The Essay Prompt

Although the essay composes a relatively small percentage of your overall score, mentally it can affect your entire test-taking experience, so to speak. As the first element of the SAT that you encounter, it can help or hinder the rest of your test, based on your perception of your performance.

As with the rest of the test, vocabulary is key.

Your first step with the writing prompt is to read the prompt, any associated quotes or text, and understand what the question is asking.

Second, prewriting. Your prewriting should take up no more that 5-8 minutes — you have 25 minutes for the essay, and while it is vital to be organized in your approach, you need to leave yourself enough time to make a clear argument.

Although my daughter (a junior in high school) implored me not to tell you to have three points to discuss (apparently many teachers decided that 3 is a magic number), it is a pretty good rule of thumb for timed writing assignments. But you start with your thesis — what are you going to say? Do you agree with the prompt? Disagree? See merit on both sides? Let’s say you agree. You need to have 2 or 3 reasons why you agree — those are your SUPPORTING ARGUMENTS. Each argument needs a separate paragraph.

Obviously, it will not be enough to simply state that you agree. You need your reasons, and then you need to support those reasons with examples. It is almost impossible to get a high score on the essay section if your essay in under 300 words. Understand that the graders do not value MORE words over WELL-WRITTEN words, but it is pretty difficult to make a clear and strong argument without developing it. And in order to develop your points, you have to write enough to make your argument clearly.

The SAT graders like to see examples that support your reasons, and like to see examples that come both from your life experiences AND from books that you have read — novels or textbooks. The graders want to know that you have material that you can draw upon in order to make your case. Schools are usually not interested in students who do not read, or who cannot think concretely about their life experience and how it relates to abstract concepts.

KEEP YOUR WRITING ORGANIZED. If you are using one paragraph to explain how Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations illustrates the value society places on wealth and the appearance of wealth, then do not switch subjects and begin talking about how wealth can be helpful from a charitable standpoint. If you are critiquing a shallow society, don’t start talking about how wealthy people can be helpful as well IN THE SAME PARAGRAPH. Remember that an essay has several pretty hard-and-fast rules:

1. Must have a clear thesis, or argument that you are making
2. Must have several paragraphs that explain why you are making that argument  (your supporting points)
3. Must have a separate topic sentence for each paragraph — the topic sentence tells the reader what the paragraph will be discussing, and it should not include information that is NOT related to the topic sentence4. Must have examples and details to explain your points
5. Must have a conclusion — the conclusion should explain what you just argued. It should be similar to the thesis but not identical to it



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