6 Ways to Improve Your SAT Essay

Want to know how your teenager can improve the score on his or her SAT essay?

I learned a few tips last night when I shared the stage at a high school college event with an SAT guru from the Princeton Review. She shared with the crowd these six SAT essay tips:

1. Come prepared. Show up on test day with a combination of six to eight quotes or historical events in your brain that you can plug into your essay. You won’t use them all, but chances are you’ll be able to shoe horn a couple of them into your SAT essay since the topic is usually open ended. Referring to historical events or books will definitely impress.

2. In a pinch, make stuff up. Graders — who typically devote about two minutes to evaluate each SAT essay — aren’t going to fact check. If you aren’t sure when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation or you can’t remember the name of the angsty teenager in The Catcher in the Rye make it up. Strange, but true:  it’s better to include wrong facts in your essay than none at all.

3. Don’t write sloppy or tiny. Boys (my 16-year-old son included) seem to have a particular problem with both of these no-no’s.

4. Don’t forget the conclusion. The Princeton Review folks take the SAT test every year to keep up to date. To test the essay grading rubric, one Princeton tutor intentionally left out the conclusion in his SAT essay. Other than that tutor’s essay was flawless. Because of the omission, he received a “5” on a scale of 1 (worst) to 6 (best) from all the evaluators.

5. Take a stand. The grass is always greener on the other side or the grass is never greener on the other side. Don’t be wishy washy with your SAT essay.

6. Write enough. You’ve got two pages to compose the SAT essay. Don’t stop at the first page. Write at least 1 ½ pages.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she writes another college blog for CBSMoneyWatch.

Read more:

Comparing ACT and SAT Scores

The Dirty Secret Behind the ACT and SAT Tests

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