SAT essay tips: Part 1

SAT Essay Tips: Help your teens understand the SAT essay and write clear, persuasive essays

IF your teen hopes to enter a four-year college or university straight out of high school, he will probably take the SAT. This four-hour test offers one guarantee: the 25-minute essay-writing section always comes first. To score well on the essay, your student needs to understand both the test objectives and scoring criteria.

What is the SAT?

Offered seven times per year, the SAT is the most popular college admission test. Many high schoolers take the test once in the spring of their junior year, and again in the fall of their senior year. At the official website, you will find online registration (including helpful registration hints for homeschoolers), and a test-day checklist (no cell phones are allowed, so bring a watch).

To familiarize yourself with the SAT format, take a practice test well in advance. The Princeton Review suggests taking these practice tests quite seriously: time yourself, take short breaks between sections, and don’t even think about stopping for lunch!

How the SAT Essay Is Scored

The essay component of the SAT is scored on a scale of 1-6. Two readers will assign independent scores, giving you a total between 2 and 12. The essay counts for one-third of your overall Writing score, or one-ninth of your total SAT score. Familiarize yourself with the official scoring guidelines and sample essays.

All the directions and strategies boil down to one thing: the SAT essay is a persuasive essay. You must choose a point of view and support it with logical reasoning and examples. The best scores will reflect several essay components:

  • an understanding of English grammar
  • a variety of sentence structures
  • a well-rounded vocabulary (no weak words)
  • a focused and coherent main thought
  • an organized progression of ideas (the five-paragraph essay format usually works best)

Use Your Time Well

Remember, you only have twenty-five minutes for essay writing. The test materials include a bit of blank space—about a quarter of a page—to “plan” your essay. Don’t get bogged down with full sentences while brainstorming. Just outline your thoughts for the thesis, two or three strong examples in a logical order, and a few key words for the conclusion. Then quickly move on to the writing. (By the way, this is also excellent practice for essay exams in college!)

Length alone will not guarantee a good score; however, the Princeton Review and others confirm that high-scoring SAT essays are long. You have almost two pages to work with, about 40-45 lines. Fill the space if you can, and write at least a page and a half. (Note: you cannot go over the space provided.)

Know Your Audience

The SAT is prepared by an organization called the College Board. You should know several things about them:

  • They avoid highly controversial subjects, such as religion and politics. Words like “Republican” and “salvation” won’t appear on your SAT essay question, although you might see words like “leadership” and “hope.” Write your essay accordingly.
  • The College Board is not elitist and will not mark you down for using examples from your humble personal life. If you can’t draw from heroes of British literature and American history, your parents’ high school stories or an example of a community hero might provide the perfect illustrations for your main point.
  • The College Board does not fact-check essays. If you think you have your stories right, be confident and keep writing. Just be aware that any college you apply to has the right to review your SAT writing sample and compare it to your admissions essay (according to SparkNotes.com).

Collectively, the individuals who read SAT essays must grade an estimated 2 million essays per year. Write with these readers in mind:

  • They are paid to read your entire essay, so you’re not obligated to “hook” or “entertain” them. In this setting, tangents are never cute: “When you think ‘SAT essay,’ think of a well-organized nightly news segment, not a convoluted soap opera plot.” ~ SparkNotes.com
  • They read quickly and assign scores based on a first general impression. Make your thesis statement simple and direct so your essay will be easy to follow. (Mike at AceTheSAT.com suggests you place the thesis in the first sentence.)
  • They are probably tired, so make sure your essay is overwhelmingly readable. If you include a phrase about counter-arguments or opposing views, be very clear about which side you’re on. Don’t confuse your readers!

Of course, when it comes to timed essay tests, the best advice is to start early. WriteShop II teaches many essential skills for timed essays in 9th and 10th grade. In addition, other extra-curricular activities and habits can encourage college-level vocabulary, speed writing, and persuasive arguments. Next week, I’ll share SAT essay tips and ideas for developing these abilities at home.

Tips for Writing SAT Essays: Part 2

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photo: Andrew Mason, courtesy of Creative Commons.

 

Writing prompts about explorers

Writing Prompts about Explorers @writeshop

A new school year is an exciting time of discovery. If your history studies this fall include the “Age of Exploration” (15th-17th centuries), try a few of these writing prompts about explorers with your kids!

1. The Great Race

When Columbus claimed the New World for Spain, navigator John Cabot believed he could find a faster route across the northern Atlantic. Imagine you are John Cabot. Write a letter to King Henry VII, explaining why England should explore the “East Indies,” and why you are just the man for the job.

2. A Sight for Sore Eyes

Vasco Nunez de Balboa led the first European expedition from Spain’s colonies in the New World to the Pacific Ocean in the west. Describe his feelings and reactions after traveling three weeks, surviving battles with the Panama natives, crossing a jungle, and climbing a mountain range to finally discover the mysterious “South Sea.”

