How to write SAT essay
- As a former teacher and scorer for the SATs, I understand the frustration. But don't be uptight. The essay is not that bad. My first advice, which I'm sure you've heard before, is practice, practice, practice writing. Most likely, you will have to write a persuasive essay. Set a timer and write.
Unlike writings for class, this essay needs to follow a little different format. Remember, you have 25 minutes to prove yourself. The structure of the essay is basic: Introduce, Discuss, Conclude. However, the introduction needs to be short with a stated position. There is no time for elaboration. Get that position out there and use your time on the body of the essay.
Organize the body by discussing only one point for each paragraph. As scorers, we need to read the essay quickly, get the idea and move on. Make it easy for us! We're scoring approximately 25-30 essays an hour.
Use transition between the paragraphs. Possible transition techniques: *Key transition words such as Next, Furthermore
*Repeat a word, phrase, or idea from the previous paragraph
*Use synonyms of key words as you move from idea to idea
The conclusion needs to be short like the introduction. The time needs to be spent on the body. Sum it up and allow yourself 5 minutes to proof the essay. Do not plan on rewriting. There's no time and we, the scorers, are aware that this is first draft writing.
Use details. Avoid generalities. Be specific. Use examples. Don't forget, you have background in literature, history, science, math, and personal experience.
Write your essay on a topic that is not a common choice. As scorers, we see so many of the same thing. If the prompt is about politics, we will see essay after essay about some recent news event. It can get boring. Try to avoid the usual.
