You know it, I know it, College Board knows it: the essay wins by a landslide for the superlative of “Most Hated SAT Section.” You want to chuck tomatoes at it, watch your dog rip it apart, send it to a hole where you will use it as kindling to roast s’mores…
Stop. The essay section has feelings too. It’s really a nice person on the inside; you just need to get acquainted with it. Some tips to make the essay more approachable:
1. Zero in on the question
Luckily for you, the prompt-creators at College Board aren’t the most creative people around. You’ll always receive your essay question in the same packaging: a somehow relevant quote (ignore), sometimes an explanation of the quote (also ignore), the question (DO NOT IGNORE), and a huge block of instructions you’ve hopefully already read a million times prior (back to ignoring).
Every second counts here, so look for the question marks and skip straight to them. Underline, star, circle, or box away! But warning: sometimes the assignment comes in more than one sentence, so don’t be too overzealous with your skimming and ignoring.
2. Don’t be a politician!
The SAT will offer you two possibilities, two theses that you just have to rephrase. Don’t be overambitious, don’t be wishy-washy: take a stance. Arguing both sides is about as bad as not writing a single word.
Now is also not the time to be a rebel and come up with a third answer. You can let your freak flag fly in about five hours.
3. Cookie-cutter structure
Introduction: Start with your “thesis” — by thesis, I mean rephrase the statement you agree with and copy it down. If you have time, then elaborate on the argument.
Body paragraphs: Have two to three examples that support your argument, and make sure you can elaborate. Each example will serve as a body paragraph. Make sure you ANALYZE — do not regurgitate what happened in Harry Potter without asking yourself, “why does this matter?” Explain how Dumbledore’s philosophies line up with your thesis, or the headmaster will roll over in his grave.
Conclusion: Even if you’re running low on time, it’s better to have at least one sentence to tie off your kind-of masterpiece than nothing at all. Simply rephrase the thesis!
4. Examples up your sleeve
I bet you’re complaining about how you can’t reeealllyy prepare for the essay. Well, there is one thing you can do: make a list of examples. It cuts down on brainstorming and hyperventilating time during those precious twenty-five minutes.
I suggest starting with texts you’ve read in English class the past few years. Often they deal with themes that it right in with the life/morals/philosophy-interrogating ways of the SAT essay. Make sure you know the characters’ names and the basic plot.
5. Quantity matters too
So you’ve likely been told “quality, not quantity” your whole life — forget that here. The way fish respond to shiny objects is how SAT readers feel about essays that span the entirety of the space you’re given.
These fish-like creatures also like it when you don’t write in microscopic handwriting, so an easy two-birds-one-stone solution is to write slightly larger than usual! (Excuse all the animal figurative language.)
Love essays yet? Hate them still? Drop us a comment below, or visit sathabit.com!
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