Writing a "good" essay on the SAT is different from writing a good essay in your English class. Even if you get a 100% on the multiple choice part of the Writing section, a mediocre essay can bring your score down about 50–70 points. Lucky for you, here is a guide to reach your optimum essay score.
First, know that you only have 25 minutes to write a "12" essay, and it can only be written on the lined paper given. Since it is mandated to use a #2 pencil on the test, be careful not to smudge your writing; if the grader has trouble reading your essay, he or she will not even bother grading it. Remember, these graders want to see you succeed, so help them help you.
Make an essay template that works for you and stick with it
Once you create a template that will always work for the essay, you won't have to waste time during the actual test to think about how to write your essay. Some people include two supporting paragraphs and some people include three, so it is really up to you. However, make sure those paragraphs are strong enough to support your argument. If you write three mediocre supporting paragraphs, the person who wrote two strong supporting paragraphs will still score higher than you. Remember, the more comfortable you are in writing the essay, the better you will most likely do.
Have a set list of examples you can choose from
Because essay prompts are similar, you can basically plan your essay before even seeing the prompt. Prompts tend to ask for your argument on individuality, success, heroes, and progress. The books you read in English class are almost always good choices for examples. List a few books you enjoyed reading and list all the themes found in a book. When you practice writing your essay using that specific example, notice if it is difficult to write about for that specific prompt. If it is, do not use the example when you come across a similar prompt.
Details are important
Finding an example that works is the easy part. Now you must extract important details from the example toward your argument. Try not to stray from what the prompt is asking you. Focus on how your example works to support your argument rather than why you chose this specific example. Three to five detailed sentences are ideal in supporting an example.
Cut what is unnecessary—you only have 25 minutes!
You do not need four sentences explaining the plot of the book you’re using as an example. Combine it all into one clean-cut sentence. Characters can be introduced in the topic sentence. Do not embellish your essay with superfluous SAT vocabulary words; they will seem out of place. I suggest taking 22 minutes to write your essay, and use the extra three minutes to proofread and make sure you have at least five SAT words in your essay.
Best of luck! For more on-on-one help acing the writing section, check out Testive’s SAT prep resources.
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Wondering about the new SAT essay scoring rubric? We’ve got that, and more!
It’s a fact of academic life that you need to write essays. You’ve done it in high school and you’ll write even more in college. Unless you’re in a creative writing class – and sometimes even then – you’ll be given directions about the format and general topic of the essay, and how well you follow those directions counts in your grade. The same thing applies to the SAT essay. It’s optional, as you know, but we encourage you to write it for some really good reasons; see Should I take the New SAT Essay for more about those reasons.
While your high school and college essays are probably read and graded by the teacher or teaching assistant, your SAT essays are read and scored by professionals who are trained to assess the essay in terms of exactly what the SAT is looking for in a good essay. There’s nothing ambiguous about the scoring criteria; the SAT has it down to a science.
SAT readers/scorers are generally high school or college teachers with experience in reading and grading essays. They’re thoroughly trained, have to pass tests to qualify as SAT readers, and once certified, are expected to absolutely conform to the scoring rubric—no personal opinions, no comments—just a number score from the rubric. Two scorers read each essay and if their scores diverge too much, a third reader scores it as well. Each reader gives a score of 1-4 for each of three criteria, the two scores are added, and the student gets three essay scores ranging from 2-8, one for each criterion.
So what are the criteria that readers so rigidly follow?
New SAT Essay Scoring Criteria
- Demonstrates little or no comprehension of the source text
- Fails to show an understanding of the text’s central idea(s), and may include only details without reference to central idea(s)
- May contain numerous errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes little or no use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates some comprehension of the source text
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) but not of important details
- May contain errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes limited and/or haphazard use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates effective comprehension of the source text
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and important details
- Is free of substantive errors of fact and interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes appropriate use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates thorough comprehension of the source text
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and most important details and how they interrelate
- Is free of errors of fact or interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes skillful use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates little or no cohesion and inadequate skill in the use and control of language
- May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea
- Lacks a recognizable introduction and conclusion; does not have a discernible progression of ideas
- Lacks variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive; demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be poor or inaccurate; may lack a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a weak control of the conventions of standard written English and may contain numerous errors that undermine the quality of writing
- Demonstrates little or no cohesion and limited skill in the use and control of language
- May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea or may deviate from the claim or idea
- May include an ineffective introduction and/or conclusion; may demonstrate some progression of ideas within paragraphs but not throughout
- Has limited variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive; demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be repetitive; may deviate noticeably from a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a limited control of the conventions of standard written English and contains errors that detract from the quality of writing and may impede understanding
- Is mostly cohesive and demonstrates effective use and control of language
- Includes a central claim or implicit controlling idea
- Includes an effective introduction and conclusion; demonstrates a clear progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay
- Has variety in sentence structures; demonstrates some precise word choice; maintains a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a good control of the conventions of standards written English and is free of significant errors that detract from the quality of writing
- Is cohesive and demonstrates highly effective use and command of language
- Includes a precise central claim
- Includes a skillful introduction and conclusion; demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay
- Has a wide variety in sentence structures; demonstrates consistent use of precise word choice; maintains a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a strong command of the conventions of standards written English and is free or virtually free of errors
- Offers little or no analysis or ineffective analysis of the source text and demonstrates little to no understanding of the analytical task
- Identifies without explanation some aspects of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing
- Numerous aspects of analysis are unwarranted based on the text
- Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made, or support is largely irrelevant
- May not focus on features of the text that are relevant to addressing the task
- Offers no discernible analysis (e.g., is largely or exclusively summary)
- Offers limited analysis of the source text and demonstrates only partial understanding of the analytical task
- Identifies and attempts to describe the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing, but merely asserts rather than explains their importance
- One or more aspects of analysis are unwarranted based on the text
- Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made
- May lack a clear focus on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task
- Offers an effective analysis of the source text and demonstrates an understanding of the analytical task
- Competently evaluates the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or features of the student’s own choosing
- Contains relevant and sufficient support for claim(s) or point(s) made
- Focuses primarily on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task
- Offers an insightful analysis of the source text and demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the analytical task
- Offers a thorough, well-considered evaluation of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or features of the student’s own choosing
- Contains relevant, sufficient, and strategically chosen support for claim(s) or point(s) made
- Focuses consistently on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task
The essay components are Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Reading refers to how well you demonstrate understanding of the text; analysis covers how well you examine the structure and components of it, and writing, as you might expect, assesses your ability to write clear, correct, and cohesive prose.
There’s a lot of detail under each score, but note that for reading, the scores go from the highest, “thorough,” (4) to the lowest, “little or no comprehension” (1). In the middle are “some” and “effective,” scores of 3 and 4 respectively, and probably where most students score. More or less the same scale, with different words, also applies to analysis and writing. It’s worth reiterating that SAT readers are held exactly to this scale and the specific breakdown under each score.
Now here’s a question for you. How long do you think each reader is expected to spend on reading, assessing, and scoring the essay? The answer is a minute or two. What does that mean for you? You’ll have to know and follow directions, read the text with structure and the writer’s elements in mind, think clearly, and write strongly from the very beginning. That’s quite a challenge, but keep checking in this blog site and we’ll give you some really good tips about meeting the challenge and writing a essay with the winning score of 8-8-8.
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