To best prepare for the SAT, most high school students are eager to find SAT essay prep activities. The essay section is one of the newest changes to the SAT in recent years, and students are still struggling to get the hang of this optional section. In fact, we suspect you may have some questions of your own! Hopefully, we’ll answer them all with our tips on writing and preparing for the test, and a sample outline to follow.
SAT Essay Prep Activities
Why You Should Take the Optional Test
There are several good reasons to take the SAT Essay section:
- The first one is obvious: you’re good at writing. Colleges and employers value good writers. If the written word is a strong point of yours, the SAT Essay is a great place to show it.
- The second is more subtle. Regardless of what major you plan to pursue, you can expect a lot more writing in your future. College classes tend to emphasize writing over classic homework. Because college is so writing-centric, admissions personnel often give extra weight to it. As a wise man once said, the first step to doing well is showing up. Showing up means taking the test, even if you’re only an OK writer.
- The last reason is sad but true. Schools often don’t do a great job of teaching students to write. If you’re here, looking for help and ready to do extra work, you’re already a step ahead of a lot of your fellow testers. Follow our advice and you’ll turn that step into a leap forward.
Expectations of the SAT Essay Section
If you plan to do the SAT Essay, here are the criteria for doing well:
- Write coherently using good language skills and good spelling.
- Write an essay that outlines a few key points.
- Write an essay that is understandable and concise.
- Persuade a reader to agree with you; write passionately about your topic.
- Think on your feet and write an essay in a limited amount of time.
Some of you are thinking that, in the real world, this isn’t how writing works. You don’t get assigned random topics, and you write and edit multiple drafts over a period of time a lot longer than a test session.
Let’s be clear: you are absolutely right. Let’s be clearer: it doesn’t matter. This is how the SAT works, so you need to prepare to write a very polished first draft in the confines of the 50-minute test session.
Preparing for the SAT Essay
Even though you won’t know the topic of your essay until you sit down to write it, you absolutely can prepare for the SAT Essay.
Be Clear and Direct
Getting right to the point may not be what you’re used to doing. You may have impressed a few English teachers with high-octane vocab and flowery phrasing. Your test readers have seen it. They grade hundreds of these essays in a single sitting. They’ve read the work of dozens of students who write like they swallowed a thesaurus. If you want to impress them, write clearly, stick to a tight structure and stay on topic.
Write Every Day
It doesn’t always have to be a timed random prompt like you’ll get on the test. In fact, if you just do that, day in and day out for months, you’ll likely burn out and choke on the day.
Instead, write. Journal if you like. Write stories if that’s more your bag. But, put words in order on a piece of paper, then go back and edit them. Learn to spot unnecessary words, and get good enough that you don’t write them in the first place. Get in the habit of putting down an outline, then writing to it. Even if you don’t do that with your school assignments, you should do it for the SAT. Structure means clarity. Practice will show.
Know the Format
You don’t have to write like the test every day. That’s true. That said, you should write like it’s the test. A lot. Time yourself. Get comfortable with constructing a clear argument in a short period of time. Check online to see the current test setup. It changes a bit from year to year, so make sure you’re current. Read up on old tests like this one right here. Review words likely to come up on the test; we’ve got a word list and printable worksheets for that. Once you’ve done the prep, start writing. It’ll be easier after all that preparation, we promise. After a few run-throughs, start challenging yourself. See if you can complete an essay in half the time the test allows.
SAT Writing Prep Activities
That’s our advice on improving your writing skills, courtesy of a writer who got a perfect score. Now pair it with these activities. These are excellent ways to switch up your practice routine and avoid burnout.
- Prompts: There’s no better practice than actually taking the test. The College Board provides sample prompts from old tests you can use to simulate the exam environment.
- Outline: Seriously, you want one of these. Figure out an outline structure that works for you. There’s nothing wrong with the classic five-paragraph essay, but if you’re happier with some structure of your own devising, go for it. Write to that structure at least once a week for several weeks before the test. When you get a template into your muscle memory, ideas for your test essay will just fall into place.
- Time by Paragraph: Work on introductions and conclusions until they only take five minutes each to write. Better still, see if you can do both in five minutes. They’re pretty formulaic. Then, move on to body paragraphs. If you can knock out all five paragraphs in 25 minutes, you’ll be in excellent shape come test time.
- Two Minute Drill: With old tests and prompts at hand set a timer for two minutes. See how many thesis statements you can come up with in two minutes that you could build an essay around.
- Vocabulary Flashcards: We at YourDictionary swear by these things. Grab a book (or a convenient digital list) of common SAT vocab words, put them on cards, then practice incorporating them into your writing. Extra bonus: this also helps you bone up on vocabulary for the writing half of the multiple-choice test.
SAT Essay Outline
Remember how we said that having an outline is really important? It is. Sufficiently so, in fact, that we made you one.
Intro (1 paragraph)
Your intro should introduce a concept or conflict that you will address in the body of your essay. Above all, your intro exists to support your thesis statement: a specific claim about the topic of the essay that you can support with examples. The structure of an intro paragraph breaks down as follows;
- Many people know that there is a conflict between A and B….
- Summarize the conflict in a sentence.
- Present arguments for side A. Include two details that support that side.
- Present arguments for side B. Include two details that support that side.
- Thesis sentence: In fact, the solution to the conflict is C. Here follow 3 (or however many) arguments proving C is the solution.
Body (1 to 3 paragraphs)
Even though it’s the longest part of an essay, the body is in many ways the easiest to write. Follow this simple structure and you’ll be set. Note that we’ve used sentence fragments, conversational phrasing and other essay no-nos to make the outline structure as clear as possible.
Body Paragraph #1:
- Some people think A is better than B.
- Three good reasons why they think that.
- Why they’re wrong.
Body Paragraph #2:
- Some people think B is better than A.
- Three good reasons why they think that.
- Why they’re wrong.
Body Paragraph #3:
- In fact, C.
- Answer to the best reason A is better than B.
- Answer to the best reason B is better than A.
- Therefore, C.
Conclusion (1 Paragraph)
“Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” It is ancient wisdom. Restate your conflict at the beginning of the conclusion, summarize positions A, B and C as you explained them in the body, then end with a strong argument in favor of C.
- Restatement of conflict introduced in the intro.
- Summary of position A with flaws identified in body paragraph.
- Summary of position B with flaws identified in body paragraph.
- Summary of position C with strengths identified in body paragraph.
- Therefore (again) C, because C is my thesis.
Three Little Letters
If you’re serious about preparing for the SAT Essay, here’s our final tip. If possible, work with another person. That can be a teacher after class or just another student also looking to score well. Look over each other’s work and assess it based on the structure above. You’ll get better. Nothing beats studying with an actual human.
You can stick with us too. Here are our tips for scoring high on the SAT Writing.