The essay portion of the SAT, although transitioning to being optional, is undoubtedly the most intimidating section on the exam. With very limited time to write and virtually no room for error, unless you’re a world renowned author, writing it can be one of the most difficult aspects of the SAT as a whole.
However, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be. The essay portion, while very daunting, is also one of the most predictable sections. Many disagree with this because your score is very subjective, but I think that’s actually a good thing and ends up working out in your favor. This section of the SAT is the easiest to secure a perfect score on.
The question itself will ask you to read a passage that will present some kind of argument and then ask you to identify what the author does in order to prove his/her point. Although you obviously cannot read the passage in advance, I think one of the most important steps to take if you want to score high on this section is to pre-plan.
I highly recommend sitting down and searching Quizlet for a literary terms set of flashcards. Memorize these and know how to use them – you can pull from this during your exam. Personally, I think the top techniques that are usually referenced are: colloquialism, rhetorical questions and second person pronouns. Colloquialism is when an author uses informal diction in order to better relate to their readers, rhetorical questions are questions that the author asks without intending for a response, thereby causing the readers to think critically about what the answer may be and second person pronouns are significant because they are words like “we” and “us” which make the reader feel included rather than an outsider.
Additionally, it is important to include one technique that is very specific to the reading itself. Perhaps the author referenced light frequently, symbolizing that there is hope left or the story takes place in spring, signifying a new beginning. Whatever it is, it’s important to include this aspect of the argument as it will really demonstrate that you not only read the prose given to you, but you also comprehended it and were able to identify a repetitive aspect of the prose. *TIP* If you’re having trouble finding this part of the argument, circle the words that repeat a lot (obviously not words like “the” or “on”) – you’ll immediately notice a pattern and be able to use it in your essay.
Once you have identified the techniques the author uses, you can move on to the most important part – stating why they’re significant to the story. This is the most important part because this explanation is where you can really go into detail and demonstrate the fact that you understood the passage on a deeper level and not just on the surface. Make sure you identity every time the author uses this, including quotes (only if you have time) and identify three things: (1) why the author uses this when he/she does (2) how it affects the plot of the story/the argument within the story and (3) how it affects you as a reader. If you can identify these three things, you will have a very organized paragraph detailing one of the techniques. Organization is key when it comes to SAT essays so the more organized you can be when you’re writing, the better.
In terms of the length, remember that it is better to have two very strong paragraphs than it is to have three mediocre ones. I know you’re always taught to write a 5 paragraph essay, but, let me assure you, the essays that score between a 9-12 are generally only 4 paragraphs long.
Finally, don’t be afraid to improvise. You may go into the exam thinking you’ll talk about second person pronouns only to find that the passage you read doesn’t necessarily use that technique. You may even find that the passage doesn’t use any of the techniques you know really well. That’s okay. If you can’t use a literary technique, feel free to use two different aspects of the story itself. This can be the way the characters narrate through the story or some of the aforementioned, story-specific techniques I discussed. Don’t ever just write about one technique – improvise and identify something else.
Writing the essay may seem like an impossible task but I promise that with the right tools, it doesn’t have to be. If you go into it with a few techniques under your belt and a general outline of how you would like to write your essay, it will not be as difficult as everyone makes it out to be. Remember, the more creative you are, the better your chances are (as long as you can argue your creative points well). Good luck and happy testing!