In fact, I’d say it’s probably everyone’s least favorite part of the SAT. I don’t know for sure, but I’d imagine that it’s the least favorite part of the test for the graders, too.
There really is no reason to dislike it. In any case, you’ve got to do it and there’s no way around it. So you might as well write it right, right? Here are some SAT essay writing tips to get you on the path to literary greatness.
Before the Test:
During the test, you’ll be faced with an essay question and you’ll have to write on it. You know that. What you might not know is that all the questions follow the same format. There’s a quote, then an assignment related to the quote. Here are the directions for a real SAT essay from CollegeBoard.org:
|You have twenty-five minutes to write an essay on the topic assigned below.Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.
Many persons believe that to move up the ladder of success and achievement, they must forget the past, repress it, and relinquish it. But others have just the opposite view. They see old memories as a chance to reckon with the past and integrate past and present.
Adapted from Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, I’ve Known Rivers: Lives of Loss and Liberation
Assignment: Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present? 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.
See how that works? The good news is that, because the questions all follow the same format, your answer can follow a pre-set format as well. A standard study tip is to plan in advance as much as possible – here’s where that advice kicks in: you can, to a great extent, outline your essay before the test! How cool is that?!
Of course, because you don’t actually know the exact question before the test, you can’t fully outline your essay. But you can come up with a format for your answer. Here’s one that works quite well:
- Introduction – don’t forget a thesis statement!
- Example 1 – take this one from history or literature
- Example 2 – make this a personal story (we’ll get into this later)
- Conclusion – the point of the story, recap – but don’t just reword your intro!
If you want, you can add a paragraph between III and IV to briefly answer the opposing viewpoint or to synthesize your examples. Totally optional.
Come up with a format like this before the test, memorize it and practice a few times. It’ll help!
At the test
You’re given 25 minutes. That’s a lot of time, but it’s not a lot of time. If you’ve taken the SAT already, you know exactly what I mean. Or if you’ve had to wait on someone and you’re going to be late for a concert or something. You can do a lot in 25 minutes but you can’t waste any time.
First thing is to outline your essay before you start writing. Some folks can just sit and write and have it come out perfect (lucky…). Most people can’t.
I know, I know… you already know your outline. Humor me and jot it down in your test booklet to keep yourself on track. Even if you take five minutes to do it, it’s five minutes well spent. Five minutes that you would have probably wasted anyway, staring into space and wondering “what’s next?”
Use Good Handwriting, Spelling and Grammar
The SAT essay is supposed to measure your ability to “follow the conventions of standard written English.”
What the heck does that mean?
That means write something that’s not painful to read.
Make sure your handwriting is nice and neat. If you have trouble with spelling, brush up on it before the test. There are few things more annoying than to have to grade an essay ful of bad speling. its a pane and not fun to reed.
Follow standard grammar rules. If you have any doubt in your mind about semicolons, don’t use them. Also, you shouldn’t use apostrophes in academic writing, so stick away from things like “it’s” and “they’re.” I highly recommend you brush up on some basic English grammar before the test, just so it’s all fresh in your brain.
And please don’t splice any commas!
Oh, the humanity!
A very important part of the SAT Essay that people forget is that the good folks who grade it are human. This isn’t like the rest of the test, where they just feed the little thing into the slot thing on the computer they have at the SAT place and the thing does its calculation stuff and tells you your score (sorry if I’m a bit vague on the details).
No, your essay graders are real people!
Granted, they do have strict guidelines they stick to when they grading your essay, but they’re still human.
So what does this mean for you, dear essay writer?
Well, aside from making sure your essay doesn’t make their eyes bleed, there are three things you should do.
Stay away from controversy. You want the grader to like you and your essay no matter who they are and what they believe. If the temptation arises to bring in something or quote someone on either edge of the political spectrum, resist! Same thing goes for religion. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using anything like this in an essay, but you have to be very careful not to alienate this particular audience.
Grab attention. The person grading your essay has graded fifty of them before he or she got to yours. You want to make it stand out without doodling flowers all around the edge or something. You want to grab the grader’s attention and hold it throughout the essay, leaving them with something to think about at the end. Make your essay the one they remember when they go home.
Keep it personal. People don’t like reading about ideas. People like reading about people. That’s why People magazine is popular and Ideas magazine isn’t even about ideas at all. It’s about home decor. And it’s not as popular as People. A juicy personal example does more than just about anything else to keep a reader reading. That’s not to say you should write an essay that would make your grandma blush. Keep it reasonable, but keep it you.
Write in the right spot
Write your essay on the answer sheet.
Write your outline in the test booklet.
Should be a bit obvious, but it’s worth it to double-check during the test. Just in case. After all, an empty answer sheet gets you a zero, even if you wrote an essay in your test book that would make James Joyce proud. Not that that’s something you should aim for anyway.
Oh and don’t forget
Now that you’re armed with these SAT essay writing tips, you should feel a little more prepared. Make an outline and take a few practice tests. Please. Take practice tests. And analyze them afterwards. That lil study tip right there will do more for your score than anything else.
Also, you might want to read some of the more famous authors, especially Hemingway. He was great at using the English language in a very concise manner. Don’t copy him or any author – develop your own style. But get inspired!
What do you think?
What are some other SAT essay writing tips you have? Join the discussion in the comments below!