We interviewed one of our best writing tutors, Ira Shull, for tips on conquering the SAT Essay Test. Ira specializes in writing process for middle & high school students, and has worked extensively in the magazine, book, and educational publishing industries over the last 20 years as a writer and editor.

Ira explained that often when a test is timed, students tend to panic and then blank. To conquer fears and write a cohesive essay, follow these steps:

*Take the first 5 – 10 minutes to write notes: Plan to write about 1 – 1 ½ pages. Sketch out how you want the beginning, middle, and end of the essay to flow. For students who tend to be analytical, an outline format that states your theorem might work best. For students with a creative bent, you might want to take a couple of minutes to do a free writing exercise to get out the detritus (maybe jotting down your fears about writing the essay, as D.H. Graves proposes), then compose your framework.
*Determine which examples you will use. SAT scorers want to see students’ ability to make connections. Draw from your in-class readings, books, or real-life examples to support your arguments.
*First paragraph: Introduce the topic and your point.
*Second/third paragraphs: Flesh out the discussion and use your examples to support your point.
*Fourth paragraph: Summarize your essay; then take it one step further by drawing a conclusion.

Before you take the SAT, do some research on the College Board’s views of a successful essay. Visit the website www.collegeboard.org/practice where several essays are posted along with the scores they received, from 1 – 6 (lowest to highest). Read the essays and the scoring explanation to understand why they were considered weaker or stronger. Using this information as you practice will allow you to tailor your writing skills to their standards.

Scorers are not as concerned with grammar or punctuation as they are with hearing your voice and understanding your thought process. Can you organize your thoughts and state them clearly? Can you make a logical argument that follows a clear progression? Do you have a personal opinion and back it up? When you take the time to look at models of prior essays and then create your own framework with the first 5 – 10 minutes of the test, you will have a foundation for a smooth argument that has a clear beginning, middle, and end.

The very most important thing to do in preparing for the SAT essay test is PRACTICE. Like doing reps to strengthen a particular muscle, you will strengthen your writing muscles simply by writing. As Nike says, just do it! Find prompts online for topics, or use your Club Z SAT test prep sessions and in-between sessions to write, write, write. You will find that by the time you sit down at the actual test that you have eliminated your panic and that your writing muscle is prepared to attack the final challenge.