1. Youth is life's seed-time.
2. In the dictionary of youth there is no such word as failure.
3. Homekeeping youths have ever homely wits.
4. An idle youth, a needy age.
5. An old dog barks not in vain.
6. An old dog will not learn new trick.
1. The important thing in life is to have a great aim, and the determination to attain it.
2. Living without an aim is like sailing without a compass.
3. Where there is a will, there is a way.
4. Nothing is impossible to a willing mind.
1. Time waits for no man.
2. Time cures everything.
3. Time works wonders.
4. With time and patience the leaf of mullbury become satin.
5. Lost time is never found again.
6. Today gold, tomorrow dust.
7. One today is worth two tomorrow.
8. No time like the present.
1. Knowledge advances by steps and not by leaps.
2. There is no royal road to learning.
3. Learning in one's youth is engraving in stone.
4. Money spent on the brain is never spent in vain.
5. Where there is interest, there is memory.
1. Education has for its object the formation of the character.
2. What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to the soul.
3. The best horse needs breaking, the aptest child needs teaching.
4. The first step towards philosophy is incredulity.
1. Opportunity seldom knocks twice.
2. The opportunity is often lost by deliberating.
3. It is too late to grieve when the chance is past.
4. Hoist sail when the wind is fair.
5. Strike while the iron is hot.
6. Every man is the archetect of his own fortune.
7. Fortune favours the bold.
8. Fortune helps them that help themselves.
1. Something attempted, something done. ---Langfellow
2. They who cannot do as they would, must do as they can.
3. Method is the very hindge of business.
4. Delays are dangerous.
1. Diseases of the soul are more dangerous than those of the body.
2. Seldom sick, sore sick.
3. Bitter pills have blessed effects.
1. You have to believe in yourself, that's the secret of success. ---Chaplin
2. I have no secret of succes but hard work. ---Turner
3. A minute's success pays the failure of years. ---Browning
1. The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but what they miss. ---Carlyle(GBR)
2. Variety is the spice of life. ---Cowper(GBR)
3. Life and misery begin together.
4. Live and let live.
5. We do our best and God will take care of the rest.
1. A change is as good as a rest.
2. People who cannot find time for recreation are obliged sooner or later to find time for illness. ---Wanamaker(US)
3. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
1. As is the workman, so is the work.
2. No living man all things can.
3. To know everything is to know nothing.
1. Constancy is the foundation of all the virtues.
2. Great works are performed not by strenth but by perseverence.
3. Little strokes fell great oaks.
4. Constant dropping wears away a stone.
1. If you do not learn to think when you are young, you may never learn. ---Edison
2. The eye is blind if the mind is absent.
3. Second thoughts are best.
4. Imagination is sometime more important than knowledge.
1. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
2. Wit brought is better than wit taught.
3. Knowledge is a treasure, but practice is the key to it. ---Fuller(UK)
4. A man is known by the company he keeps.
1. Speech is silver, silence is gold.
2. Promise little, but do much.
3. Facts speak louder than words.
4. What is worth doing at all is worth doing well.
1. By doing nothing we learn to do ill.
2. Of all our faults, the one we excuse most easily is iddleness.
3. What may be done at any time will be done in no time.
1. Genius is one percent inspirition and ninety-nine percent perspiration.
2. Talents come from diligence, knowledge is gained by accumilation.
3. Genius is eternal patience. ---Michelangelo
1. Man lives in hope. ---Manpassant
2. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
3. He who lives by hopes will die by hunger. ---Drake
1. Joys shared with others are more shared.
2. The busy bee has no time for sorrow. ---Blake
3. A trouble shared is a trouble halved.
4. Don't cross the bridge till you get to it.
1. First things first.
2. He laughs best who laughs last.
3. The end crowns the work. ---Shakespeare
1. Be just to all, but trust not all.
2. Respect yourself, or no one will respect you.
3. Do as you would be done by.
1. You can't change your own nature.
2. Nature is stronger than education.
3. Tastes differ.
4. Interest will not lie.
1. A good name is sooner lost than won.
2. A rose by another name will smell as sweet. ---Shakespear
3. Too much praise is a burden.
1. Trust not a new friend nor an old enemy.
2. Seeing is believing.
3. Evil doers are evil dreaders.
4. He that commits a fault thinks eveeyone speaks of it.
1. Reason rules all things.
2. He that is the master of himself will soon be master of others.
1. Patience is the plaster for all sores.
2. Patience pierces the rock.
3. When angry, count a hundred.
1. Good counsel does no harm.
2. Good medicine is bitter in the mouth.
3. If you wish good advice, consult an old man.
1. The boughs that bear most hang lowest.
2. Pride goes before a fall.
3. Never offer to teach fish to swim.
1. One cannot be too careful.
2. Take heed and you will surely speed.
3. There is moderation in all things.
4. Let well alone.
1. Silence is golden.
2. Still waters run deep.
3. Silence is the perfect expression of scorn. ---Bernard Shaw
1. Nothing venture, nothing have.
2. Discretion is the better part of valour.
3. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. ---Roosevelt
4. Conscience makes cowards of us all. ---Shakespeare
1. Content is happiness.
2. Discontent is the first step in progress.
3. Give him an inch and he will take a mile.
1. “I heard one say so" is half a lie.
