As you probably know by now, the New SAT has made some major changes to its Essay section. For starters, it’s optional. Before you dance a jig, however, consider that some colleges and universities might prefer or even require applications to include scores for either the SAT or ACT essay. Definitely do your research on the schools to which you want to apply, but you should plan to take the essay portion of one of these tests at least once. Need help knowing which one is for you? Check out Kristin’s sweet run-down of the two.
So you’ve decided to take the new SAT Essay? Great! Let’s get into some tricks to help you do it to the best of your ability.
#1: Prepare before the new SAT
This is not one of those essays you can just wing your way through and expect to get a great score. You will have 50 minutes in which to read a passage, analyze the way the author makes his or her point, and then write your own essay explaining what you noticed. Practice a couple of prompts at home, timing yourself. You’ll have a good sense of how much time you tend to take and when you should be starting to write to make sure you finish. Also, dig out those notes on rhetorical devices from English class. That’s the stuff the graders are looking for you to spot, so make sure you remember what ethos, pathos, and logos are and how to spot metaphors and rhetorical questions.
#2: Don’t skip the planning stage of the essay
Okay, so you turn the page to the essay, fully confident that you know what you’re getting into; you read the essay, then start scribbling madly as wonderful ideas come pouring from your pencil. STOP! It can be almost irresistible to jump into writing your essay, but it’s crucial that you take few minutes to plan ahead. Take all those ideas bubbling up in your mind and organize them. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just a quick outline can help you to put your thoughts in order, so when you actually are in the middle of crafting your masterpiece, you have something to refer to that can help you stay on track.
#3: Break out of the mold
You’ve begrudgingly accepted that you need to plan. Excellent. Now comes the fun part: deciding how to organize your thoughts. This should not be your standard, five-paragraph essay. Tailor your essay to fit the evidence you are using from the passage. Maybe you want to present it in chronological order, or grouped by strength, bias, or source. However you decide to present your evidence, make sure the ideas flow naturally from one to the next. Remember that organization is one of the qualities on which your essay is graded.
#4 Quote the author
Analysis and use of evidence is another factor that your essay will be judged on. Quoting the passage to introduce or support your points is the best way to use evidence within the essay. Try to work it in as naturally as possible. For example, you could write: Jefferson carefully chooses his words to strengthen the pathos of his essay, such as when he claims that “the extinction of this species would be a tragedy on a global scale”. Quotes like this can help you prove your understanding of the passage, your ability to connect ideas within it, and your skill at finding its underlying message.
#5: Proofread your final SAT essay
Something many students forget to do on standardized essay tests is to allow a minute or two at the end to quickly read through the final product. Writing an essay quickly by hand usually means you’re going to make some mistakes along the way. Plan to wrap up your writing at least a little bit before time is called to allow yourself time to catch small grammar or syntax errors that you might have made while writing. It’s more important that your essay is finished than that it’s perfect, but you do get scored on writing conventions.
- Let’s look back at our tricks.
- Prepare for the test.
- Plan your essay.
- Organize your essay however you think it would work best.
- Use quotes.
Hopefully you now feel more prepared to tackle the new SAT essay. If you want to take a look at all the items on the grading rubric for the essay, check out the College Board’s online copy.
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About Elizabeth Peterson
Elizabeth holds a degree in Psychology from The College of William & Mary. While there, she volunteered as a tutor and discovered she loved the personal connection she formed with her students. She has now been helping students with test prep and schoolwork as a professional tutor for over six years. When not discussing grammar or reading passages, she can be found trying every drink at her local coffee shop while writing creative short stories and making plans for her next travel adventure!
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