Writing a Killer SAT EssayClements, Tom. HOW TO WRITE A KILLER SAT ESSAY. Moraga: TCTutoring, 2011. Print.
Why prepare and study exemplars? • “Originality is nothing but judicious imitation.” • Voltaire • “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” • Picasso • “I think conscious, deliberate imitation of a piece of prose one admires can be good training, a means toward finding one’s own voice as a … writer.” • Ursula Le Guin • “All writers stand on the shoulders of other writers.” • Jon Carroll, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Killer SAT Essay: Two Pages of Terrifying White Space
Facts about the SAT Essay • It will be the first section on your test. • You will receive a score from 0 to 12. • Two scorers each assign your essay a score from 1 to 6, with 6 being the highest possible score, and these scores are then combined. • You must write on the assigned topic. If you write on another topic, you will receive a score of zero. DO NOT WRITE ON ANOTHER TOPIC. • The essay will count for 30% of your total SAT Writing score. (The other 70% are M.C. questions on grammar, improving sentences, etc.).
Readers – Who are These People? • Know your audience • Teachers – both high school & college, typically English and History teachers • Paid by the hours & invited back based on the # scored in an hour • No more than 2 minutes is spent assessing your essay • Graded holistically
FAQ’s • 1. Is it better to print or write in cursive? • Whatever is more legible; although CollegeBoard says it really doesn’t matter, neatness counts. Write as neatly and clearly as you can. • 2. Should I skip lines, or should I write on every line? • Single space. You only have two pages on which to write your essay, so don’t risk running out of room. • 3. Will the length of my essay affect my score? • According to a 2005 analysis of a graded sample of SAT essays conducted by an MIT professor, the longer the essay, the higher the score. Granted, this is just a correlation; you must have strong, specific content, but write as much high quality content as you can.
FAQ continued • 4. Should I write in pen or pencil? • Pencil. You get no credit if you write in pen. Also, it must be a #2 “old school” pencil (no mechanical pencils). • 5. Will the readers give me any credit for the outline and notes I write on page 2? • No. The readers will read only what you’ve written within the lined pages of your student response sheet. • 6. Should I prepare a standard essay in advance and tweak it to fit the topic? • No. You must write on the assigned topic. If you write off-topic, you will receive a score of zero. • 7. Is it better to use personal examples, or examples from literature, history, etc.? • It doesn’t matter. The key is that your examples must support the position you take; if an example doesn’t further your argument, it is worthless.
How much time do I have? The essay comes at the beginning of the Writing section, and you’ll have25 minutes to do the following:• read the prompt• brainstorm your ideas• plan your essay• write your essay• proofreadThis may sound like a lot to accomplish in the allotted time, but the readers know the time limitation, so they’re not expecting a perfect essay. Instead, they’re expecting a quality first draft.
What is the key to doing well on the essay? There are two keys to doing well on the SAT Essay: the right attitude and the right method.Attitude: If you think of the essay as an ordeal, as yet another hoop that you have to jump through, it will be hard to do your best, no matter how well you write. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to be expressive as opposed to the rest of the test, where you are answering multiple choice questions. Method: Accomplished writers often talk about the importance of method. Stream-of-consciousness may be an interesting literary technique, but it’s not such a great way to write an essay. It’s best to use some organization techniques. Those will follow.
SAT Essay: The PromptKiller SAT Essay: The Prompt • You will be given a quote. • You’ll then be asked to answer a question about the quote. • To answer this question, you must state your position and then support this position with varied and specific examples. • Examples can come from your personal experience, literature, history, current events, and/or popular culture. • Two readers will each give your essay a score from 1 to 6, so your total sub-score can range from 2 to 12. • If you don’t write on the assigned topic, no matter how brilliant your ideas are, you’ll receive a zero from both scorers.
