In this lesson, our instructor Rebekah Hendershot goes through an introduction on essay basics. She discusses what an essay is, why you have to write it, what the SAT is looking for, the prompt, scoring, and tips.
The word essay comes from the French word essayer, meaning to try or to attempt.
The term was coined by the French writer Michel de Montaigne to describe his attempts to put his thoughts into writing.
An essay, therefore, is an attempt to explain a thought in writingany thought. Like a short story, it is tightly focused and can be read at a single sitting.
Why Does the SAT Ask for an Essay?
The SAT is designed to test your readiness for college. Writing is an important college skill.
The essay also tests your ability to think on your feet and express your thoughts clearly, even under stress.
The essay also gives you a chance to demonstrate your academic ability outside of the multiple-choice format.
What Theyre Looking For
First and foremost, SAT essay readers are looking for good writing:
Varied and appropriate vocabulary
Good spelling, grammar, and syntax
Varied sentence structure
Clear focus on the topic at hand
Smooth progression of ideas
Secondly (and still quite importantly), SAT readers are looking for good content:
A clear point of view on the issue
Strong critical thinking
Appropriate examples, reasons, and evidence
The SAT essay prompt always takes the same form: an excerpt followed by a question asking your opinion on the main idea of the excerpt.
Your essay will be read by a trained SAT reader (usually a high-school or college instructor) who will not see your name or any other identifying information.
Two readers read each essay and score it on a scale from 1 to 6. Their combined scores make up your essay score for a maximum of 12.
Essay readers are encouraged to be forgiving and to reward students for writing well rather than punish them for writing poorly. They know these essays are first drafts, written by high-school students under a time limit.
Essay readers are trained to ignore handwriting and avoid judging an essay by its length, although neat writing and a not-too-short essay always make a better impression than a short, messy submission.
Essay Score: 6
An essay in this category demonstrates clear and consistent mastery, although it may have a few minor errors. A typical essay:
effectively and insightfully develops a point of view on the issue and demonstrates outstanding critical thinking, using clearly appropriate examples, reasons, and other evidence to support its position
is well organized and clearly focused, demonstrating clear coherence and smooth progression of ideas
exhibits skillful use of language, using a varied, accurate, and apt vocabulary
demonstrates meaningful variety in sentence structure is free of most errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
Essay Score: 5
An essay in this category demonstrates reasonably consistent mastery, although it will have occasional errors or lapses in quality. A typical essay:
effectively develops a point of view on the issue and demonstrates strong critical thinking, generally using appropriate examples, reasons, and other evidence to support its position
is well-organized and focused, demonstrating coherence and progression of ideas
exhibits facility in the use of language, using appropriate vocabulary
demonstrates variety in sentence structure
is generally free of most errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
Essay Score: 4
An essay in this category demonstrates adequate mastery, although it will have lapses in quality. A typical essay:
develops a point of view on the issue and demonstrates competent critical thinking, using adequate examples, reasons, and other evidence to support its position
is generally organized and focused, demonstrating some coherence and progression of ideas
exhibits adequate but inconsistent facility in the use of language, using generally appropriate vocabulary
demonstrates some variety in sentence structure
has some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
Essay Score: 3
An essay in this category demonstrates developing mastery and is marked by one or more weaknesses:
develops a point of view on the issue, demonstrating some critical thinking, but may do so inconsistently or use inadequate examples, reasons, or other evidence to support its position
is limited in its organization or focus, or may demonstrate some lapses in coherence or progression of ideas
displays developing facility in the use of language, but sometimes uses weak vocabulary or inappropriate word choice
lacks variety or demonstrates problems in sentence structure
contains an accumulation of errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
Essay Score: 2
An essay in this category demonstrates little mastery
and is and is flawed by one or more of the following weaknesses:
develops a point of view that is vague or seriously limited; demonstrates weak critical thinking, providing inappropriate or insufficient examples, reasons, or other evidence to support its position
is poorly organized/focused, or demonstrates serious problems with coherence or progression of ideas
displays very little facility in use of language, using very limited vocabulary or incorrect word choice
demonstrates frequent problems in sentence structure
contains errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics so serious that meaning is somewhat obscured
Essay Score: 1
An essay in this category demonstrates very little or no mastery and is severely flawed by ONE OR MORE of the following weaknesses:
develops no viable point of view on the issue, or provides little or no evidence to support its position
is disorganized or unfocused, resulting in a disjointed or incoherent essay
displays fundamental errors in vocabulary
demonstrates severe flaws in sentence structure
contains pervasive errors in grammar, usage, or mechanics that persistently interfere with meaning
Essay Score: 0
Essays not written on the essay assignment will receive a score of zero.
Tips for a Better Essay
Read the prompt carefully, and make sure you write about the topic given.
Outline before you write.
Use a variety of examples from different fieldsliterature, history, personal experience, etc. If one example falls flat, another can rescue your essay.
Vary your sentence structure.
Use clear, precise, and appropriate vocabulary.
Use action verbs.
Use both abstract and concrete nouns.
Review your writing after youre done, and dont be afraid to make small changes.
Recommended supplementary material to view SAT questions featured in lesson answer guides: The Official SAT Study Guide by the College Board.
Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.
Educator.com recommends The Official SAT Study Guide published by The College Board, the administrators of the actual SAT test. In it, you will find additional practice questions and a review of all subjects, along with 10 official SAT practice tests. Our instructors work through several of the practice tests in real time, going through their thought processes and test-taking tips.
Grammarly is the world's leading software suite for perfecting written English. It checks for more than 250 types of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, enhances vocabulary usage, and suggests citations.