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Thursday, February 14, 2013
How to Write an Effective SAT Essay
How to Write an Effective SAT
How to Write an
Effective SAT Essay
SAT Essay carries a lot of importance—you already know that. Your score on the
essay is going to be a major factor on how well you do on the writing section,
which in turn is going to determine a third of your overall score. But—maybe
even more importantly—the SAT Essay is going to be your first hurdle of an over
4-hour obstacle course. Your performance on this section is going to set the
tone for the rest of the exam. You want to start off as well as possible, and
carry over that positive energy to every other section. You don’t want to fall
flat on your face right out of the gate…
But how do I do
that you ask? How do I perform as well as possible on this critical section of
my exam? Well that’s exactly why I’ve written this document! There is a very
specific formula to follow that will allow you to score highly on your essay.
And after reading this document carefully and thoroughly, and internalizing that
formula through practice, you’re going to become a masterful SAT Essay writer.
you need to ask me any questions, feel free to reach out to me via email, text,
or at our sessions!
everyone in your testing room has successfully bubbled in their names,
addresses, registration numbers, and the rest of the information that the
CollegeBoard deems relevant, you will begin the exam with the SAT Essay. First
Step: Switch to your second pencil. All that bubbling in will likely have made
your first pencil fairly dull—and you want to write your essay as neatly and
legibly as possible! Second Step: Read the essay prompt slowly and
you read the essay prompt should NOT be to begin writing. You may feel pressured
to get your thoughts on paper as quickly as possible because the exam is timed.
You may also feel that the essay question is very vague or simple and does not
merit a lot of thought. However, what your first step should be is to PLAN.
your essay will allow you to organize and develop your thoughts before you
commit them to paper in a final version. Having such a roadmap of your thoughts
will make the actual writing process—when you do get to that point—significantly
easier. While you may feel that planning is a drain on time, it will lead to a
finished piece that is of higher quality in terms of content and structure.
Planning may also save you time in the long run as you will not get stuck in the
writing process thinking “what comes next?”
question on the exam will be very straightforward. It will merit a Yes or No
answer. Sometimes the answer will be so obvious that your decision will be made
for you. Regardless, the first thing you should do is
whether you agree or disagree with the prompt.
there, ask yourself WHY you either agree or disagree. Jot down your answer. Then
read over the essay prompt. Read your answer again. And ask yourself WHY your
first answer. Develop your first answer a step further with more analysis and
critical thinking. Now repeat. Repeat until you get stuck and can’t ask WHY
anymore. Until you have nothing else to write down. Really push yourself to
squeeze every last bit of meaning out of your initial answer. Think hard. This
is one of the most important parts of your essay—the development of your
you’ve exhausted your WHYs, look at the notes you’ve jotted down. Ask yourself
how all the points you’ve made fit together. Then write a detailed and complex
thesis synthesizing all of your points.
You have a thesis. That’s half the battle.
it’s time for your support. It’s time to rack your brain for all the literary,
historical, and personal knowledge that can apply to this specific question.
- Think of a book whose plot either focuses on the essay question or
tangentially addresses it. If you’re stuck, turn to the classics. There are some
books that have such a plethora of themes that they can apply to almost every
SAT Essay question—The Iliad, The Odyssey, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in
the Rye, The Bible. There’s a reason why they’re classics! Try to recall the
ones you’ve read. If you haven’t… well I suggest you get cracking! You still
have a month until the exam. Or read their SparkNotes profiles in depth. At
least well enough so that you can write about one or two of these books with
confidence. If you are wholly lost on this end, or simply curious, ask me for a
list of good book recommendations and I will provide them for you.
/ Current Events
- Now turn to your knowledge of historical events. Focus on what you’re studying
in history class at the moment. It should be the easiest to recall. Assuming
that you’re a junior in high school, that will likely be US History. Well…
thought of something yet? You love your country don’t you? Tsk.. tsk.. If you’re
having trouble with historical events, you’re welcome to use current events
instead! Think about what’s happening in the world today. If you have no idea,
start watching CNN or reading the Wall Street Journal / NY Times. It’s about
time you got out of your bubble anyway…
- Once you’ve gotten a book and a historical / current event, think of a
personal event in your life that applies to the question at hand. This is very
easy to do… Why, you ask? Because you can fake it! Come up with a story. Be
creative. Be detailed. Just don’t be over the top! There is no way that the
grader will know you’ve made it up.
you’ve thought of your three topics of support (and how they apply to the
question at hand) it’ll be time to start writing. But before you do, you’ll have
to memorize the outline below. Always keep it in mind as you write your essay.
