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How to Write a Good Essay for the SAT

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To the dismay of many students, the latest SAT exam includes an essay section. Fear not. By following these 8 easy steps, you can ace this portion of the test and make it an asset to your overall score.

1) Become intimately acquainted with the persuasive essay. Although the SAT directions do not specifically state the type of essay you must write, the persuasive format is the one you want to follow. You are convincing your reader or audience that your point of view is the most correct and valid one.

2) Answer the question. If you don’t answer the actual question, you have no chance of receiving a decent score, no matter how well written your response may be. In SAT essay exams, usually a quote or anecdote introduces a controversial opinion; the opinion is then followed by a question that invites you to take a stance or position on a situation. For example, the prompt may start with a quote from a psychologist stating that giving teenagers too many responsibilities is the number one cause of poor grades in high school. The accompanying question may ask, “Do you feel that having too many responsibilities or activities as a teenager results in poor grades or are other factors partly or wholly to blame?” Be sure you answer only this particular question and avoid going off on a tangent about other facets of being a teenager. Tip: Using part of the quote to introduce your essay will help you stay on track.

3) Be aware of—but not obsessed with—time limits. You have 25 minutes to complete the essay for the SAT. It is not a great deal of time; however, it is an adequate amount of time to persuasively support your point of view. The trick is to informally brainstorm and organize ideas for your essay before getting started. You shouldn’t take more than 5 to 7 minutes to do this, but definitely do it. This time will go a long way to helping you stay focused, organized, and confident throughout the writing of your essay.

4) Choose solid, specific examples. Here is where the old expression “show, not tell” comes in. It does not matter whether the examples to back your stance come from important historical events, the literary canon, or that fight you had with your sister last week. As long as the example addresses the question perfectly, go with it. Using academic examples certainly reflects on your scholarship. However, if an academic example is not intricately tied in with the question or does not make a logical connection, you are much better off with an example from everyday life that you can effectively, specifically, and succinctly use.

5) Remember to address the opposition. Besides backing up your own point of view, you’ll need to introduce and address the strongest argument for the opposing viewpoint. Use another specific example along with your persuasive skills to show how this position is flawed. By addressing the opposite stance, you are showing without question that your point of view is the only way to go.

6) Introduce artfully, and conclude definitively. Your introduction sets up your whole argument and engages the reader; your conclusion clinches the validity of your point of view and leaves the reader with a lasting impression. Do not neglect these portions of your essay by spending too much time on examples. The introduction and conclusion also provide an essential organizing framework.

7) Revise and edit. With whatever time you have left, read over the essay to be sure it is logical and organized. Scan for mechanical errors and correct any that stand out. If you are not able to get to this step or have very limited time, take heart. Many essays have received a perfect score even with minor mistakes related to faulty mechanics or word choice. The readers realize that you have limited time to complete your essay and don’t have time for a preliminary formal draft, which would in most cases eradicate these types of errors.

8) Practice, practice, practice. The old expression “practice makes perfect” truly applies to this situation. Your English teacher will probably give you opportunities to write this type of essay in class, but you can pull sample prompts from the Internet and write away. SAT preparation books also contain essay prompts to help you with this goal, and some contain sample essays with scores so that you have a way of gauging yourself. The more essays you write, the more confidence and experience you gain.

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