SAT Essay Do’s and Don’ts

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Despite being optional now, the SAT Essay provides a great opportunity for students to get used to college-level writing. Moreover, doing well on it will impress admissions boards, who see too many kids skip it altogether. However, there are some common SAT Essay do’s and don’ts to follow when writing it out on test day.

Take a minute to review these quick SAT Essay do’s and don’ts when preparing to take the test. They’ll keep you on the right track when writing it for real.

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sat essay do's and don'ts

SAT Essay Do’s

Develop A Thesis

Don’t forget to make your assertion clearly.

At the end of the first paragraph, you should make a definitive claim about how effective the argument you’re analyzing is. Do you personally think it is convincing? Do you think that it is good enough to convince other people?

Use Specific Examples

Spell everything out clearly.

If you think the argument is convincing, pick out and highlight the supporting evidence. Don’t be vague. Cite the information you think proves the case and how it does so. The more specific, the better, as a rule of thumb.

Reference Specific Ideas

Besides direct evidence, mention the underlying ideas in the argument too.

Go back and use the following tools to point out the main argument ideas:

  • Paraphrasing
  • Direct Quotes

After directing the reader to those ideas, take time to respond to them. Again, back up your assertions with evidence.

Restate Your Thesis

When wrapping things up, go back to the beginning.

At the conclusion, make sure to summarize everything you’ve taken the time to unfold:

  • Restate your main thesis
  • Summarize your supporting points

If you want to end with something witty, that’s fine but don’t introduce anything new. Wrap up your analysis clearly and directly.

Leave Time For Editing

Try to set aside a few minutes for quick edits and revision.

Your essay is essentially the first draft. The reader grading it understands that point, but don’t leave a sloppy document. Try to finish with around five minutes to spare.

In that time:

  • Check your spelling
  • Check punctuation
  • Reread your thesis and main points
  • Make any last-second corrections for clarity

Show that you’re putting your best effort on display.

SAT Essay Don’ts

Don’t Regurgitate The Prompt

The reader already knows it.

Don’t waste space restating the essay prompt. The reader already knows what the prompt for this essay is going in.

They’re here to read your response and analysis, not basic regurgitation. Move onto your thesis and analysis instead. That’s where the goods reside.

Avoid Repeating Yourself

Make sure everything is unique.

Your main points and supporting evidence should be unique and easy to discern. Don’t try and use up space by restating the main point multiple times or dragging it out.

Unnecessary repetition annoys the reader and communicates that you’re stalling to look impressive. State your assertions and move on.

Avoid Unnecessary Statements

Get to the point for the reader’s sake.

Avoid using terms like:

  • I think
  • I believe
  • In my opinion

Why? The reader knows that this essay reflects those terms already; you’re not writing someone else’s essay.

You can write in the first person if including personal anecdotes for illustration. However, be concise to save time and space when laying out your essay.

Don’t Experiment With Grammar

Don’t try to impress with tools you don’t normally use.

Impress the reader with your critical thinking and analysis of the presented material. Don’t try to impress them with flashy punctuation or make your sentences unnecessarily complex.

All that effort does is show the reader you’re avoiding the point and trying to trick him or her because you have nothing substantial to say. Stick to your periods and commas, if that’s what you know best.

Don’t Use Unnecessary Vocabulary

Emphasize clarity over flashiness.

Now is not the time to impress with big words you don’t normally use. Your essay should communicate your ideas both clearly and directly.

Once again, get to the point with your thesis and supporting evidence. If you use vocabulary that sounds fancy but actually confuses your points, then you will be marked down accordingly.

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