2. Ask no questions and hear no lies.
3. He that once deceives is ever suspected.
1. Every man has his faults.
2. The greatest of faults is to be conscious of none. ---Thomas Carlyle
3. Never too late to mend.
1. Experience is the best teacher.
2. Experience is sometimes dangerous.
3. A stitch in time saves nine.
4. He that has been bitten by a serpent, is afraid of a rope.
1. It takes all sorts to make a world.
2. Everything is good for something.
3. All for one, one for all. ---Dumas pere
1. Riches do not always bring happiness.
2. Money makes the mare go.
3. He that will thrive must rise at five.
1. Old habits die hard.
2. Habit cures habit.
3. The chains of habits are too weak to be felt until they are too hard to be broken. ---Johnson
1. Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing. ---Franklin
2. All are not friends that speak us fair.
3. Better an open enemy than a false friend.
4. Admonish your friends in private, praise them in public.
1. Liberty is more worth than gold.
2. Too much liberty spoils all.
3. Turn about is fair play.
1. The face is the index of mind.
2. Appearances are deceptive.
3. Dumb dogs are dangerous.
1. The pen is mighter than the sword.
2. The chain is no stronger than its weakest link.
3. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
1. Better safe than sorry.
2. A danger forseen is half avoided. ---Fuller
3. All is not lost that's in danger.
1. No rose without thorn.
2. Better to do well than to say well.
3. A good anvil does not fear the hammer.
4. A good horse should be seldom spurred.
5. Better deny at once than promise long.
1. Truth crushed to earth will rise.
2. Handsome is as handsome does.
3. Beauty and folly are often companions.
1. A great ship asks deep water.
2. A single spark can start a prairie fire.
3. Small rain lays great dust.
1. Everything new is fine.
2. A new broom sweeps clean.
3. It is ill healing of an old sore.
1. He gives twice who gives quickly.
2. Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow. --Shakespeare
3. Slow and steady win the race.
1. All things are difficult before they are easy.
2. What we do willingly is easy.
3. Custom makes all things easy.
1. Nothing for nothing.
2. He who would catch fish must not mind getting wet.
3. Burn not your house to rid it of the mouse.
1. Misfortunes tell us what fortune is.
2. Bad lucks often bring good lucks.
3. Difficult circumstances serve as a textbook of life for people.
1. There can be no economy where there is no efficiency.
2. Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
3. Trade knows neither friends nor kindred.
1. Eat at pleasure, drink with measure.
2. Better to be half hungry than ill fed.
3. Nothing comes amiss to a hungry man.
1. To save time is to lengthen life.
2. Cut your coat according to your cloth.
3. Borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry. ---Skakespeare
1. A snow year, a rich year.
2. If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? ---Shelley
1. First thrive and then wive.
2. Before you marry, have a house to live in and fields to till.
3. True love never grows old.
1. He is happiest who finds peace in his home.
2. East or West, home is the best.
3. Like father, like son.
1. Too wise to live long.
2. Those whom the gods love, die young.
3. Better die standing than live kneeling.
4. All men are mortal.
1. The dwarf sees farther than the giant, when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on. ---Coleridge.
2. We never know the value of water till the well is dry.
3. Necessity is the mother of invention.
4. As a man sows, so he shall reap.
5. Lookers-on see more than players.
6. Measure for measure.
7. Self do, self have.
1. Like cures like.
2. Be bold in making assumptions, but careful in proving them.
3. That which was bitter to endure may be sweet to remember.
SAT Essay Test Structure
The essay is the first thing you will face when you sit down to take the SAT.
You will be given 25 minutes to write your essay by hand, onto an answer sheet form. Your essay must respond to the 'prompt' provided in the test booklet. A prompt is a short, one- or two-sentence long statement that presents two opposing stands on a topic and asks you to respond. You MUST write your essay in response to the given prompt. 'Off-topic' essays will receive zero points. (So no, you can't ace this part of the SAT by memorizing a great essay and writing it out on test day - sorry!)
The SAT essay is different from other parts of the test in that it is graded by actual human beings. Every essay is graded by two scorers, each of whom rates the essay on a scale from 1 (fundamentally lacking) to 6 (outstanding). Their scores are added together to give a final score of up to 12 points. In cases where individual scores differ enormously in the grades they give, a supervisor will read the essay and determine a final score. The 0-12 score counts for 1/3 of your score on the Writing section and 1/9 of your total SAT score. (For more information on SAT essay scores, click here.)
Scorers work quickly. A scorer may be asked to grade over 200 essays in an eight hour shift. That means they spend less than two and a half minutes on each essay on average.
Scorers are asked to rate:
1) the writer's ability to develop and express a point of view in response to the prompt;
2) the writer's ability to use examples, logic, and reasoning to support their point of view; and
3) the writer's competency in standard written English.
Scorers are supposed to understand that SAT essays are first drafts, written under pressure. They are not supposed to deduct points for a few simple misspellings or grammatical slips, or for lack of style or subject knowledge.
