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Why Should Your Student Study Extra Hard For The SAT Essay?

Aug 17, 2007
Three hours and forty-five minutes!" that's what Julie said when I told her how long the New SAT was. "And I have to study Critical Reading, Vocabulary, Math, Grammar and Writing!" she added. "Yes," I said. You've got to study all of that. "Well, I'll just prioritize by focusing on the important stuff like the Math, Reading, Vocabulary and Grammar. The essay's only 25 minutes of the test. It can't affect my score that much right?" Julie was partly right. The essay is only about 1/9th of your potential score of 2400. However, in this case what Julie didn't know could hurt her.

What she didn't know is that college admissions officers won't just look at Julie's essay score when judging her suitability for admission. They will read a scan of the essay she wrote and use that as one criterion when they decide to reject or accept her application. In fact there are at least three important ways that college admission officers plan to use your student's SAT Essay in deciding who will attend their undergraduate programs.

1. To see if your student can really handle the pressure of a college "blue book" exam.

How can an admissions officer know who will sail through their college exams, get on the honor roll each semester and graduate in 4 years? The answer: they can't know for sure. That's why they are constantly looking for new ways to predict college success and failure. And since most high school students don't take in class essay exams as part of their curriculum admissions officers can't use their transcripts to see how well they'll do on college essay exams. That's where the SAT Essay comes in. Many universities intend to use it to see who will do well on exams. For example, Ted Spencer, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and trustee of the College Board stated, "The SAT essay will be a first draft, written under timed conditions not unlike the on-demand writing of a college "blue book" exam. It will... give us a better, more complete understanding of the student's writing abilities." And Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said, "the essay test will give admissions officers a better feel for applicants' writing and verbal skills and their ability to perform under 'constraint.'"

2. To see how well you communicate ideas "on the spot" (even for math and science majors).
It's a common misconception that math and science majors only need to do well on the Math section of the SAT. College officials from math and science oriented disciplines have consistently expressed the need for their students to have highly developed writing skills. For example, Ben Streetman, Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin said, "This new requirement will be a great help to us in choosing students who can succeed in engineering. One of the most important skills an engineer has is the ability to present his or her ideas verbally and in writing. Virtually every engineering project begins with a written proposal, requires interim reports and culminates in a written summary. Professional success in engineering depends not only on the ability to apply the techniques of math and science to solve problems, but also on the engineer's ability to write those proposals and reports in a way that helps others understand the work." So while knowledge of math and science is obviously still very important for your student to gain admission to these programs, having powerful writing skills will set him or her above many students who lack these skills.

3. To see if any students "cheated" on their applications.

Sure, many students get help in revising and improving their college application essays. However, for years admissions officers have known that many students get "extra" help to make their essays appealing. There has never been a good way of knowing who these students are until the College Board added the Essay to the New SAT. Now, according to a survey done by Kaplan, almost 60% of the top 374 colleges and universities plan to use the SAT Essay to find writing level discrepancies among college applicants. For most honest students this shouldn't be a problem unless they happen to write much worse on the SAT Essay than they did for their college application essays. Of course the best way to avoid suspicion of getting too much "help" on the admissions essay is to learn to write a good SAT Essay.

Now that you know that there are many important reasons why your student needs to do well on the SAT Essay, you might be wondering what are some of the best ways to prepare.

Successful preparation involves doing two things:

1. Writing an essay that will score well and
2. Writing an essay that will impress college admissions officers

For your student to score well she needs to learn the five characteristics that all high-scoring essays have in common and develop the skills to put these into her writing in under 25 minutes and under the pressure of test day.

Second, your student must write an essay that shows how insightful and intelligent he is so that admissions officers are impressed by the quality of the writing.

Below I list some important resources that can help your student prepare to write a stellar essay that will improve his or her chances of admission at the best schools.

The Official Guide to the New SAT published by the College Board and available on their web site http://www.collegeboard.com.

This site has several examples of essays graded by College Board graders which can give you a good sense of what it takes to get a high score.

Second, I recommend the website http://www.rocketreview.com which has a computerized program to help you grade several essay topics available there.

Third, I recommend my e-book "How to Write Fast and Effectively for the New SAT" which teaches the 6 steps to success on the SAT Essay, includes dozens of classroom tested exercises and many examples of real high scoring essays. It is available at http://www.sat-essay.net
About the Author
Rodney Daut is a teacher with five years experience teaching history and writing. He also teaches SAT Courses and helps many students dramatically increase their scores. His book "How to Write Fast and Effectively for the SAT Essay" is available at SAT Essay.
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