With Spring Comes the SAT

Spring is in bloom, and so is the administration of the May and June SAT.

The debate about to include, exclude or make optional the essay in the SAT Writing section continues. 

Some writing instructors view the "five paragraph essay" as an unnatural rhetorical exercise that students learn for artificial circumstances--like standardized  tests--only to be abandoned for more flexible and useful writing rubrics later in college and professional school.

I stress in my practice again and again that the SAT score does not college success predict, nor does it necessarily serve as a marker of intelligence. 

However, I do think that learning  and practicing the steps to writing a substantive SAT essay is a process that can be adapted to all kinds of writing situations, including in class and take-home essays and essay exams in college, high school and professional school.  In fact, I think that taking the time to write an effective, timed essay will increase students' cognitive reach in critical and creative thinking as well as become an adaptive and useful writing practice. 

Here are some of the metacognitive or self-talk steps I use in my instruction to get students started on their timed essay:

1. Read both the prompt and assignment with focus and purpose.  (I.e.—be immediately thinking what stance and direction you want to go with this.) 1 minute

2. Quickly discern what the assignment is asking you to do. Rephrase it in your own words and repeat it to yourself. Write that down if necessary. 1minute

3. Brainstorm/outline. Use TREE in order to a) T-establish your thesis/idea b) R--develop the REASONS that give your thesis substance c) E—evidence that illustrates your reasons—those are the books, movies, ideas and experiences that are the heart of your essay and illustrations from your journal and d) The final E stands for ENDING—or conclusion.

4. Write/jot down all of your brainstorming on your test booklet--you own that. 8 minutes

5. Using your written notes, begin to write the essay on the double-spaced piece of paper provided. (15 minutes)

Beyond these pointers, I teach in one-on-one sessions very specific intro, body and conclusion paragraph steps for the SAT essay that are useful to students in their daily academic lives.