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New SAT essay tips | Preparing for the test

by | May 2, 2016 | College Prep, Essays & Research Papers, High school

NEW SAT essay tips: Part 2 • WriteShop


The idea of a timed essay can strike fear into the heart of any student. If your homeschooled teens plan to take the SAT in the next year or so, don’t wait to prepare for the essay section. Help your high schoolers become familiar with the SAT format and scoring well in advance. Then, guide them through writing lessons and extra-curricular activities that will build their skills and boost their confidence.

Start with a writing curriculum that incorporates practice with timed essays. WriteShop II is an excellent choice for your 9th and 10th graders. The program encourages a mastery of writing mechanics, and instills strong instincts for organized, concise writing.

Next, let your high schooler read the SAT essay tips below. Remind them to try a few this week!

Express Yourself in the SAT Essay

Developing an interesting vocabulary requires time and discipline. Don’t allow yourself to rush through daily conversations, emails, and texts with ambiguous word choices and the poor excuse, “You should know what I mean.” Stop and think about what you’re trying to say. Rephrase confusing statements, and find the words that best express your thoughts. On the flip-side, ask others to clarify their meanings and explain unfamiliar vocabulary words to you.

Practice Handwriting the SAT Essay

If you’re used to doing all your writing at the computer, you may be in for a rude awakening when it’s time to write your SAT essay in longhand. With that in mind, make sure you’re comfortable writing by hand.

Practice by writing out the first draft of a school assignment in pencil. Is your handwriting legible? Are your paragraph indents overtly clear? Is your spelling reasonably error-free? If one of these areas needs attention, don’t wait until the night before the SAT to address the issue.

Overcome Essay Writing Perfectionism

Writing several pages in fifty minutes won’t give you time to erase and redo large blocks of text. If you manage your time well, plan on a final five-minute review to scan your essay while addressing minor issues such as poor word choices and misplaced commas. Always keep in mind that the SAT essay is a first draft. You should write intelligently and neatly, but no one expects you to be brilliant or perfect.

If you struggle with perfectionism, try this valuable exercise: Sit down with a pencil, a blank sheet of paper, and a simple object like a coffee mug or teaspoon. Draw the object without using an eraser. You will probably have to re-draw some of curves and lines, making the best ones darker so they stand out. The old, imperfect lines remain in the background, but the finished picture will still be beautiful.

Learn the Art of Analysis

Read an SAT prompt at the family dinner table. Choose one person to read the passage aloud, and assign three other people to listen for different items: the author’s use of facts and examples, the way the author develops and connects ideas, and the author’s choice of stylistic or persuasive elements. Take turns discussing what you noticed. What makes the author’s argument effective?

On your own, find a well-thought article, sermon, or blog post to read. (Make sure you have a hard copy that you are allowed to write on.) Read the piece and highlight or underline the most relevant or strategic parts. Additionally, make copious notes in the margins to help you follow the author’s arguments. Your notations might include, but are not limited to, scientific / historical fact, descriptive example, personal anecdote, rhetorical question, comparison and contrast, cause and effect, analogy, appeal to emotion, source of authority, and proof by contradiction.

Ask a parent or writing mentor to look over your notes. In their opinion, did you highlight key quotations or merely a random assortment of sentences? Compare your thoughts. Now move on to another exercise: in your own words, paraphrase the author’s intent and major arguments. In your mentor’s estimation, did you catch the essence of what the author is trying to communicate and accomplish?

The Road to Success

“There are no shortcuts to success on the SAT essay,” the College Board declares. When it comes to trained instincts for grammar, vocabulary, and organization, they are certainly right. Prepare now, and when test day comes, you’ll have nothing to fear.

Read Part 1 here: New SAT Essay Tips: Understanding the Essay

Daniella Dautrich is a daydreaming writer, occasional blogger, and confirmed bibliophile. As a WriteShop alumna, she looks forward to using the WriteShop program with her own little ones.