The SAT: Making it Less Scary
What is the SAT?
Let’s take the fear out of this daunting test by first explaining what it is. The SAT is a test used in the U.S. to determine eligibility and placement for college admissions. Our favorite online go-to, Wikipedia, tells us “it was first introduced in the United States…in 1926.”
The SAT has been called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the Scholastic Assessment Test, and over time it went on to be called SAT 1: Reasoning Test, SAT Reasoning Test, and now most just call it the SAT (S-A-T).
It is published by a private non-profit org. in the United States, the College Board. It was developed to assess a student’s progress in the school systems and their readiness for college. It takes up to 3 hours to complete, then there is a reading and essay portion of the test that takes an additional 50 minutes.
What is the SAT? To put it simply, it is a test that you must take by the time you graduate from High School. No matter how much you groan and moan, until enough controversy is raised about the need for this test and it is discontinued, it is the score that will tell your college admissions officers where you fit within the requirements for entrance into their schools.
It is sometimes the determining factor for many of the coveted scholarships that students hope for to help with college costs.
The Usual Stuff
Those of you that have been studying for the test know that the essay portion of the test has been changed and is now optional as of March 2016. However, there are still colleges that want you to submit your writing scores, and this could be in your favor.
You can easily make the 5/8 from well-developed thesis, and supporting paragraphs 1 and 2, but to get higher than this, you must practice with focus.
Getting higher than the 5/8 will happen if you use critical thinking skills that focus not on the answer but how you get to the answers. This is what the test scorers will be looking for, your comprehension of the authors work that you will be tested on.
Whatever your prompt is, don’t just answer it, pick it apart and give your answer in the most intelligent possible way while giving evidence that you understand it thoroughly.
Today’s SAT essays put the reading and writing scores into one bowl like rice and gravy, they refer to this as evidence-based reading and writing, and although they are taken separately, they are scored together giving you totals of 200-800. The Math section is then scored with up to 800 and the totals come up to at most, 1600, not like the old test that could go up to 2400.
The reading part of the test remains the same, focusing on your comprehension of given passages and genre. You get 5 sections to handle in a 65-minute block of time. You should practice SAT writing prompts to focus not only on content but on the time it takes to complete the assignment.
Now that we have scared the heck out of you, let’s take that fear away by providing SAT essay taking tips, some suggestions for writing prompts, and a few ways to do well on the test.
There is no better way to do well on the SAT than preparation. Take these following SAT essay writing tips and hang them on the wall by your desk and read them every day in preparation for the SAT.
The essay section of your SAT is going to be based on grammar and your ability to comprehend what you have read. The more you read the better you will do on this part of the test
Study writing and grammar books an hour a day for three months prior to the test. Practicing sentences, sentence structure, and word usage.
Go over word usage every day. English is a hard language due to its multiple usage of words for different meanings, such as; wood/would, sea/see, there/their/they’re, we/wee, our/hour. As you can see each of these words have different meanings.
Practice writing structure: Look up SAT writing prompts to use for inspiration, and just start writing, this will help you get in the habit of writing, which like any other skill must be practiced in order for you to do well with it.
When you have completed four-five paragraphs, look over your work line by line looking for misplaced commas, apostrophes and punctuation marks. Commas are the easiest part of writing to misuse.
These SAT essay tips will only work if you practice them at least once a day. Don’t put it off until the last minute. You can write anywhere, at lunch, on the bus, on the train, or at the beach. Technology has made this possible, use it to your advantage.
While practicing for the essay portion of your SAT create a mock assignment that includes notes, outlines, annotated bibliographies, rough drafts and a final draft. Pretend you are the professor and give yourself stages to complete each part of your mock essay. When you are done ask yourself:
Are your sentences clearly written?
Is my writing smoothly flowing from one thought to the next?
Did I check for errors?
Is there evidence in the essay to full support the authors claim and my thesis?
Does the writing show the scorer that I understand the what they are asking?
Is the conclusion looking back to the rest of the essay and wrapping it up in a final claim?
Are my supporting paragraphs objective instead of subjective?
Have I used variety in my writing, staying away from repetitive words and statements?
The writing section of the SAT contains writing that puts you in the role of editor. Read each question, there are 44 of them, carefully, checking for organization, grammar, and punctuation that you will be asked to locate and fix, or not change at all.
After you finish your mock essay, create questions from it to reflect the types of questions that will be on the SAT. Parallel the college board’s categories which will be looking for how your ideas are supported, vocabulary usage and organization.
The remaining questions are based on sentence structure, mechanics and those pesky little details like commas.
The word processor: Friend or Foe?
Use Software Tools Wisely
SAT writing is much like an essay that you get in class from your professors, but the graders will be looking for key abilities. When you are using a word processor to practice for the SAT essay, it is not set up to show you how to do well on the SAT.