A Sample Prompt Directions: Consider carefully the following excerpt and the assignment below it. The plan and write an essay that explains your ideas as persuasively as possible. Keep in mind that the support you provide—both reasons and examples—will help make your view convincing to the reader. A popular song says, “You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.” And Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, accepting the Nobel Prize, said “No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.” Assignment: What is your view of the claim that we often appreciate the things that we have not when we gain them but when we lose them? In an essay, support your position by discussing an example (or examples) from literature, the arts, science and technology, current events, or your own experience or observation.
How It’s Graded • Killer SAT Essay: Know the Score • Two people score it, each out of 6, based on “overall impression.” (Holistic Score) • Your scores are added together to give you a number out of 12. • Grammar/Spelling/Conventions, Support, Organization/Structure, and Style count (so does handwriting…) • Keep in mind: They’re reading THOUSANDS of essays… make it easy to give you a 12!.
How It’s Graded What Is Not Done • There is no real “markup” of your work. The reader gains an overall impression from reading your essay and scores it based on that impression. • There are no numbers of spelling, grammar or punctuation errors that translate into a specific score. • No single aspect of the essay can be the determining factor in the overall score. • IN SHORT IT’S APRETTY SUBJECTIVE PROCESS
Essay Scoring Development and Support • Development and Support refers to the writer’s ability to respond to the question in the prompt and follow through with her ideas. This is the most crucial part—an essay that doesn’t develop and support ideas will not score well.Development and Support include:• how fully the essay responds to the prompt.• the essay’s sense of completeness.• the essay’s focus on the issue and avoidance of “filler”—extra words or sentences that do not contribute to the essay.• the quality and sufficiency of examples supporting the writer’s position.• the depth of critical thinking and reasoning.
Essay ScoringOrganization • Organization relates to the writer’s ability to organize her ideas effectively. Organization includes:• the order of sentences and paragraphs.• the use of effective transitions.• the flow of ideas from the essay’s introduction to its body through to its conclusion.
Essay ScoringLanguage • Language relates to the writer’s ability to correctly use a variety of words.Language includes:• how accurately words and phrases communicate the author’s ideas.• how well the author varies word choice.• the level of vocabulary the author displays.
Essay Scoring Sentence Structure • Sentence Structure relates to the writer’s ability to correctly and appropriately use a variety of sentence structures. Sentence Structure includes:• how well the author uses a variety of sentence types that are correctly punctuated.• how well and often the author varies sentence structure in meaningful and purposeful ways.
Essay Scoring Conventions • Conventions relate to the author’s ability to write error-free sentences. Conventions include:• how correctly the author uses punctuation (commas, apostrophes, periods, colons, etc.).• the author’s correctness in grammar and mechanics (subject-verb agreement, verb tense, subject-pronoun agreement, etc.).
Essay Scoring Overall Score • The essays are scored holistically—which means that the final score is based on an overall impression. Essay readers won’t keep track of your errors or assign a subscore for each writing element to determine your final score.The best plan is to make your essay as good as possible according to all five scoring elements. However, holistic scoring means that an outstanding job in one of the elements, such as language, may make the scorer somewhat more lenient if you make several mistakes with another element, such as conventions.To get the best score possible, you want not only to improve in your weak suits as a writer, but also to take advantage of your strong suits.
The SAT Scoring Guide • See PDF on our class website under the LA Links tab • Pay attention to key descriptors from the rubric. For example:
A Score of 6 • A 6 is “outstanding” and demonstrates “clear and consistent mastery.” A typical 6: • “effectively and insightfully develops a point of view…[and uses] clearly appropriate examples…and other evidence to support its position” [responds to prompt persuasively and provides specific supporting examples] • “is well organized and clearly focused, demonstrating…smooth progression of ideas” [organized and uses transitions between sentences, paragraphs, and ideas] • “[uses] a varied, accurate, and apt vocabulary” • “meaningful variety in sentence structure” • “free of most errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
A Score of 4 • A 4 is “competent” and demonstrates “adequate mastery.” A typical 4: • “develops a point of view on the issue” and uses “adequate examples, reasons, and other evidence to support its position” • “is generally organized and focused” and demonstrates “some…progression of ideas” • “exhibits adequate but inconsistent…use of language” and uses “generally appropriate vocabulary” • “some variety of sentence structure” • “some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics”
A Score of 2 • A 2 is “seriously limited” and demonstrates “little mastery”. Additionally, it’s flawed by ONE OR MORE of the following weaknesses: • “develops a point of view that is vague or seriously limited” and provides “inappropriate or insufficient examples…to support its position” • “is poorly organized…or demonstrates serious problems with coherence or progression of ideas” • Uses “very limited vocabulary or incorrect word choice” • “frequent problems in sentence structure” • “contains errors in grammar…so serious that meaning is somewhat obscured”
Table Talk • What do you think are the most important “ingredients” to a successful double-digit SAT essay? • Why?
