In the past four years, the layout of the SAT (a standardized college entrance exam) has changed completely. Most of this change was due to the addition of the writing section, a section that is devoted to primarily testing a student’s ability to think logically about the grammatical structure of the English language. This portion of the SAT is worth as much as either of the other two sections (Critical Reading and Mathematics) -a total of eight hundred points. Seventy percent of these possible eight hundred points is reliant upon your score for the multiple-choice grammatical questions, but the other thirty percent of your score depends on your ability to write an essay on a given subject matter in a mere twenty-five minutes. It is this latter part of the writing section that terrifies many students.
Usually, the SAT (and even the ACT) will present a subject matter to students by first giving them a short, controversial statement and then asking them to write an essay on their opinion of the matter. I have taken both the SAT and the ACT and received fairly high scores on my essays; I was given an eleven (out of twelve) on my SAT essay and a twelve (out of twelve) on my ACT essay. Through taking these tests and forming on-the-spot essays, I have noticed a few strategies to approaching this essay-writing section of standardized tests.
1) Quickly read through the statement and/or question given and form an opinion on it. Do not change your opinion. Even if you find yourself agreeing more with the other side of the argument as you progress through your essay do not change your stance on the matter. The test graders will be grading your ability to write down an opinion in a logical, grammatically correct manner; they should not be grading you on your personal take on the question at hand.
2) Write down a few points on any scratch paper you may have that you can use to support your stance. For ease in the organization of thoughts, I would generally recommend trying to come up with three supporting points to your opinion which could become the topic sentences of three body paragraphs for your essay. You could then simply add an introduction and conclusion and your essay would be complete. However, do not lock yourself into this “five paragraph essay” form; I wrote one essay that had only three paragraphs that received an eleven. Simply quickly jot down all of the thoughts you can on the scratch paper. Choose among these thoughts the ones that you can write substantially (and yet quickly) on. If possible, integrate some of your “discarded” thoughts into sub-parts of these larger topics. This process of choosing a stance and jotting down a quick outline for your essay should only take you, at the maximum, five minutes. Remember, this is a timed essay, and thus speed is very important.
3) Start your essay with a brief introductory paragraph that states your opinion on the issue and then quickly outlines your supporting points in its thesis statement. Your thesis statement is usually the last sentence of your introductory paragraph and the order in which you mention your points in this sentence should be the order in which they appear in your essay. Since you have already jotted down your points, writing your introduction should be simple.
4) Write the rest of your essay, focusing on building paragraphs around your already chosen supporting points. If possible, use examples from literature or history to support your points. Although not necessary for your essay, these points will make you sound even more authoritative on the subject. Finish your essay with a short but good conclusion paragraph that restates (but doesn’t just repeat) all that you have already said in your essay.
5) Perhaps one of the most important things to remember while writing is that you should never, if possible, completely change the stance that you have taken on the topic, even if you find yourself disagreeing with it. While it is fine to pull in “another point of view” into your essay, remember to stay focus in relating the position that you initially chose to take. Remember, time is one of the most important factors in writing the essay.
One of the most difficult parts of this essay writing process for students is their tendency to sway from their initial stance, thus causing them to compose a confusing, watery essay at both. Don’t fall prey to this. Stick with your original instinct, and you may even have time to proofread your essay when you are done writing it.