The spell checkers will flag words not found in their dictionaries, they will suggest a replacement for any words they don’t recognize. They can help you spot many errors, but don’t let them be your only proofreader.
Because spell checkers flag only unrecognized words, they won’t catch misused words, such as accept when you want to use except. For SAT writing, practice spotting commonly confused or misused words, avoid informal speech and jargon, and purchase a book based on writing well.
As you write, your software may attempt to save you effort with auto-formatting. It might recognize that you’ve typed a URL and turn it into a link. Or if you’re building a list, it might add numbering for you. Be aware of such changes and make sure they are appropriate for your paper and applied to the right text.
It is always a good idea to read through your writing 2-3 times to search for errors or poor structure and formatting. Reading your work aloud will almost always help you find additional problems in your writing and auto-formatting mistakes.
While writing from your SAT prompts, and getting ready for the SAT writing portion of your test, manage the usage of your grammar checker closely. They can help with some of the sentence-level problems in a typical draft, but they will often misdiagnose errors because they cannot account for your intended meaning in your writing.
Pay close attention to the grammar checkers suggestions and decide if the change is more effective than what you had originally intended to write.
If you depend on the grammar checker to pick up on errors and trouble spots, you might overlook problems with coordination, and subordination, sentence variety, sexist language, and passive verbs.
There are rules in grammar that the SAT testers are going to be looking for, build up your practice writing based on some of these grammar rules and memorize them for higher scores.
Use of Modifiers- Modifiers must be next to the nouns in sentences to make sense of what the writer is trying to project to the reader. In this sentence, it seems the store is too short and not Jane’s skirt. (The modifiers are underlined)
Wrong: Jane wore her skirt to the store, which was too short.
Right: Jane wore her skirt, which was too short, to the store.
Don’t dangle your modifiers- Dangling modifiers describe phrases that are at the beginning of a sentence, followed by a comma, but does not have the noun following the comma:
Wrong: Wet and misty on the sidewalk, we pranced through the light rain.
Right: We pranced through the light rain wet and misty on the sidewalk.
SAT writing is a high style of writing. It is the kind of writing that you find in professional journals, scholarly books, research paper, legal briefs, formal addresses, editorials and some types of technical writing.
It is the type of writing to use when there are high stakes, as in the SAT essay writing format/style. Although, there are some that feel that a middle style of writing can be appropriate for SAT essay writing also.
Middle style does not claim features of its own as much as a walk between formal and everyday language. It combines some of the following characteristics:
Range of perspectives: including first (I), and second (you) person points of view.
More often it has a human rather than an institutional voice.
It presents concrete nouns and action verbs and allows for unfamiliar terms or concepts to be well defined.
It is usually informal documentation, usually without notes.
The style you use will be determined when you take the test. Use your best judgement depending on the subject you must cover.
Tip: Practice with your SAT writing prompts with both styles to see where your best writing performance lies. Combining the styles is also an option.
Even if you decide to use the higher style of writing, keep your writing at a lower level of generalities to add interest. Nouns should be as specific as possible so that sentences create images for readers.
Give your SAT essay readers an image they can see, and increase your score. You scorers are reading hundreds of these essay answers and they need to see details in your writing and correctness too. Your SAT essay writing may seem like a challenge but following these writing tips will help you make it easier.
At the beginning of your school year, get together with other students who are taking the SAT and start a study group.
After you have gotten a group together, begin designating members of the group to do specific assignments.
One person can create sentences. The sentences must be with errors and the group has to study how to correct them.
One person can bring in flash cards with words that sound alike but have different meanings (synonyms), and you all get to guess how they are used in sentences.
Tell everyone to meet in one week and every one should bring 4 typed paragraphs to be critiqued by other members of the group.
Each week every member is to bring in SAT essay writing prompts and commit to writing at least one hour, and then switching with each other to take the papers with them to read and critique at home.
When forming these types of study groups, you help one another through the stress that can be involved in trying to study alone. The SAT may be an intimidating test but with help and hard work, it will be easier to take.
Buy books based on studying the SAT
You may be able to find free books in your public library, but buying your own study materials, if you can, are good ways to make notes in the margins that you can study over again and again.
There are many SAT study guides that are specific to the writing of the essay, give tips on writing the SAT essay, and there are those that promise how to do well on the SAT essay, but again, there is nothing like preparation and study time that can get you the highest score.
Tutors are available to help you will studying the SAT. Ask your school’s advisor about resources that are available in your area. Start early, there are others that have the same issues as you and will be looking for help, the line will get longer the longer you wait to reach out for help.
Online help is available also. Go to Google and type in “SAT: how to do well” (without quotes). Take ideas from different sites to get a well-rounded feel of how to successfully write your SAT essay. Good luck!