SAT Tutoring: Strategies for the SAT writing section

expository writing SAT

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The essay component of the SAT writing section is so hated by high school students, I think, because it’s just so difficult to measure improvement.  Practice is crucial to getting better at any skill, and unlike all the other sections on the SAT, you can’t just grade a multiple choice test to tell how well you’re doing. 

The key here is to find an impartial practice grader – maybe a friend, a teacher, or a tutor – who can help gauge your progress as well as remind you to practice.  Remember, this isn’t the same as writing an essay for your History or English class.  It’s about hitting a few key points, memorizing the tricks that will make you an efficient test-taker, and having some fun with it. 

Here are a few of the things I tell my SAT prep students in New York City to keep in mind while writing those practice SAT essays: 

Make stuff up – This is one of the hardest tips for students to accept, but ultimately it’s one of the most freeing.  Say your essay prompt reads something like: “Is strong moral character the most important qualification for a leader?” (That’s a real one!) or “Who in your life has influenced you the most positively?”  Don’t waste much time thinking about the truth of the first statement or the most accurate answer for the second – instead, think about what answer will provide you with the most abundant, clear material for writing a well-supported essay.  Of course don’t go overboard, but if you can think of three specific examples of good leaders without “strong moral character” – go for it, regardless of how you really feel.  This will save you so much time, and actually makes the writing process a little more fun sometimes.

Build up a stockpile of specific examples – All these essays are going to require two or three supporting paragraphs, and a solid supporting paragraph always has at least one specific example to back it up.  Start listening to the news on the radio.  Read a cultural interest piece in the New York Times every now and then.  If you can key into what’s going on in the world right now, you’ll be able to add a ton events, notable people, and news developments to all the facts you already have memorized from school.  When properly applied to an SAT essay, these little additions can really liven up your writing. 

Write a perfect essay – grammatically, at least.  This is much easier than it sounds.  After learning all of the rules that the SAT tests on grammar in the multiple choice section, you won’t want to let any mistakes creep into your writing.  Always give yourself time for a thorough sweep at the end of writing, and keep a keen ear tuned to how your writing sounds.  Does a certain sentence sound awkward?  Then there’s probably a word or two you can tweak.  Keep those glaring errors to a minimum, and the graders won’t have any opportunities to mark you down.

But above all, the key to solid standardized test preparation for the SAT verbal section is to practice. 

As long as you’re keeping yourself honest with time allotments, you can even email your practice essays to someone who will give them a look.  Of course, there plenty more writing tips where these came from, but if you follow the rules above you’ll be on the right track for writing the perfect essay for the SAT.

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