The SAT Essay: Description, Timing & Strategies

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  • 0:05 A New 'Optional' Essay
  • 1:04 Facts About the Essay
  • 1:39 How to Time Your Essay
  • 3:12 Strategies for the Essay
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Just because the SAT Essay is now optional doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention to it! In fact, it's all the more reason to make sure you do well and show colleges just how smart you are.

A New 'Optional' Essay

Once upon a time, the very first section you had to take on the SAT involved an essay. Lasting 25 minutes, the essay section required you to read a position and then argue your case. Needless to say, this was chaotic. You had to determine your entire position, organize your essay and write it in the amount of time that some people spend waiting in line for their morning coffee.

As of March 2016, things are different. From that point on, the essay section of the SAT has changed. No longer is it at the beginning of the test. In fact, it's not even a required part of the exam anymore. However, that doesn't mean that you should avoid writing it. Colleges still see it and the last thing you want to convey to your dream school is that you couldn't spend 50 minutes giving them a sample of your writing ability. Furthermore, some colleges require the SAT with essay as part of the college application process. So, do the essay. Over the next few minutes, we'll learn more about the essay, how to time it, and some general strategies for the essay.

Facts About the Essay

Okay, so you've decided that you're going to do the SAT with essay. There are some other things you should know. First of all, you've got 50 minutes to write the essay. That is more than enough time to get done what you need to accomplish. However, the biggest fact that you should be aware of is that the prompt is always the same. In short, you have to analyze the argument presented in a passage, paying special attention to evidence, reasoning, and style of the author. In past SAT essays, you had to make your own argument. With the new essay, you get to tear someone else's argument apart and see if it's any good.

How to Time Your Essay

You've got 50 minutes to write this essay, so you've actually got more than enough time to work. I won't give any firm limits on time here because everyone is different. If you write quickly once you have everything synthesized, then you'll probably want more time to analyze the work. Likewise, if you write slowly but can read over the material quickly, you'll want more time to write. However, you should do some basic steps no matter what.

First things first, take a breath. You've been undergoing three hours of testing by this point, the end is in sight and this is, with enough preparation, just a formality on your end. You've got this! Calm yourself, and it will be over very quickly.

Second, plan before you write. That means reading the passage and taking notes, even if it is just to scribble down a basic outline, that will make your work much more clear.

Third, make sure you really understand what the author is saying and how he or she is arguing for it. Nothing is worse than realizing that your thesis is completely wrong.

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