Although the College Board, who makes the SAT, would love to have you think otherwise, the SAT isn’t just an assessment of what you learn in school.
Well, every test prep company says that right? It’s old news. But the exact details of how it’s different aren’t as easy to find. You have to do a bit of digging to get at the key points of SAT prep — what you need to know about this test, specifically, that you wouldn’t get from school.
Here’s a bit of the inside scoop — on the SAT essay, specifically.
It Doesn’t Have to Be True
Yep. The contents of your entire essay can be about as true as an Olympic gymnast’s official age and you can still get perfect scores. Unlike the papers you hammer out for history class or English class, this isn’t really a test of content; above all else, the essay is about form.
Don’t go too far with this. Nobody thinks that George Washington was a communist (I really hope you don’t think that). But if you fudge some of the facts, it’s not going to hurt you. In fact, making up little story here or there can be a great way to get some specific details into an essay that you have no examples for. After all, writing purely in abstractions is nobody’s idea of good writing. At least your inventions will be easy to read.
It Doesn’t Have to Be A Good Argument
Some people will say that big words + a long essay = a high SAT essay score, and that’s almost completely true. There’s something else, though; you need solid grammar and varied sentence structures. All that combined gives you pretty much everything you need for a very respectable score. Your argument might be totally nuts, with no basis in reality. You might have a debate team’s worst nightmare on your hands, a monstrosity of warped logic and circular thinking.
But if it’s well written, then hey, all is forgiven. That’s what the SAT essay is testing, anyhow, so it makes sense. Remember that the readers are only going to spend a couple of minutes on your essay. They’re looking for signs that you’re an experienced writer and an avid reader, not that you’re a very deep thinker (even if the SAT essay prompts do tend to get a bit philosophical).
You Have to Be Fast
Timing your essay well is one of the most important — and most difficult — things to do. Writing a cohesive essay in 25 minutes is really, really tough. That means you have to start doing it, and doing it now. Write essay after essay. Know how much time you should spend planning (and yes, you should plan). Know when you should move on to the next paragraph. Know when it’s time to wrap up the essay. Know not to write up until the very last second; give yourself a moment to proofread.
And how do you learn that? By using those prompts and writing essays. Do it until it’s like tying your shoes, so routine as to be unremarkable, forgettable.
This post was written by Lucas Verney-Fink, resident SAT expert at Magoosh. For more advice on taking the SAT, check out Magoosh’s SAT blog.