What Counts for the SAT Essay


Time Yourself

Time is crucial when writing the essay. You have only 25 minutes to create what you would normally spend days writing. In about five minutes, you need to read the prompt, highlight key words, make sure you understand the question, brainstorm, compose your thesis statement, and create an outline. Use the next 15 minutes to draft your essay, and finally, use the last five minutes to revise, edit, and proofread.


That’s Impossible, you say?

I know it sounds daunting, but try to remember that hundreds, no, thousands, okay, probably millions of high school students have successfully written such an essay and many even scored a 6. You can do it! I have faith that with diligence and your dedication to participating in all activities in this class, you will succeed in writing an essay worthy of a score of 6!

Write 1-3/4 to 2 Pages

After timing, length is all-important, and high scoring essays are almost, without exception, this long. Get used to cranking this out in 25 minutes or fewer. Remember, practice makes perfect, so I expect you to practice on your own, even when I’m not grading it. I will be giving you some links to other sites where you can take practice tests on your own.

Write Five Paragraphs

This isn’t a must, but I strongly suggest it, and that’s the way I teach it in this class. You’re probably used to this, and so are the high school English teachers who are probably going to grade your essay, so that’s a plus – it makes it easier for them to digest your essay, which is key. It’s also the easiest way to write an essay; and when you have only 25 minutes to write, you need all the easy you can get!

Start with a Direct Topic Sentence

You should write an introductory paragraph that starts out with a clear answer to the prompt – for example, if the prompt is “Is change good?” your first sentence should be something like “Change is a positive force in a person’s life” or “Change is not always as good as you might think.” I know this is a little different from what you’ve probably learned; for this essay, answering the prompt is more important than grabbing the reader’s attention. After all, you have a captive audience because the grader HAS to read your essay; he or she has no choice. With that in mind, you want that first sentence to be clear, so that in the 45 seconds or so of the grader’s attention you get, they know right off the bat exactly what your position is. Restating the question in the prompt is the best way to do that.

Then, throw in some filler sentences, and a final sentence introducing your examples (thesis statement).

Three Examples (Body Paragraphs)

After the introductory paragraph, you’ll need your three examples, which also need to be a paragraph each. I suggest you remember the following sequence because the more automated you can become, the easier the essay will be to write. The first body paragraph should be an example from literature or movies or the arts; the second should be a personal experience from your own life (or you can make it up), and the third should be from current events, or if you’re not on top of the news, you can use another example from literature or even another personal example. It doesn’t matter if the examples are from history or literature or movies or science fiction or your life. You can even be wrong about an example; while it wouldn’t be good to say something so obviously wrong that it distracts the reader, feel free to invent a personal experience if it proves your case. Remember: the most important thing about the examples you use is that they would support your thesis statement if they were true. It really doesn’t matter if they are true; the reader does not have the time or ability to research your essay for the truth.

Keep the Conclusion Simple

Play it safe with your final paragraph. At this point, the essay is basically over, so you just want to restate your thesis and sum things up. Now is not the time to bring in new ideas that will confuse things. It is suggested that you end with a clincher or something for the reader to think about, but don’t go too crazy; bring the essay to closure, and don’t end abruptly or just stop writing. Remember, the conclusion is the last thing your scorers will read right before they assign you a grade, so don’t do anything to throw them off.

That’s really about it. Honestly, you want to keep it direct and simple. Realize that your grader will spend at most a minute on your essay, remember that the whole process is standardized, and understand that like the rest of the SAT, this is really nothing like high school.

Before we start looking at these areas in greater depth, let’s see how you would do right now if you were to take the SAT today. For the next assignment, you are going to try your hand at writing a timed essay. Don’t panic; it is a learning experience, and the grade won’t count. I’ll score it just like I would if I were a scorer for the SAT, and I’ll explain my findings. Are you ready??

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