Intimidated? Don't be. Anyone who can do well on other parts of the SAT can do well on the essay. It just takes some preparation.
How to prepare for the SAT Essay
- Read. Reading will help you internalize the structure and 'sound' of written English. It will also provide you with material to use as supporting evidence in your SAT essay. Newspaper editorials and op-eds are good choices because they usually state a problem and take a position on it, in the space of about 500 words (which is probably a bit longer than most SAT essays will be).
- Write. Get in the habit of expressing yourself on paper. If you don't keep a journal, start one. Better yet, keep an essay journal. Each week or so sit down and write a page or two about your reaction to something you read or saw. Train yourself to be comfortable with writing an essay-type passage in about 20 minutes.
- Get in touch with your inner blowhard. One of the biggest problems test takers face is complete and utter apathy on the question presented by the essay prompt. This is perfectly understandable, as prompts often deal with abstract conflicts that are hard to get worked up about. But keep in mind that you're being graded on your ability to state an argument and to support it. You have to take some kind of stand. Train yourself to do that. If it helps, put your argument in the mouth of a fictional third person: "Some people would say x. They would cite reasons a, b, and c." Another option is to re-state the prompt question in a way that makes it easier to respond to. (Be careful not to go too far with this, though - remember, off-topic essays get a zero.)
- Learn essay templates by heart. Another problem test takers face is wasting time on trying to figure out how to connect one paragraph to another. You can minimize this problem by learning essay templates - structures that you can plug almost any material into. The classic five paragraph essay (topic sentence followed by three supporting paragraphs followed by a conclusion) is one example. Another example is the "on the one hand - one the other hand" type of comparison. An English writing textbook will give you other ideas.
- Brush up your grammar and spelling. Look at the writing you do in your journal and for school assignments. Identify and correct any mistakes you tend to make. Minor slips in grammar or spelling aren't likely to hurt your SAT essay score. However, a pattern of mistakes might suggest that you just aren't competent in standard written English.
- Clean up your handwriting. Scorers aren't supposed to mark papers down for bad penmanship, but if they honestly can't make out what you've written, you may get a lower score than you deserve. Remember that you'll be asked to write - frantically - for 25 minutes. Make sure you can do that without being crippled by arm or hand cramps.
What to do on test day
- Read the entire prompt. Don't be in such a rush to start your essay that you risk misunderstanding the question you're asked to respond to.
- Use scrap paper. Scrap paper is your friend. Use it to brainstorm ideas and to sketch out an outline for your essay.
- Start your essay with an introductory paragraph. It should 1) repeat the question asked by the prompt and 2) clearly state your position on that question.
- Continue your essay with supporting arguments. Try to give two or three reasons for why you have taken the position you did on the prompt question. If you can only come up with one reason, give a detailed explanation of why it supports your stand, and say why it is important enough to make the case on its own.
- End your essay with a conclusion. The conclusion can simply restate the stand you have taken, or it can make a broader point.
- Try to leave time for proofreading. Try to finish your essay early enough that you have time to read it over quickly and correct any obvious mistakes in spelling, word usage, or grammar.
How long does a SAT essay need to be?
"Write long" is the most frequently cited advice we've seen about the SAT essay. It seems based on an informal study that found a strong correlation between long essays and high scores.
We encourage you to take that advice with a grain of salt. For one thing, the study used a very small sample of essays that were scored during the first administration of the revised SAT. It's hard to draw general conclusions from that experience. For another thing, what the study called a "short" essay meant one of as little as 100 words. The problem with those essays was more likely a lack of content or an undeveloped argument than their length.
Our advice is to focus on content instead of word counts. Use as many words as you need to express your thoughts. If you practice writing essays, you'll develop a good sense of how much you can write in the allotted 25 minutes, and of how much space you need to lay out an argument.
If you absolutely cannot come up with a coherent response to the prompt, writing long may cut your losses. At least you'll show more of your command of written English. However, we think a complete, concise essay is always going to score higher than a rambling, long one.