Success on the SAT Essay depends on preparation as well as execution. Consider the following when mapping out your test-taking strategies and game plan:
1. Understand the SAT Essay Scoring System
Unlike your multiple-choice answers, which are scored as either correct or incorrect, the SAT Essay is assigned three scores.
Two readers will score your Essay separately and assign a score of 1 to 4 for each of three sections that include Reading, Analysis, and Writing. The two reader’s scores are then added together. SAT Essay score reports provide these three separate scores, each on a 2 to 8 scale. For example, a possible score combination would be 6 Reading / 7 Analysis / 6 Writing.
Your Reading score will reflect how well your essay shows that you understood the passage. Your Analysis score will reflect how well your essay analyzes how the author went about persuading the audience. Finally, your Writing score will reflect the cohesiveness of your essay as well as how well it demonstrates a command of language and the conventions of standard written English.
2. Study Sample Passages and SAT Essay Prompts
To help you understand what will be expected of you in order to achieve high scores in each of the scoring areas, take time to review example SAT Essay prompts. As you read through each of the example passages and corresponding responses, consider how and why the author used evidence, reasoning, and stylistic or persuasive elements.
Making your way through these samples should help you in developing your own strategies for tackling the SAT Essay come test day.
3. Turn to Professional Writing and Editorial Outlets
Another way to build on your analytical reading skills would be to devote time to reading op-ed pieces from reputable media outlets. As an example, peruse The New York Times once or twice a week and analyze the editorials and op-ed pieces to further hone your skills. The more often you apply the skills required of you for the SAT Essay in your everyday life, the more prepared you’ll be to apply them in a test setting.
4. Prep with Practice Essays
As is the case with multiple-choice sections of the SAT, practice makes closer to perfect when it comes to SAT Essay responses. Using sample SAT Essay prompts, set aside 50 minutes to work through them as you would with the test day prompt. Compare your response to that of the student examples provided at different score points to discover possible weaknesses in your reading, analytics, and writing skills that you’ll need to focus on in your preparations. For more objective feedback, consider working with a friend, your parents, or a teacher.
5. Read Your Test Day SAT Essay Passage Thoroughly
Come test day, nerves and anxiety seem to be at all-time highs. This can leave students feeling as though they need to rush or second-guess their responses or both. The same goes for writing during the SAT Essay portion of the test. You may feel like you need to start writing as quickly as possible, but make sure you understand the author’s argument thoroughly before beginning. One of the worst mistakes you could make, after all, would be to finish writing your SAT Essay response only to go back, reread the passage, and realize you’d misunderstood what the author was saying. Give yourself enough time to write, but don’t underestimate the importance of reading carefully as well.
6. Start with an Outline
Once you’ve carefully read through the provided passage and corresponding prompt, take a minute to compose your thoughts in a rough outline. Mapping out your approach for an introduction, body, and conclusion when the content is fresh in your mind will ensure that you don’t arrive at the end of your response with holes in your argument. An outline also helps you plan your writing by giving you a clear sense of direction when transitioning from one point to the next.
7. Start Strong, Build Strong, End Strong
As you would for any essay written for a class in school, make sure you develop your SAT essay in a structured, connected way. In your introduction, offer a strong thesis statement that relates back to the SAT Essay prompt and make sure each element in the body of your response ties back to support it. Conclude with more than just a summary of what you’ve written. Consider, for example, ways you might put what you’ve written into a broader context or offer a memorable insight based on the analysis you’ve provided.
8. Make Time for Edits
While not always possible, aim to leave some time at the end for review. In doing so, you may catch misinterpreted information or find other ways to further build on the points you made in your response. Try to be as critical of your own work as possible, and consider every minute of time available as an opportunity to provide the best possible representation of your writing and thinking.