Timed Essays and the SAT

SAT. A simple enough acronym. But for college-bound high schoolers and their parents…well, it’s amazing just how much power those three little letters wield.

The SAT has long been the benchmark for college admissions boards seeking to determine an applicant’s academic readiness. Hoping to muster a high enough score to gain admission to their school of choice, teens work through prep courses and practice exams in anticipation of that terrible day when their math and English skills are put to the test. And if the pressure of algebra, reading comprehension, and vocabulary hasn’t been enough to wrack the nerves of the most confident student, the College Entrance Examination Board just turned up the heat with the introduction of several new components, among them the dreaded timed essay.

The class of 2006 was the first to take this new SAT.

In a 1990 nationwide study, researcher Brian Ray “found home educated students to be scoring, on average, at or above the 80th percentile in all areas on standardized achievement tests.” However glowing, these statistics don’t reflect any writing. And as the new SAT looms on the horizon, parents, who admit that writing often takes a back seat to other subjects, find themselves scrambling for a program that will help prepare their teens for the essay portion of this exam.

According to CollegeBoard.com, the SAT will feature a question asking students “to take a position on an issue and support it persuasively with examples from [their] studies and experience.” Not surprisingly, the College Board wants well-developed, focused, organized essays that show evidence of critical thinking and use supportive details. But interestingly enough, content alone will not satisfy the criteria of a solid SAT essay. The College Board is also expecting “skillful use of language” and “meaningful variety in sentence structure.” Well-chosen words and sentence variations enhance a good essay and contribute to its overall appeal.

So where can students learn these skills? Happily for future SAT takers, help already exists within the pages of that humble red binder known as WriteShop II. And while many programs, including WriteShop, teach organization and structure, WriteShop is unique in its purposeful incorporation of vocabulary and sentence style as well. Students learn ten ways to vary their sentences and gain useful skills for choosing the best word for the job. These very things will serve them well when it’s time to add sparkle to otherwise lackluster, subject-verb riddled essays.

Suitable for eighth- to twelfth-graders, WriteShop II can be completed in a semester or a year. Followed by frequent practice with timed essays, it will help boost both the skills and the confidence needed to master the writing portion of the new SAT.

 

Kim Kautzer and Debbie Oldar

 

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