The 3 Things You Need • Length • Structure • Appropriate Examples/ Support
Writing the Way They Want • Length is important. Use most of the booklet! • Consider your audience. Catch their attention right off the back. • Establish a structure - 5 paragraphs, a clear thesis, thesis reminders in each ¶, & transitions throughout • Depth is better than breadth. Make sure to develop your ideas at length. Don’t just list a whole bunch without support. • Don’t worry about accuracy; they don’t have time to fact-check!
Use the Prompt • Make sure you stay on topic • You need to agree or disagree, and it’s okay to do either as long as you are EMPHATIC!!! • Address the prompt directly so that the reader knows you’re answering it.
A Sample Prompt Directions: Consider carefully the following excerpt and the assignment below it. The plan and write an essay that explains your ideas as persuasively as possible. Keep in mind that the support you provide—both reasons and examples—will help make your view convincing to the reader. A popular song says, “You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.” And Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, accepting the Nobel Prize, said “No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.” Assignment: What is your view of the claim that we often appreciate the things that we have not when we gain them but when we lose them? In an essay, support your position by discussing an example (or examples) from history, literature, the arts, science and technology, current events, or your own experience or observation.
Structure – Building Blocks • If you love the Five Paragraph Essay you’re in luck… Intro Topic Sentence/Example 1 Topic Sentence/Example 2 Topic Sentence/Example 3 Conclusion • Everything has to tie back to the intro.
Structure – Building Blocks • Sample Essay — What do you notice? • 15 minutes to read – individually • Make a table with 3 columns • Table Talk – share the strengths you see in the essay
Your Intro Paragraph • You need to do four things: • State your position • Interpret the prompt • Reveal the “road map” • This one is just as important as the other 3: Establish the level of proficiency of your writing
Not So Good… • It is totally true that sometimes failure teaches us. Life is full of situations where if we would just learn from our mistakes, we would do better.
‘Good’ Intro • A famous proverb proclaims: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. This profound advice suggests failure is inevitable before success. Thomas Edison, for example, experimented with over 100 types of metal filaments before finally settling on Tungsten for the electric light. His success, in other words, did not come overnight. It resulted from persistence and hard work. Which illustrates, every advance involves some loss or sacrifice. This concept is illustrated throughout history, literature, and personal experience.
Introduction — Building Blocks • The introduction of the essay sets the scene with a broad, general statement, which is followed by a well-known quote that supplies context to the prompt. • Most people in America, if not the world, would agree that every advance involves some sacrifice. In fact, a common sports adage proclaims: “No pain, no gain.” • The second-to-the-last sentence of the introduction defines the topic. This is your thesis statement and is the central point around which your essay revolves. • In other words, progress is always accompanied by a certain amount of loss.
Introduction — Building Blocks • The last sentence of the introduction acts as a transition to prepare the reader for the body paragraphs that follow. • This concept is illustrated throughout history and literature, and personal experience.
Body Paragraphs • Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence that also works as a transition sentence. • Make sure it connects back to your position (thesis) in your intro – use thesis reminders • Use only one example per paragraph
Body Paragraphs • Each body paragraph starts with a transition sentence that recaps the topic. • One compelling illustration exemplifying some bad always accompanies some good is demonstrated in the Civil Rights movement. • The theme that every advance involves some loss is also demonstrated in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, The Scarlet Letter. • A final illustration showing progress always involves a loss occurred in my own personal experience building houses in Mexico with my church group.
