The daunting 25-minute composition, despite being one of the most challenging portions of the SAT, often goes unprepared for. It’s not included in the PSAT, and we tend to think of the SAT as a purely question/answer test. But the essay does account for a third of your writing score, so it’s best to go prepared. Here are some tips to ace the SAT essay!
1. Practice, practice…don’t forget more practice!
As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. Start out writing untimed essays; take your time reading the prompt and coming out with examples, reasoning, and evidence to back up your stance. (You can find some sample prompts here) Keep trying until you familiarize yourself with the creative process- before you can write the best essay ever, you need to have something to write about. When you’re able to brainstorm key points in under five minutes, you’re ready to start timing yourself while writing the essay. Start off with a forty-five minute limit or so, and cut down until you’re down to the SAT’s twenty-five.
2. Pace yourself!
A lot of websites of the Internet will given you set time limits for how long each paragraph and proofreading should take, but I’d recommend NOT taking someone else’s word for this. Look at your practice essays, and see what you need. Do you spend more time writing or reviewing? Split up your time accordingly for test day, but make sure to take account of your mistakes: if your writing is gorgeous, but full of spelling errors, you should be giving yourself more time to proofread. Here’s a sample of what you might want in your head during the SAT, but remember- you can adjust it to fit your writing pace!
3-4 minutes: Reading the prompt & deciding on three main reasons
5-6 minutes: Writing a catchy introduction and conclusion
11-12 minutes: Writing three body paragraphs
3-4 minutes: Put it all together and proofread
In the example above, I cited the ever-popular five paragraph essay. As generic as it might seem at first, you might come to love it. Two body paragraphs usually cuts it too low for the SAT graders; unless you have two ineffably astonishing examples, I wouldn’t recommend it. Going above and beyond the three paragraphs is great; but make sure you have enough time to finish both writing and reviewing your extra paragraphs. Don’t be afraid to break the usual structure, though; you want your essay to stand out from the crowd. Speaking of that-
4. Avoid the cliches!
Quite a lot of the SAT prompts seem to stem from generalities like “Practice makes perfect!” or “Anything is possible if you believe.” or “The world is what you make of it.” Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with citing these, keep in mind that they’re incredibly popular and well-known quotes. Experienced SAT graders will likely see thousands of these, along with anecdotes of bullying, bad grades, or other life-changing events. When you’re under such strict time constraints, it is hard to avoid going with the obvious- but unless you can’t come up with anything else, don’t write about: Hitler, Gandhi, MLK, Mother Teresa, the Holocaust, World War II, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Hiroshima bombing, Galileo, Tesla, and the like. Instead, think of some unique, lesser-known historical events- from some books you’ve read, or that chapter your APUSH teacher skipped. It’s a good idea to memorize a few biographical and historical events; some from literature and science; and a couple current events.
Good luck on your essay! And if you’re looking for some extra writing help, stop by SAT Habit (=