Tips on the 25 Minute SAT Essay

Students in high school are taught to write a 5 paragraph persuasive essay.  The SAT essay is a 25 minute timed essay.  This dichotomy between what students have been taught and practiced and what the SAT requires can be difficult for students.  What does one emphasize?  What must be left out?

The College Board, the company scoring and administering the tests, realizes that it is unlikely candidates will be able to plan, draft, revise, and edit a 5 paragraph essay in 25 minutes.  Instead, they are looking for you to narrow the focus of their very general question and provide a thesis statement backed up with one or two specific, relevant and focused arguments.  Examples to support your arguments may come from your reading, studies, experiences, situations you have encountered or heard of, and events.  

It is essential that your essay be concrete, with powerful and specific examples that back up your argument.  If your arguments are vague and not backed up with relevant examples, your score will suffer greatly!  I call writing that is not specific and concrete “airy-fairy.”  It is like cotton candy; it may sound tasty and good, but is not very filling.  The same is true of writing that is vague and has no concrete examples.

Here are two concrete examples of airy-fairy writing:

Read the prompt, then skip down and read the essay that scores a 3, the rationale for the score, then the 2 essay, and its rationale.

At first glance, the 2 essay may appear as though it is a quality essay, but can you see that each example that was provided was not developed fully? These ideas are thrown out, but no follow-up explanation is provided give validity to these assertions.  For example, Paragraph 2 throws out two different lines of thought, but develops neither.  In the case of Essay 2, the student would have received a better score had they fully developed just two of the ideas they threw out.  They could have written a shorter essay, but would have received a higher score.  Their essay is mostly unsubstantiated fluff with no meat. There are no concrete examples provided to back up any of these ideas.  Thus, they received a score of 2 out of 6.

When you write your sample essays, take up to five to seven minutes of your time planning your thesis, two key points, and the details that support these main ideas.  This is time well spent, and will help you create a more powerful and detailed essay.

If you have written a sample essay, and would like it scored, I have a new Google Helpout scoring session.  In the session, I will:

  • Ask you some quick questions to ensure you know all of the best strategies for this portion of the SAT
  • Provide a grade for the essay, based upon the SAT rubric and a rationale
  • Explain what could have been better in terms of content, and provide (or point you to inexpensive) practice resources, as needed.  Example:  I will point you to inexpensive resources with practice pages on powerful thesis statements and relevant examples, if you need this type of practice.
  • Explain recurring editing or grammar errors and provide or point you to resources that will allow you to practice remediating the problem.
  • I will provide you with written feedback on the session and a plan of action.

The session is quick and inexpensive, but powerful.

SAT Book at Home 001


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