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Curing Jitters About the SAT Essay: Finding Online Practice

written by: Noreen Gunnell•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 12/2/2011

Help is at hand for the nervous test-taker, parents and teachers. A simple chart that gets the student to think about possible themes they might have to tackle in the SAT essay section, and a rubric that depicts how answers are scored, might help to alleviate their worries.

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    The Writing Section of the SAT

    Many students are not confident in their writing ability and consequently, stress about the essay portion of the SAT. For these students and their parents, there are important points to note which may help alleviate their concerns during preparation for the SAT.

    The essay is only one portion of the writing section on the SAT. The writing section also includes multiple choice questions on improving sentences, identifying sentence errors, and improving paragraphs. So, while important, the essay does not determine the test-taker’s writing score.

    Students are given twenty-five minutes to compose their essay and a few minor errors won’t significantly affect the score. Successful essays demonstrate the developments of a clear point-of-view, appropriate use of examples to support it, and use of diverse vocabulary and sentence structure. The best essays also have very few grammar and spelling errors.

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    SAT Essay Rubric and Worksheet

    Practice questions and answer examples are available at The College Board’s website and in The Official SAT Study Guide.In using these resources with students I’ve tutored for SAT prep, a couple of simple worksheets have helped them organize their thoughts and concentrate on essay components the scorers look for.

    The essay questions vary in topic, but always ask for the student to develop and support his or her point of view with examples. These can be from books, history, studies or personal experience.

    Download this two-column worksheet which asks students to list themes they come across in practice essays and then think of books, movies, experiences and etcetera that might illustrate that theme. For example, an essay question from The College Board’s website might ask student to decide if memories are a hindrance or a help in moving forward in life. Using this worksheet, students should list the theme as memories, or the influence of memories, and write examples they might use in writing an essay that responds to this question. Students could choose author of Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt, as an example of using memories as a means of moving forward. (Of course, only students who read Angela’s Ashes could use this example!) On the other hand, the experiences of Holden Caulfield in The Catcher In The Rye could be used as support for memories acting as a hindrance.

    Understanding how the essay is scored will help students write their practice essays and hone their skills for the real thing. This essay question rubric breaks the essay down into six aspects that scorers concentrate on. Tutors and students can use this in evaluating practice essays.

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