Depth is the key!!! • You must make sure that you develop your ideas if you want to score well. • Spend two or three sentences explaining the example - add commentary showing depth of thinking/analysis. • Use three or four sentences to connect the example to your position. • Then move on to the next paragraph!
Body Paragraphs - Support • Each body paragraph supplies supporting details for the topic sentence. • In 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person… • The protagonist, Hester Prynne, is charged with adultery and is forced to wear a scarlet letter “A” embroidered on her dress… • At first, I was appalled at the extent of the poverty around me and longed to return home to enjoy the rest of my summer lounging by the swimming pool.
Transitions • These tell your reader that you are moving from one idea or from one section of the text to another. • It’s like holding their hand… • “A final illustration exemplifying (blank) is…” • “This effort was very successful. Not everyone, however, was so lucky.” • “While beneficial to some, the new program will harm others.”
Transition Words • Therefore • Though • Moreover • Similarly • Another (example, reason, point, etc.) • However • While • Although • Furthermore • Despite • In addition • To illustrate • To further exemplify
Conclusion • Make sure you have one! • Again, you’re not going to gain too many points here, but you can lose them. • It should be around three sentences. • Wrap up your idea and leave the reader thinking about the brilliant lesson on life that you have just pointed out.
Conclusion • The conclusion starts with a transition sentence recapping the topic. • As seen in these historic, literary and personal experience examples, every advance is accompanied by inevitable suffering. • The conclusion closes the sale with a general statement and a quote from an apparent authority that has some broad relevance to the topic. • This notion is particularly relevant to our lives today for the world is undergoing change at an alarming rate. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”
Key Points about Prompts • These building blocks apply, in some degree or other, to every SAT essay. How? • The trick is to understand that although every prompt appears different, they are all fundamentally the same. • Prompts are generic, involving issues that lend themselves to different – and invariably conflicting – points of view. • Emphasize the dramatic elements inherent in the subject matter. • Add DRAMA – as shown in the examples shown
Key Points about Prompts • No matter what the prompt appears to say, you can address it using prefabricated content examples that interweave three basic motifs: • Overcoming obstacles • Meeting challenges • Achieving progress — either individual, social, or both
How ‘Cheesy’ Can I Be? • “Perhaps we can all learn from the loss of others and start to truly appreciate the wondrous gifts that life has bestowed upon us now, before it is too late.” • “Life is too short to live with the regret caused by the failure to do something that is within the grasp of each of us.” • “Although it seems that appreciating what we have only once we’ve lost it is a prime example of ‘20/20 hindsight,’ perhaps the pain of our past losses can sharpen our focus so that we can truly cherish what we have today.”
Odds and Ends • Don’t use big words just to sound ‘smart;’ you won’t help yourself. Just use the best word that you can think of. • Make sure to vary your sentence structure, but don’t worry about making every sentence long and complicated… remember, they have to read THOUSANDS of essays! • Make it look ‘pretty’… indented paragraphs, even margins, neat handwriting, etc.
ExamplesAre Crucial • These are the bread and butter of your essay. You MUST have them! • Make them accessible and understandable for the reader. • Tie them to your position and the prompt. • You can pick them out beforehand… Seriously. • Try to use three examples from three different ‘categories.’
Examples: History • They should be events that are taught in almost every high school in the US. • Think of events with universal themes… things you can say a lot about. • Examples: The Holocaust, The Civil Rights Movement, WWII, The Revolutionary War, The Civil War, etc.
Examples: Current Events • Anything that has been in the news lately will qualify here: • Syria, Obamacare, The Economy etc. • Examples: the US Election, the Winter Olympics in Sochi
Examples: Literature • Stick to the ‘Classics.’ If you’ve read it in your high school English class, it’s fine. • Don’t spend too much time explaining the plot; focus on the themes. • Examples: To Kill A Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Things Fall Apart, Of Mice and Men