Writing a paper is hard enough, but writing a whole paper in twenty-five minutes can seem like a nightmare. On the SAT, it’s not enough to be a great writer. You also have to be able to think quickly and avoid distractions. The best way to prepare for the writing portion is to practice, practice, practice. But practice aside, here are four tips which could alleviate some of your stress and maybe earn you a few extra points.
Editing is Everything. Of course, editing is the last part of the writing process, but I mention it first because it’s so important to remember that the best writing is actually done in editing. You’ll maximize your score if you go into the exam expecting to spend a large chunk of your writing time in the editing phase.
Knowing that you will have time to edit gives you the chance to put your ideas on paper without having to deliberate for fifteen minutes about your first sentence. On top of that, it’s only in editing that you can step outside your own head and start to imagine how your sentences will sound to others. If you don’t understand your own writing when you read it back, how can you expect your readers to understand it?
“As Abraham Lincoln Said…” You may have heard this one before, but it’s still good advice: go into the exam with a little bit of Abraham Lincoln already in your back pocket. Or Albert Einstein. Or your sixth-grade English teacher. The point is, you know that the SAT wants you to back up your claims with specific examples from history or from your life; why not come to the test with examples at the ready?
Remember, the essay readers don’t care what examples you use, they care how well you construct your sentences and paragraphs to get your point across. Coming to the test with examples in mind isn’t a form of cheating. It’s a form of thinking ahead. It saves you time during the exam, and you end up with a stronger paper as a result.
Start with an Outline. As far as the outline goes, the important thing is that you have one—it doesn’t really matter what it looks like. It may seem like you don’t have the time in a twenty-five minute period to write a complete outline, but believe me: having an outline makes the writing portion of the test that much easier. In my experience, the five-part structure is a great model: introduction, three body paragraphs, conclusion. Three clear body paragraphs is a solid amount of writing for a twenty-five minute period. It’s enough space to build an argument but not so much space that you run out of things to say.
But no matter what outline structure you use, introductions and conclusions are key. The specific arguments of your essay should be mentioned in your introduction, and the major themes should be represented in your conclusion.
And how do you make sure your introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion relate to each other? You guessed it: editing.
Talk to Yourself (But Not Literally). So you’ve brought your Abraham Lincoln, you’ve written your outline, and you remember to leave time to edit. What about the actual writing? Strangely enough, this is the easy part. You make clear arguments every day without even thinking about them. Really, all it takes to write well is to forget you’re writing at all—to tap into your everyday eloquence. One way to do this is to imagine explaining your essay to an invisible audience, preferably someone you trust.
There’s no such thing as a magic formula for writing a great SAT essay. But if you come to the test prepared with examples, write a solid outline, treat your argument like a conversation, and remember to edit, you can’t go too wrong.