The SAT allots 25 minutes for the essay writing portion of the Exam. Typically, the exercise takes the form of an assertion that the Exam instructs the student to defend with an essay that elucidates the student’s support of the assertion. Readers grade the essay based according to several criteria: a convincing development of the writer’s position, selection of relevant examples to bolster the writer’s position, smooth progression from idea to idea, use of varied sentence structure, appropriate vocabulary, and good grammar. As if that weren’t enough, to obtain a top score, you must write 400 words, constructed in 3 or more paragraphs.

Sounds daunting? In two critical ways, the Exam makes this easier than you might think. First, Exam topics generally come from a limited range of choices. Exam topics tend to be ones relevant to teens about to enter college. Common topics include education, success, challenges, risk taking, self-knowledge. But, ETS generally avoids topics which are emotionally charged or controversial. Therefore, be prepared to sound as if you have deep convictions about a relatively bland subject. Second, ETS has published top scoring SAT essays. They adhere to a formula, both in length and style. State your position in the first paragraph. Use two or three sentences to amplify that position. Follow with two paragraphs of relevant examples, either from history, literature, current events, or your personal experience. Use the final paragraph to sum up and state your conclusion.

Even if you can’t pull all of that off in 25 minutes, if your preparation leading up to the Exam involves writing on typical SAT topics and doing so within the confines of a time limit, you’re on your way to maximizing your score. Still stuck? Look at any SAT practice book for a list of past essay topics. Start to compile lists of relevant examples that you could use to support any of the propositions the Exam has posed in the past. Such examples are everywhere – in newspapers or in on-line news articles, in your personal reading and in class assignments, even in the movies you see. The trick is to note them and to start compiling written lists of them.

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