Organizing Your Thoughts for the SAT Essay

Not even a half hour. All you get is 25 minutes. So when you turn to the essay, you should pick up your pen and begin to scribble furiously, right? Wrong. That advice goes against your innate (inborn) urge to string words together for the entire time allotted. But you'll do better — you really will — if you spend 2 or 3 minutes gathering your thoughts. To shock you even more, you should stop early and spend the last 2 or 3 minutes revising your work. That's right, folks. Given 25 minutes, write for no more than 20 and blow the extra 5 on sound writing process.

Follow this approach for the best results when writing your 25-minute essay:

  • First 2 or 3 minutes: Read the question, gather your thoughts, jot down a couple of ideas, and then number them (first idea, second idea, third, and so on).
  • Next 18 to 20 minutes: Create an introductory paragraph with a strong thesis statement (the main idea you're putting forth), write the body paragraph(s), and come to a conclusion.
  • Last 2 or 3 minutes: Reread your prose, correcting spelling and grammar.

Up from your faint yet? Good. Now, take a few moments to check out the following reasons why process is crucial when you're producing a writing product under time and SAT pressure:

  • You have only one answer sheet and must write on it by hand, unless you're entitled to use a keyboard because of a documented learning disability such as dysgraphia, the fancy term for difficulty in producing readable penmanship. If you plunge in immediately and begin to write, you may end up crossing out so much that the essay becomes illegible.
  • You can't possibly produce a good, organized essay unless you take a moment to envision the logical structure.
  • Even though you may remember the main idea of your example(s), some details will elude you unless you gather your thoughts before writing. While you're actually placing words on the page, you have to think about grammar, spelling, and all those other things that English teachers care about so much. You don't have time to recall the smaller, specific facts that bring your essay to life.
  • In the heat of battle — and writing a fast essay is a little like walking through a war zone — you may make simple errors in mechanics (spelling "aren't" without the apostrophe, for example, or omitting a period from a sentence). When you reread, you have a chance to fix the mistakes.
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