SAT Essay Help: Choosing and Researching Content
The College Board adamantly states that because the SAT essay deals with specific issues, you won't be able to prepare an essay ahead of time. But that's not quite true. It is precisely because of the issues the prompts address—ones that can be approached effectively from a number of different angles—that you can determine much of what you'll write before the test. So although you won't be able to walk into the SAT with a memorized essay, you will be able to enter with well-developed content that should need only minor work to address the prompt.
Word of Warning
The College Board recently added a reminder to the essay practice section of their website which notes that if your essay is not "your original and individual work," they may cancel your scores. Be advised that this chapter uses examples to illustrate how you can prepare your own content for the essay. Using these examples when you take the test could be considered plagiarism and result in cancelled scores. Use the examples as guidelines, and use only your own work.
As you'll notice in the following examples—taken from literature, the visual arts, history, and science—the best topics have many different themes. Something very narrow, such as a specific sport, probably won't work for many prompts. But the topic of professional sports as a whole is complex enough to apply to a range of issues. Once you've chosen your topics, think in the broadest possible terms about angles through which you can discuss them. If you're prepared to write about your topics in a variety of ways, you'll be able to quickly link them to the assignment.
But don't stop your preparation with themes. It is important to write an essay of at least one and a half pages. You'll be able to do that easily if you develop two to four strong supporting sentences for each topic. These sentences will work no matter what the assignment and will stretch your essay to the right length while remaining on task.
Note that some topics lend themselves to a few additional areas of research. For novels, be certain you understand the main characters. For a historical event such as the Great Depression, it makes sense to think in terms of cause and effect. Because quotations add great impact to an introduction or conclusion, do some research and include one or two for each topic. They won't always work, but it makes sense to have them ready.
Keep In Mind
You're not writing a term paper for a class. Scorers, unlike teachers, are not looking for factual accuracy, so if you can't remember who wrote Animal Farm or the exact date of the bombing of Hiroshima, don't worry. You can either guess (points won't be deducted if you're wrong) or simply write about your topic without mentioning the author, date, or other piece of forgotten information.
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