SAT Essay, Part 1: Seven Basic Prep Tips

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This year, WriteAtHome has begun offering a two-week course designed to get kids ready for the SAT essay. Nothing Student Taking Standardized Testabout the SAT causes more anxiety than the essay. If you or your teenager is college-bound, you should consider this excellent course. A new course begins three weeks prior to every SAT test date, so what students learn will be fresh in their minds when the day comes.

This post is the first in a series designed to give you a taste of the material we provide in this course. Of course, the main benefit of the course is the opportunity to write sample essays and have them thoroughly critiqued and scored by a writing coach. But whether you take the course or not, we hope these tips will help you with essays in general and the SAT essay in particular.

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7 Basic Tips for SAT Essay Success

1. Know what to expect. Be ready not only for the essay section, but for the whole test. There are three parts: Mathematics, Critical Reading, and Writing Skills. The essay is part of the Writing Skills section, and will be the first thing you do once the test begins. There’s more detail in our course, but here’s a simple overview of the SAT:

Section

Type of Questions

No. of Questions

Time Limit

Mathematics: tests mathematical reasoning involving algebra and geometry

general math

20

25 min.

general math

20

25 min.

general math

15

20 min.

Critical Reading: tests vocabulary and reading comprehension

sentence completion

9-10

25 min.

reading comprehension

15-16

sentence completion

9-10

25 min.

reading comprehension

15-16

reading comprehension

16

20 min.

Writing Skills: tests rules of usage and mechanics and written communication skills

essay

1

25 min.

identifying sentence errors

± 39

35 min.

improving sentences

improving paragraphs

You will have 25 minutes to write your essay. The answer sheet you will be given during the test will include a lined section for the essay. You must use that sheet and you may not have additional space. You will write with the pencil you use for the rest of the test.

You may be given a passage, a quotation, or a set of related quotations. You will be asked to write an essay defending your position on the idea addressed in the passage or quotes. After the passage, you will be given further clarification of the issue and be reminded to support your viewpoint with examples from history, politics, literature, science, or your own experience.

Below is an example of an essay question:

Directions: Consider the issue presented in the following paragraph and the assignment that follows:

 

Happiness should be secondary to moral uprightness, but ask any parent today what he most wants for his children, and he is almost certain to respond, “I just want them to be happy.” Isn’t there something more noble and important for which to aim? I, for one, hope that my children are both, but if I had to choose, I would rather they be good than merely happy.   -Charles Walsh

 

Assignment: Is seeking happiness the highest pursuit, or are there better goals to aim for? 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.

2. Understand the scoring. Your essay will be scored  by two readers who will read your essay and give it a score between 1 and 6. The readers are experienced teachers who have been trained to score essays according to an established standard

3. Know what scorers are looking for. Even though readers will score your essay holistically after one reading, they will have in mind six broad categories. These include:

  1. Position and point of view: Readers are looking for papers that take a clear position on the topic and demonstrate critical thinking.
  2. Support: The opinion you express in your essay must be sufficiently supported through clear reasoning, examples, and/or evidence.
  3. Organization and focus: Essays must be logically organized, coherent, and focused.
  4. Sentence variety: Strong essays contain an effective variety of sentence types.
  5. Language and vocabulary: Word choice should be precise, varied, and appropriate.
  6. Writing conventions:Essays should contain minimal errors in usage, spelling, and mechanics (punctuation, spelling, capitalization, etc.).

4. Write small. You can use only the lined sheet provided for the essay. If you run out of room, you are out of luck. But don’t worry; it’s enough space as long as you don’t write unusually large letters.

5. Write on the topic. If you don’t, you will receive a zero. This is to prevent students from memorizing a random essay and transcribing it on test day.

6. Write enough. There’s no extra points for mere length, but effective writing will be thorough, detailed, and organized.

7. Be neat. Scorers are not supposed to take neatness into consideration, but you can’t score what you can’t read.

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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian Wasko

Brian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.

View all posts by Brian Wasko

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