Tuesday, December 4, 2007

How to structure the SAT essay

The essay section of the SAT presents an opportunity to excel for those who are prepared. A while ago my high school alumni bulletin ran a story about its month-long SAT-prep program, directed by math teacher Linda DeBord.

In preparation for the SAT essay section, students compose two to five essays under test conditions, which Mrs. DeBord then assesses and scores.

"Learning to outline and write an essay under pressure was invaluable," said one student. "The corrected essays were also helpful, as we learned from our mistakes." (This is the same preparation done by West High teachers like Shannon Jackson, who so effectively help their students earn nice AP scores and -- as Isabel Clark attested in the August 2006 Cityview magazine -- do well in college, where almost all the tests are timed essays.)

I asked Mrs. DeBord for some tips, and she kindly replied.

Of course a student should briefly outline the essay before writing. "In the brief 25 minutes, the up-front planning is critical," says Mrs. DeBord, "but the students need to keep a careful eye on the time. I suggest that in the opening paragraph, after they state their thesis, they should mention two examples they will use. The examples should be clear in their relationship in supporting the thesis. The conclusion should restate, in an interesting way (if possible), the thesis and then re-tie in the examples."

So, the structure of the essay goes pretty much --

I. State thesis
II. Preview two supporting examples
III. Elaborate thesis
IV. Flesh out examples
V. Conclusion
a) restate thesis (interesting way)
b) re-tie in the examples

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