Steps to Mastering the SAT Essay

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Steps to Mastering the SAT Essay

The SAT exam began testing a student’s writing ability in 2005.  Even the worst wordsmith shouldn’t get too concerned about this section of the exam since it only counts for 10% of the total score.  However, It may very well be the most useful section of the test.  That’s because the writing skills it helps to hone are critically important to any student wishing to be successful in college, where papers are assigned on an almost weekly basis.

Don’t over think it.

You only get 25 minutes to write the SAT essay and it comes right at the start of the test. Don’t spend too much time trying to craft a scholarly masterpiece. Most important is to read and make sure you understand the writing prompt, which is usually a famous quote, or a stated idea. Read over the prompt and question several times in order to make sure you know what they’re asking.
Then organize your thoughts quickly and begin writing. Students shouldn’t worry about making it a perfect piece of writing or the most original thought ever put on paper. The people reading your student’s essay know they’re on a time crunch. They’re simply looking for competent writing, insight and the ability to think on their feet.

Use real-world examples to illustrate your points.

Nothing will prove to a scorer more that your student understands the point of the question than if they’re able to use examples from current events or history to back up their opinion. Make sure your student attempts to include this kind of proof in their essay.

If your student can’t come up with examples to back up one opinion, it doesn’t hurt to take the opposite viewpoint and see if they may have more luck there.

Remember this isn’t a declaration of a life philosophy. Even if they don’t personally agree with what they’re writing, it may make for a better more thorough essay if they go against their instincts.

Go long… but not TOO long.

A good length for an SAT essay should be four to five well developed paragraphs. Don’t let your student think that quantity automatically equals quality. There’s always going to be the temptation to write a novel in hopes that the scorers will be impressed with how much you were able to get done in a short period of time.

A good score will almost always be more likely if the essay is well plotted, well thought out and backs up its points intelligently… and all of that can be done in five paragraphs or so. Also if your student is writing a 3-page essay, that probably means they didn’t take sufficient time to brainstorm and organize their assignment. 25 minutes is more than enough time to do this, plus compose a 5-paragraph essay worthy of a good score.

And remember to leave time at the end to review for any glaring errors or omissions.

Don’t stress out… it’s only 10%!

While the essay section of the SAT is one of the most useful and applicable sections to future college life, don’t allow your student to get TOO hung up on it. Good writing skills are always a huge advantage for students. But even if they’re not quite present yet at the time of the SAT, they can always be developed down the road. If writing isn’t your student’s strong suit, make sure they know that they still have 90% of the SAT left to make up for it.

Don’t allow their stress to negatively affect their performances on other sections of the test as well. Set the correct expectation that every part of the SAT is important… and there are always opportunities to make up for weaker sections as they go.

“If you have any other questions about selecting a college, or the admissions process, feel free to contact me through my website at  or call me at 760.877.7200.  I’d love to answer your questions!”

Excerpts taken from Jodi Polster Education Director, College Planning Network, LLC

By | 2018-06-11T00:39:42-07:00 September 20th, 2011|Entrance Exams and Essays, Tips for Students|Comments Off on Steps to Mastering the SAT Essay