Thursday, November 18, 2010

SAT the Second Time Around

The first time I took the SAT I was sweaty palmed, alternately cold and hot and just all around nervous. I didn´t finish the essay, I didn´t even write a full page. I was completely unprepared for the writing part.

This time, I decided to prepare. I turned to trusty Google and asked for "SAT essay tips" and discovered a plethora (hah!) of horrible articles with terrible advice.

The most persistent one was on the use of the word "plethora". Seriously. I´m going to devide this into Good Tips and Bad Tips, and one special section dedicated to Horrible Tip, What The Hell Are You Thinking?

Good Tips
  • Write neatly: whether in cursive (that´s me!) or print, it has to be legible. The graders are peoople and therefore fallible, they will be influenced by the huge amount of scratched out words and writing that looks like you took the test on a roller coaster while being mauled by a baboon.

  • Do have at least a vague idea of what you´ll be saying before you start.

  • Don´t try to make a complicated rough draft, or any rough draft at all. You only have 25 minutes, that´s hardly enough time to fill the pages even when writing non stop.

  • Read the prompt first, then the quote. Sometimes they aren´t as directly related as ou think, make sure you write what they ask, not what you think of the quote.

  • Try to use precise words. Avoid "thing", "do" and others that don´t really mean anything.
  • Practice. There are dozens of old SAT prompts you can use. This will give you a good idea of how fast you write, what errors to look out for, and make it easier to think of good arguements quickly when given a subject.
Bad Tips
  • "Write as much as possible. Longer essays get higher scores". True, but that´s one of those cases where correlation doesn´t mean cause and effect. Consider that students who are good writers and know what they want to say will find it easier to write a lot. That doesn´t mean you should just write when you´re not sure what comes next.

  • Make a reference to a novel you´ve read, preferably a well known one. Sounds good so far, in my most recent essay I mentioned "War Torn", not particularly well known, but I think it helped make my point. Make one up if you have to. What!? No. Don´t make up novels.

  • End with a quote said by a well-known person. I do that on essays for school. Make it up if you have to. What is wrong with this guy?! Memorize some quotes to use on the essay. Who cares if they have nothing to do with the subject, right? Even theough the graders aren´t supposed to mark you down for factual mistakes, you´ll sound like an idiot with an ending that sounds like: "...which is why technology can be both a boon and a curse. As Neil Armstrong said, "To be or not to be, that is the question".
Horrible Tip, What The Hell Are You Thinking?!
  • Write the essay normally, then go back and change small words for bigger ones. For example, change "bad" and "many" for "egregious" and "plethora". What really gets me is that some student who´s never used the word "plethora" in their lives will remember this and end up with a sentence like: "The egregious boy missed plethora homework assignments". Think of the graders, please! I haven´t even mentioned that the whole thing will sound contrived and unwieldy. The huge words will be scrunched together and it´ll look like you puked up a thesaurus. There will be problems with tenses and times and a hundred other grammatical errors, not to mention the fact that you only have 25 minutes. I barely finished it, much less had time to proofread it and replace words like a demented spell checker.
Look, the simplest way to do well is practice writing fast. Try not to change a sentence once you´ve written it, you are more likely to end up with a repetition or verbs that don´t fit their subjects that you are otherwise. If you have time, go over it.

Don´t stress out. The graders know you have 25 minutes to read the prompt, choose a stance, come up with arguements and try to get them on paper. They aren´t expecting a thesis.

Here´s the link to the article. Pay close attention to the part about replacing words. The tips starts at the end of pages 3 and goes onto 4. Read it and weep.

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