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20) SAT Writing: SAT Essay 4/4
This lesson explains why the essay was added to the SAT in the first place, what it’s testing, and strategies for tackling it without fear. By the end of this lesson, you’ll know how to ace the SAT essay – even if you think you aren’t good at writing.
History of the SAT Essay
For a lot of students, the SAT essay is still the most intimidating part of the test. It’s the only part where you have to produce original writing instead of filling in a bubble sheet, and it’s also the newest section: it was added in 2005, after the University of California school system threatened to make the SAT optional because it didn’t test the skills students actually needed in college.
The CollegeBoard was afraid of losing such a huge customer, so they reformulated the test to keep the California schools happy.
So, among other changes, the SAT now includes a writing section. The writing section includes an essay, which counts for approximately 30% of your total writing score.
This was supposed to align the test more closely with the academic skills students would need in college. In reality, the SAT essay has nothing to do with college writing; once you’re done with the test, you’ll probably never write anything like it again.
Instead, the essay is like everything else on the SAT: it’s a test of how well you take a test. The key to success is to figure out exactly what the test writers want and then give it to them.
That might sound a little cynical, but for savvy test-takers, it’s not a bad thing at all. It means that success on the essay depends on skills you can learn through practice. You don’t need an innate writing ability or special creative genius.
So, if writing really isn’t your thing, don’t despair; the SAT essay is one writing task you don’t need to fear. Natural aptitude helps, but, in the end, it’s practice and effort that make for a high-scoring SAT essay, and you can put in the leg work whether you’re a born writer or not.
Meet the SAT Essay
So, what exactly is it that you’re practicing for? Let’s take a look. On test day, the essay section will always be the very first part of the SAT. The first thing you’ll see is the prompt. Here’s a sample prompt:
As you can see, the prompt has two parts. You get a quote first, and then a question that touches on the topic of the quote. Don’t get distracted by the quote – it’s not very important. Focus on the question. It will always present you with two alternatives; your job is to pick one and support it. This should take you one to two minutes at most. It doesn’t matter which side you pick; there is no ‘right’ answer. Choose the one you think will be easiest to argue and move on.
Once you’ve chosen your side, your job is to formulate your thesis statement: a clear sentence expressing which side of the prompt you picked. Then, brainstorm two to three supporting points from history, books you’ve read, TV, movies, or your own experience, and plug everything into a very formulaic 5-paragraph essay. You’ve probably written one of these in school. They look like this:
The introduction has three to four sentences. Here, you’ll briefly introduce your topic, and get to your thesis statement as fast as you can. In each body paragraph, you’ll discuss one supporting point. The third body paragraph is optional, but nice if you have time. Then, in the conclusion, you’ll summarize your evidence in one to two sentences, then restate your thesis. This all has to happen in just 25 minutes, from getting the prompt to handing in your paper.
Overall, you can think of the essay section like a glorified game of Mad Libs. The only thing that changes is the particular prompt. Once you know what specific examples and thesis statement you’ll be plugging in to your formula, you can write almost on autopilot.
The Essay & Your Score
Now you know basically what you’re expected to do. To get a better idea of exactly what the test writers are looking for, it’s very illuminating to look at how they score the essay.
Remember the essay counts for 30% of your total writing score. The essay is scored on a scale of 2-12. Two graders read your essay, and each grader gives you a score from 1-6. The scores are then added together for a final score on the 12-point scale. An 8 is a solid score; anything above a 10 is something to be proud of.
When you get your score report, you’ll see your overall writing score (with the essay factored in) and a separate essay score on the 2-12 scale. Colleges can also get a copy of your essay if they choose (although many don’t care enough to read them).
By looking at the grading rubric that the essay readers get, you can get a very good idea of what is – and what isn’t – important for getting a good score.
- Picking one side of the prompt to argue – don’t try to take both sides!
- Support your point with relevant examples
- Strong introduction and conclusion paragraphs
- Good use of transitions between sentences and paragraphs
- Staying on topic
What’s Not Important?
- Handwriting (unless it’s completely illegible)
- Minor spelling or grammar mistakes (unless they interfere with comprehension)
- Which side of the prompt you pick
- Remembering precise dates or any particular facts
The readers zoom through these essays at lightning speed – about 2 minutes per essay – so it’s important to write something that they can read fast without getting confused (or they’ll mark you down for being unclear). You can’t make a complicated or sophisticated argument to someone who’s skimming their 5 millionth SAT essay for the day! That brings us right back to the formula: a boilerplate 5-paragraph essay that picks one side of the prompt and makes a very straightforward argument supporting it with examples that are easy to understand.
Source : https://study.com