
Know that you have time limits, but know also that the essay shouldn’t take you that much time. If you get your ideas down in the first two to three minutes, and you mentally organize your essay, you should have no problem finishing the essay within 25 minutes. Keep the paragraphs short, to the point, but succinct.
Keep these tips in mind and you will no longer be haunted by the dreaded SAT essay.