10 Writing Tips to Master SAT Essays

How To Write SAT Essays and Get a Better Score

*This information refers to the current SAT which will be in use until January 2016. To see information related to the Redesigned SAT, which will be administered in March 2016, see here!* 

SAT essays are not the end of the world, my friends. You can read more about the basics of the SAT essay here, but for the most part, you'll need to know that you have 25 minutes to respond to a prompt in essay form, making sure your writing is cohesive, clear, concise and hopefully, spelled correctly. So how do you do that precisely? Here are ten ways to master those SAT essays looming in your future, and help get that SAT score you really want.

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Decide Already!

Digital Vision

Choose how you will answer the SAT essay prompt very quickly. Literally give yourself just a minute to decide how you'll respond – no longer! You can't waste time waffling between several ideas, because you only have 25 minutes to write the whole essay! Choose a way to respond that you can best support, even if it conflicts with your personal beliefs. Remember – the graders are not judging you personally, so if your first response is controversial, you'll still get a great score as long as your essay is thoughtfully and completely supported.

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Plan! (For Once in Your Life)


After you decide which way you'll go with your essay, spend 3-5 minutes planning what you'll say with a rough outline or web. I know you hate this, but I promise you'll write a better essay if you brainstorm ideas, supporting statements, literature references or other support in an organized way before you start writing. The more ideas you have here, the better. That way you won't get stuck when you're actually doing the tough part – writing.

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4 Paragraphs Will Do

Getty Images | Emmanuel Faure

Sure, we've all heard that a five-paragraph essay is the only way to go. However, it's often better to just use one introductory paragraph, two thoughtful supporting body paragraphs, and a brief concluding paragraph to get your point across. Why? See the next point.

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Dive Deep

Copyright Flickr User Joe Shlabotnik

If you only use two body paragraphs in your essay, you can thoughtfully and thoroughly explain your reasoning and point of view. It's much better to develop two ideas, moving further into reasoning, musings and examples than it is to offer three broad ideas with little support. So when you choose your two reasons, use examples you're very acquainted with and can delve deeply into.

Be logical! How much do you know about one of those supports you're offering? If you couldn't chat about it for five minutes with your BFF, then get rid of it as something that's too shallow.

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Put Yourself In

Pointing at you

Since the prompt is asking for your opinion, it's okay to use words like "I" and "me." Plus, it'll be easier to write like you're speaking to just one teacher if you allow yourself to enter the essay (which is a great way to present your ideas, by the way). Your graders are teachers, after all, and if you write like you're just having a chat with one, you'll be better able to offer ideas like a human versus an essay-writing android.

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Focus, Man!

Getty Images | Dimitri Vervitsiotis

When you're developing ideas in an essay, it's easy to stray way off topic and start talking about things that don't support your ideas well. Stay on topic! Sticking to your outline or web will help you manage to focus, so your opinion isn't waylaid by your urge to prattle.

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Honestly, People.

Abe Lincoln
Getty Images | Hisham Ibrahim

Some teachers, heaven help them, encourage students to "make up" support on essays because they believe students are not smart enough to come up with smart things to say on their own. This is hogwash. Never, never, never make up support. Why? Sure, people will call ethics into play, but I'm talking about your score.

Lies do not make for good writing (on SAT essays. Tabloids are another story.) Fake statistics are easy to spot, which will end up negating your good ideas. Use your brains and logical reasoning. You will be able to support what you want to say without any creative story telling.

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Don't Bore Me.

copyright flickr user Samael Trip

Which status updates get the most comments on Facebook? The boring ones that literally explain what someone is doing right now? No. The updates that entice people to respond are interesting. They use good word choice, colorful language, wit, specifics.

Your SAT essay readers are human. Keep that in mind! You're more likely to get a better score with better writing, and better writing is enticing. Substitute everyday words for snazzy ones. Use active verbs, enlightening adjectives, and thought-provoking nouns. Make this SAT essay your absolute best piece of writing in the whole world.

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Good Grammar, Anyone?

Getty Images | Thomas Northcut

And while you're making your essay interesting, be sure to use appropriate grammar, mechanics, spelling, punctuation, balance, etc. If something sounds awkward to you, it will definitely sound awkward to your graders. While spelling isn't going to knock your essay down a number of points, a combination of consistently bad grammar and mechanics will. So study up on those English skills before you take the test, okay?

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Proof It!

copyright flickr user alamez

Don't assume that you've created a masterpiece the second your pencil scribbles in the last punctuation mark. Save a couple minutes for proofreading.  Reread your essay, and erase anything that doesn't make sense. Double-check your handwriting so it's legible. You'll be surprised how many errors you can catch in a quick run-through!