SAT Essay Tips (news flash: say goodbye to the SAT essay!)


Today I happened across this really interesting article about plans to overhaul the SAT, again.  The last time it was changed in a substantial way was in 2005 when the dreaded ‘essay’ component was added and weighted to be 1/3 of the total value of the test. This part of the SAT gives each student an essay topic and 25 minutes to write an essay on that topic, usually formulated as an argument for or against the statement given in the essay topic.  Understandably, this is a hugely stressful component of the SAT for most high school seniors. Twenty-five minutes is just not long enough to pull together a reasonably coherent essay, even for someone who enjoys writing.

Well,  good news! In Spring 2016 the SAT essay will become OPTIONAL.(Down side– they will be making the SAT compliant with Common Core.  Bah humbug. (Here are some other changes being planned.) Anyway, the essay is being removed because they’ve found it isn’t very indicative of college success anyway.  There’s a much stronger correlation between high school grades and college grades than there is between high school testing and college grades.  There is also a concern that lower-income kids are testing low simply because they don’t have access to the types of SAT coaching that upper-income parents tend to get for their kids.

HOWEVER, if your kid is graduating this year or next, he’ll still need to do that essay.  So how to approach it?

  •  Begin that precious 25 minutes by spending 3 minutes brainstorming all you know about the topic.
  • Quickly choose whether to argue for or against the statement given in the essay prompt.  It doesn’t affect your score which you choose– but it will affect your score if you spend too long debating which side to argue.
  • Then write a brief 5-paragraph essay consisting of an intro, a conclusion and 3 central paragraphs, each with a different sub-point of your argument.
  • If time runs short (as most likely will) it’s okay to skip the third sub-point and go straight to a conclusion.
  • Save a couple minutes at the end to proof-read.

Some additional ideas for higher scores:

  • Memorize a few all-purpose quotes that could fit a variety of situations, so that you can use one in the essay.
  • Begin with an interesting or attention-getting sentence.
  • Write as LONG as possible.  Longer essays almost always get higher scores.
  • Don’t feel like you have to KNOW everything about your topic.  You aren’t getting graded on the accuracy of your facts.
  • Don’t overdo the long words, but do be sure to use a few correctly.

Here are a few articles explaining these types of strategy in greater detail.

The ‘Fast Food’ Essay

11 Tips for a Home Run Essay

Ace the SAT Essay with Time to Spare

Grammar Survival Tips




  1. Servetus says:

    Final tip from a college instructor — write this essay for the SAT and then forget about it, because this essay will get you a C- at best in any normal college course and it should get you an F. I don’t know why the SAT prioritized this sort of essay writing but I’m delighted to see it going away!

  2. Could you explain Common Core? My homeschoolers are still fairly little, although my oldest just turned 11. Would you also mind sharing your opinions about Common Core? I always appreciate your homeschooling posts.
    Thank you!

  3. My son took the ACT specifically so he would not have to do the essay portion. He can tell stories until your ears fall off, but he has never been a good writer. Ever. Put that time limit on it, and he would freeze up altogether. There did not seem to be any point to taking a test knowing full well he would bomb it when the ACT was acceptable to get into the community college he is going to.

  4. In Canada we don’t have any type of SAT-like tests to get into university/college, 99.99% of the time they rely solely on your top 6 12th grade marks. Such a difference in the application culture!


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