Do’s and Don’ts of SAT Essay

Essay writing is always received with mixed feelings by most SAT test takers. Some jump with excitement to the idea of writing personal experiences, sharing profound knowledge on subjects close to their heart, while others feel shy of disclosing their innermost thoughts and secretly dread having to write an essay. That would have been the scenario in the old pattern of the SAT standardized test. The new SAT, which debuted this year in March, has made writing an essay, an Optional task to the relief of many. However, College Board the makers of the test, are quick to add that, the decision to write the essay is virtually controlled by certain factors that are outside the student’s purview. Some colleges recommend that the essay score is submitted along with the SAT score.  Hence the wisest thing to do is to include preparation for the essay in your overall plan to ace the SAT.

So what about the jitters that some students face while writing an essay? The SAT essay, in its redesigned format, is like a college assignment in which you have asked to analyze a test. You have 50 minutes to complete the essay and you will not be asked to agree or disagree with a position or a topic, nor will you be asked to write about your personal experience. So this should make the shy test takers heave a sigh of relief and remove the jitters, surely.

What does the Essay require of us?

  1. Read a passage: An excerpt from a Great Global conversation or an extract from a popular American non-fiction writer are necessary for your critical study.
  2. Explain how the author builds an argument to persuade his audience
  3. Support your explanation with evidence from the passage to support your claims:
  • Evidence, such as facts or examples, to support explanations
  • Reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence
  • Stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed

The mechanics of writing:

  1. No bias allowed: The instructions that follow the Essay question are quite self-explanatory. To put in a nutshell the test writers want you to review the passage. Like one would review a movie or a theatrical performance. But there is a difference. An important difference. Unlike the reviewer of the real world, the SAT essay writer would need to be unbiased and non-judgmental about the passage. Remember the SAT is not asking us our opinion.
  2. Do know your similes and metaphors:   As you write the essay, you would be looking out for the stylistic elements used by the passage writer and draw attention to the appropriate use of these elements.  Consider this sentence: Stock your mind, stock your mind. You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace. (From Angela’s Ashes by Frank Mc Court.) The metaphor or implied comparison is about how one can be poor materially, but rich in one’s mind. The mind can become a palace if it is stocked with all the richest of thoughts and experiences. As a SAT test taker, you would need to highlight the metaphorical connection in the line to indicate that you have understood the stylistic device used by the author to persuade the reader to think rich even if one is in dire poverty.
  3. Do quote occasionally from the text: While writing the essay, do fetch evidential lines from the text to support your claim. If you think the author has used reasoning and logic very effectively, then do quote those relevant sentences from the text to support your claim. However, do not overdo this, otherwise, the essay will just look like a series of quoted lines with nothing of your own and that would be counter-productive.
  4. Don’t be judgmental: Your private views are not elicited. It matters not if you like the style of the writer or agree with the writer’s perspective. But if the writer is using sarcasm or becoming indignant too often in the passage, then as a critique you would mention how the writer uses sarcasm or indignation to put his innermost feelings across most effectively.
  5. Don’t deprecate; Do appreciate: Which brings us to the last point. Be appreciative of the language skills of the writer and mention how it has the intended effect on the audience. Support your statement with evidence from the text. Conversely, do not pass offensive comments or use exaggerated or extreme language in your concluding sentences.

Do review these 5 tips and remember to bring them into practice while writing your essay. You would benefit if you stick to an outline or template so, do reach out to your test prep coach to get a standard template to arrange your paragraphs of the essay.  Read up information on figures of speech and use this information with proficiency while you analyze the essay. Figures of speech would include personification, allusions, allegory, similes, metaphors, symbolism, hyperbole etc. Be aware of these stylistic devices in the English Language and learn how these devices enhance the quality of any essay.


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