This is the first of several Grammar Tips of the Day about the SAT essay. Many high school juniors are taking both the SAT and the ACT in the next several weeks.
Our Knox County English teachers do an excellent job of teaching our kids how to do outlines.
This skill has always been a key to success on essay tests, but this is especially highlighted by the essay section of the SAT. In just 25 minutes, kids have to plan their time, think through their arguments and put them on paper. Many test-takers interviewed on TV said they didn't finish in the allotted time.
Harbrace Section 33e: Choose an appropriate method or combination of methods for arranging ideas offers some good tips on listing ideas, outlining and writing essays.
The trick with the new SAT is in doing all this swiftly and effectively. (And, of course, as in all things, penmanship counts!) In those opening moments, the essayist must consider the topic and map out a course of action---making a list of ideas to touch on and a conclusion to be heading toward. This is the time to take a deep breath, look at this list, amend as appropriate, and plan those minutes. If there are 5 minutes to go and you're halfway through your outline (this happens) you must make the remaining points quickly and get to that conclusion.
Of course, the best keys to success are a) knowing what you want to say, b) practicing saying them in alloted periods of time, and c) feigning confidence, so the kids all around you panic. :-)