It’ll make the writing process quick, efficient, and successful! Each sentence
will flow into the next, and your essay will practically write
Formula for a High-Scoring SAT Essay:
(Use the information in the prompt. Regurgitate what is said in that little
paragraph preceding the essay question. Be sure to use different
(Briefly analyze the prompt. Discuss the opposing point of view to your
argument, and explain why it’s incorrect. Doing this will show to the graders
that you are capable of thinking at a high
(Directly answer your question. Yes or No.)
(Rewrite the thesis you developed while planning. Then use a very basic sentence
to end your introduction and outline what you will discuss in your body
paragraphs, i.e. “This position is made evident in “Title,” by Author, in the
“Historical / Current Event,” and in my personal
Topic Sentence (Main idea of your paragraph, a mini-thesis just for that paragraph. It should be the unifying theme of that paragraph—make sure you include it. At times you may feel it is unnecessary to include a topic sentence because it will give away the point that you’re trying to make in that paragraph before you even make it! But that’s okay, this is a formal essay. It shouldn’t have any surprises. It should make your point as effectively as possible, and clarity and transparency are great tools to that end.)
Background Information (Set the stage for what you are writing about. Explain the basic plot of the book / historical or current setting / relevant personal details.)
Example (State the example in the book / historical or current event / your personal life that supports your answer to the question. You should have had this in mind the planning stage of your essay.)
Analysis (Explain how the example you’ve just used relates to the point you are trying to make.)
Transition Sentence (Lead into the next body paragraph—if possible. Not always necessary and sometimes hard to do. Don’t sink your time into this if it doesn’t flow right away.)
(Reiterate your thesis in different words—your answer to the question. Also
include your main pieces of evidence and briefly write how they prove your
point. Bring the essay around full circle.)
(What have you learned as a result of your personal event, how have you changed,
what differences have there been in your life, and how does that apply to the
world in relation to this question? This is a very open-ended part of your essay
and can be interpreted in many different ways when writing. Try to be as
creative as possible. Take your point a step further. This is the last part of
your essay that the grader will read—be memorable, be interesting, and be
intelligent. Leave the grader with a positive feeling about you once he has
errors, grammar errors, fragments, and illegibility. All of these can be
problems in an essay and can also be easily be avoided if you THINK, PLAN, and
DON’T RUSH when you're writing. It is also very important to REREAD your essay
after completion and edit it accordingly to make sure these mistakes do not come
thing to keep in mind: Write in the 3rd person in a formal essay—never the 1st
("I") or the 2nd ("You"). Unless you’re writing a personal example, of course.
Then you can use “I”.
an effort to write with a vocabulary that is a bit more formal and advanced than
you would normally use for speaking. Try to write as if you were going to give
this essay as a speech to President Obama, or Congress, or some important
scientific body. Your audience is very intelligent—try to meet their
expectations, and even impress them. Use advanced vocabulary. Throw in those SAT
words you’ve spent so much time studying. Obviously don’t force them in. But if
it feels appropriate and your writing flows, be sure to follow through. Write
formally and follow the structure I detailed above.
add new details or information about your examples in your conclusion that you
have not already included in the body paragraphs. Only repeat and conclude on
information you've already mentioned. If you want to write something new in the
conclusion, stop and determine if what you want to include is important. If it
is, then figure out how to incorporate that into the body paragraphs. Never the
use terms like "in conclusion" "therefore" "to sum up" and "so" in your
conclusion. They are incredibly redundant and in poor form. The reader will know
that this is your conclusion if you followed my steps above and structured your
essay properly. There should be no need for these words.
 Please keep in mind that
what you will soon read will only work for the SAT Essay. Do not attempt to
apply the following formula and tactics directly to your Humanities essays in
school. It will not end well… Trust me. The SAT Essay is a very different