The essay portion of the SAT, optional but highly encouraged for posterity’s sake, is for many the most daunting because there are not many concrete ways to prepare for it. You can’t predict the prompt, but there are typical essay writing devices that you can drill so that it becomes second nature when it’s time to churn out a quality essay in a short amount of time. Invest enough time and you’ll hardly even have to think about it. Here are some tips:
1. Practice a Thesis
Yes. This is 100% the last thing anyone wants to hear. Not to sound like a high school English teacher, the thesis is the real matter of the introduction and will be your grader’s first impression of what kind of writer you are. Make it clear. There should be no question about what position you are taking and which sentences, or sentences, are the thesis itself. State what your stance is, with a little bit of the why. The ‘why’ should function as a hint at what is to come in the body paragraphs, without being too wordy or giving everything away. Make the reader want to see what you will say and what evidence you will present.
2. Focus on the Body
If introductions and conclusions stress you out, then don’t fret. Aside from the thesis statement, the body paragraphs are where you should spend most of your time, and they will be the biggest contribution to your final score. One thing that will be extra beneficial is if you know how to acknowledge the opposing views of your thesis instead of pretending that they don’t exist. While there will always be evidence that contradicts your own, you should be able to use them to further exhibit the strengths of your argument. Mention other sides of the debate, but gently dispel them without being too brash.
3. Avoid Cliches
You want to show off your versatility, creativity, and intelligence as a writer. Try some exercises in building sentences, similes, and metaphors that defy the typical while not being out of the realm of possibility. Use the appropriate language that tells your scorer that you have individuality as a critical thinker, rather than just repeating what you’ve heard before. This is one of the more stylistic elements rather than content-based, and is something that is best learned by practice. Avid reading can be the best way to improve your writing, especially for this sort of technique. You can only know what is over- or underused by knowing what else is out there.
4. Write What You Know Best
It is tempting to try and do the unexpected and pick the least likely argumentative answer to the prompt in question. It would be impressive, certainly, to go for the less popular opinion to get the reader’s attention. However, that can also come with less available supporting evidence and less confidence in language. If there is a more obvious reply to the prompt that you are more acquainted with, have more to say about, and would generally be easier: do it. Scorers are not college admissions officers. They aren’t looking for how different you are as far as your state of mind, they just want to see you knock it out of the park with your writing skills. If you spend less mental energy on what you’re going to write about, you have more to spend on how to write it.
Take a look at the official College Board Essay Scoring Guide for specifics about how the essay is judged and counted toward your score. The essay may seem like something that is easy to skip since it is not technically required, but timed essays are something that you will probably encounter even in college. Depending on your major and what wort of academic requirements you have to fill, they may be a common occurrence for midterms and finals. At the very least the SAT essay is fantastic practice, but as a rule it serves to show colleges that you are willing to go the extra mile to maximize your appeal on your applications.