The Write Stuff — New SAT Essay Writing Tips

When The College Board announced that the redesigned SAT Essay will be optional, you could probably hear a collective sigh of relief. After sitting through three hours of testing, you can now just… leave? Well, maybe.

While the redesigned SAT Essay is optional, many schools, including several top-ranked universities, require that you submit essay scores. And, while you may dodge the writing on the SAT, you won’t be able to escape writing and analysis assignments in college, so why not show colleges that you’ll hit the ground running?

We’ve already covered how the new Essay focus and prompts are different, but the great news is that the new prompts will always be the same. Wait. Why is this great news? Because you can prepare for it, of course. Unlike the previous SAT, where you had to wrestle with an unknown hypothetical, the redesigned Essay is 100 percent predictable. You can memorize it, practice it, sing it out loud while walking to school… Well, maybe not that last one, but  if you do, please share a YouTube link with us so we can revel in your awesomeness. With that, we’ve put together a few easy-to-remember tips on acing the new SAT Essay. Check them out and share your own.

1. Your goal is to analyze, not to persuade 

On the old SAT, your response included picking and defending a point of view. You will now focus completely on analyzing the author’s argument and showing your understanding of the argument’s structure and logic. Don’t concern yourself with agreeing or disagreeing with the author; rather, look for how the author arrived at her argument and conclusion.

2. Find and cite rhetorical devices

You’ll be reading a long, nonfiction, persuasive essay. As you’re reading through the text, consider its overall purpose. Is it to dissuade? Encourage adoption of a new point of view? As you think about the context, pay attention to the places where the author states opinions (also known as arguments or positions) and the places where she supports those opinions with evidence. The heart of this new writing task is critical reasoning—the ability to discern the strengths and weaknesses of a logical argument in support of an opinion.

3. Discern unique uses of evidence

As you’re reading through the author’s argument, continue to look for what types of evidence she uses to support her claim. Does she use statistics, surveys, or research? Interviews with experts? Next, why is this type of evidence used, and is it persuasive? What is the logical connection between the evidence and the argument? Does it have gaps or flaws? What evidence might better support the position?

4. Become familiar with the scoring rubric

If you know what the essay graders are looking for and keep that in mind, you’ll train your brain (and pen) to recognize which textual elements you’ll need to address. The SAT Essay graders are looking for you to have a thorough understanding of the text’s central idea and a skillful analysis of the evidence used to support the text’s main argument. They’re also looking for a solid essay structure — and it’s fine to use the tried-and-true five-paragraph format — to carry your writing. The most important aspects of your writing style in this task are variety in sentence structure and length, strong and precise words, a neutral and objective tone, and error-free writing (yes, spelling and punctuation count; they add to or detract from the clarity of your writing).

5. Yes, edit

As you’re reading and writing under time constraints, you want to leave yourself enough time to edit your essay for grammar, usage, and spelling. A smattering of sloppy errors can needlessly drag your score down. Even if you’re a proficient writer, you will find at least one major mistake when you read through your finished essay. To catch spelling errors quickly, try reading your sentence backwards. Our brains tend to skip over spelling mistakes when reading a sentence we’re familiar with, because our brains “fill in the blanks” for us.
Writing the now-optional SAT Essay allows you to keep all your application doors open, and writing a knockout essay not only sets you apart from other applicants, but also goes a long way in preparing you for writing at the collegiate level. And being successful in college is, of course, what you want, and it’s why you’re sitting in a giant room on a Saturday morning for almost four hours, right?

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