3. Uncharted Territory

The first European to explore the coasts of Florida, Spanish governor Juan Ponce de Leon was surrounded by legends after his death. Many people claimed he had searched for the Fountain of Youth in Florida, only to find giant sea turtles and Caribbean Monk Seals instead. Write about a time when life turned out differently than you expected. Were you pleased or disappointed in the end?

4. The Long Winter

When French explorer Jacques Cartier made his second spring voyage to Canada, he probably didn’t expect to spend a winter on the banks of the icy cold St. Charles River. For five months, his fleet of three ships would lay frozen in the water, while his men fell sick in their snow-covered fort. Describe Cartier’s frozen wooden ships as they would have appeared to a visiting Iroquois Indian.

Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Photo: KitAy, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Screwtape Letter for the Homeschool Mom

Screwtape Letter for the Homeschool Mom @writeshop

By Daniella Dautrich

YOUR calling as a homeschooling mom flows out of your calling to live a life hidden in Christ Jesus (Colossians 3:3). If you experience homeschool doubts at some point this school year, don’t try to overcome them on your own strength, feelings, or goodness. Recognize the spiritual battle that is being waged for your child’s soul, get on your knees, and pray!

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis wrote about our sometimes-invisible but ever-present struggle in his classic The Screwtape Letters. Thirty-one fictional letters from the elder demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood describe the process of tempting human “patients” and foiling their efforts to live the Christian life.

If you are unfamiliar with this literary gem, find a copy and read it for yourself! Until then, enjoy this modern-day “Screwtape Letter” for the homeschool mom, adapted from the second, third, and fourth letters in Lewis’s book.

I leave you with Lewis’s own caution from his preface:

“Readers are advised to remember that the devil is a liar. Not everything that Screwtape says should be assumed to be true even from his own angle.”

My dear Wormwood,

I see with great displeasure that your patient has become a homeschooler. There is no need to despair; hundreds of these well-meaning mothers have been recovered after just a few months of school. Meanwhile, we must make the best of the situation.

Our greatest ally at the present moment is the homeschooled child itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the high-achieving youngsters your patient reads about in magazines, or the eager, tidy, and respectful children raised by her veteran homeschool friends. 

I mean her real child, that stubborn and noisy human being who worries and interrupts his mother at every waking hour. When your patient corrects a lesson, she finds deliciously scribbled and misspelled words. When she begins to teach, the child cries and argues. Take advantage of this by leaning heavily on those foolish mistakes and childish tears.  

Bait Her with Perfection

At this stage, you see, your patient holds to an ideal of “homeschooling” that she believes to be practical but which, in fact, is merely a fabrication. Look no further than Pinterest if you have any doubts on this useful subject of comparison traps.

I get positively giddy when other homeschool moms make her feel badThe patient’s mind entertains visions of a violin prodigy, picture-perfect schoolroom, and future college scholarships. The fact that her awkward, left-handed child can’t read or write yet is a real—though not verbally acknowledged—difficulty to her.

Here lies our opportunity. Work hard on the cloud of disappointment which will certainly descend on your patient. This anticlimax will fuel her homeschool doubts.

Keep Her Mind on Academics

Always keep the patient’s mind on her flashcards and worksheets. Remind her to dwell on multiplication tables and spelling tests. She thinks homeschooling is something “academic,” and her attention is therefore focused on lesson plans and physical curriculum. (If the textbooks were expensive, so much the better.)

Keep her mind off the most elementary teaching tools—conversation and parent modeling—and direct her mind to the more prestigious academic duties of the homeschool mother. Fill her day with such busyness that there is no time to reflect on the Enemy. If home life becomes strained, let her think that her talents are unappreciated and could be put to more profitable use elsewhere.

Distract and Mislead Her

Do not forget that the best thing, whenever possible, is to keep the patient from serious prayer. Whenever she listens to the Enemy Himself, we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing this. Simply turn her gaze away from Him towards herself.

When she kneels to pray for wisdom or gentleness, let her really try to reassure herself that she is wise compared to other parents, and far more gentle than her misbehaving child deserves.

Train her to estimate the value of a prayer by its success in producing these desired feelings. By no means let her suspect that this kind of success will often depend on whether she is well or ill, fresh or tired, at that particular moment. This is where you want her.

Your affectionate uncle,

SCREWTAPE

Related Post - You Can’t Write: Screwtape Letter for the Homeschool Mom

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Photo: Ian.Kobylanski, courtesy of Creative Commons.

Printable Writing Prompt ~ September

Take a walk outside and observe your surroundings! What hidden things do you walk past without even noticing? This month’s writing prompt encourages you to sharpen your observation skills and practice your descriptive writing!

September's Printable Writing Prompt from Writeshop

Click the image above to download the prompt. If you would like to share this prompt with others, link to this post. Do not link directly to the PDF file. Feel free to print this PDF file for your own personal use. Please do not sell or host these files anywhere else.

Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Related Posts:

Descriptive writing prompts for middle schoolers

Using our senses: A descriptive writing lesson

4 essay prompts high school students will love

Interest-grabbing essay prompts high school students will love {via In Our Write Minds}

DO your teens view writing as a dull, meaningless task? Are you always searching for essay prompts high school students will love? Then suggest one of the following interest-grabbing topics to help them brush up on composition skills!

1. The Artist’s Eye

Describe the artwork of your favorite painter or film studio. Discuss the color palette, subject matter, and style (abstract, realist, etc.).

2. Dream Budget

Imagine someone hands you $10,000 on the day of your high school graduation, with one condition: you must spend part of it immediately, save another part for at least twenty years, and give the rest away. Where will you shop, and how will you invest? Which charity, cause, or ministry will you support? Explain your choices.

3. Two Roads Diverged

Compare and contrast two careers that interest you. What aspects of the jobs appeal to you? How will your future look if you choose one of these two paths?

4. Green Light

In your opinion, what are the top three signs that a young adult is ready for a committed relationship leading to marriage? Do age, college degrees, or financial status predict successful relationships?

If you enjoyed these essay prompts, be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays! Once a month, we feature topics especially suited for high schoolers.

Photo: Liana_Kyle, courtesy of Creative Commons.

How to write a standout college application essay

How to Write a Standout College Application Essay @writeshop

AS a parent, you’ve likely spent years preparing your teen for college—academically, emotionally, and spiritually. If you followed these tips for college application essays, you’ve already planned ahead by encouraging excellent communication skills.

By now, your teen has probably narrowed down her list of college choices, and she’s ready to start writing. If she wonders how a mere handful of paragraphs can properly introduce all her thoughtful, ambitious, diligent, and enthusiastic qualities, it’s time for her to think like a novelist. In other words, don’t tell your readers—show them!

A Strong Thesis Statement

A thesis statement in the first paragraph keeps an essay on track. Page limits will not allow high school students to include every childhood dream and future goal in their college admission essays. To avoid rambling, write a few introductory sentences to set the overall tone. Then follow with a thesis statement that answers the admission counselor’s question: Why should I keep reading?

Study the application carefully as you write your thesis statement:

  • Does the admission staff want to see an essay about “Why You Are a Perfect Fit for Our College” or “How You Will Contribute to Our Campus Community”? Develop your answer with three to six key points.
  • Now, write a thesis statement that includes all of these points (or, as my professor called them, “divisions of proof”). Each paragraph in your essay will build on one of these points, drawing from your life experiences for concrete examples.

Write in the Active Voice

After you develop a thesis statement and write a solid draft, go back and edit for active instead of passive voice. To find instances of passive writing, look for the red flags commonly known as “to be” words (is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been).

An essay in the passive voice sends subtle signals to an admissions counselor: This student follows and responds instead of taking the initiative to lead. You don’t want to send a message like that!

Consider the following statements:

  • Passive: I was asked to join the drama team for my youth group during my sophomore year.
  • Active: As a member of my youth group drama team, I volunteered to coordinate the elementary school outreach in the spring of my sophomore year.
  • Passive: I have been commended by my teachers for my attention to detail in labs and my ability to motivate other students. 
  • Active: I always take the time to double-check details during labs whether or not the teachers are watching, and I make a special effort to encourage lab partners who lack self-confidence in the sciences. 

Using active voice also makes it easier to add more compelling details to a sentence. This lends an air of greater maturity to your writing.

Paint Captivating Pictures

A novelist does much more than simply ask readers to imagine a boy on a sailing ship or a girl in a small town. She helps us feel the runaway slave’s quickening heartbeat in a wild storm. She helps us hear the red-headed girl’s piercing song in the Main Street parade. Your job as a college applicant is no different. You must envision yourself living, breathing, and studying at your college of choice. Then, you must help the admissions staff see the same picture.

Write a vivid college application essay by avoiding conditional statements (“if/when this happens, I would/could/might do that”). Use a strong future tense instead:

  • Weak: If accepted to your fall program, I would be a valuable asset to your school.
  • Strong: At XYZ University, I will dedicate myself to carrying on a tradition of innovation and scholarship. Grateful for this opportunity, I will stand as a proud member of the 2014 freshman class.

What’s Your Story?

Author Richard Paul Evans offers this wisdom:

The most important story we will ever write in life is our own—not with ink, but with our daily choices.

In your college application essay, you have an exciting opportunity to demonstrate more than just writing skills. You can show an admissions staff that your life story is something they will want to invest in and become part of. What are you waiting for? Find a quiet spot and start writing!

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photo: AFS-USA Intercultural Programs, courtesy of Creative Commons.

 

5 First lines: Fun writing prompts that spark enthusiasm

5 First lines: Fun writing prompts that spark enthusiasm! The prompt provides the first line of each paragraph, and a child’s imagination will fill in the rest! {In Our Write Minds}

LET your children try these fun writing prompts, and see how far their creativity takes them! We provide the first line of each paragraph, and a child’s imagination will fill in the rest.

1. Every Kid’s Dream House

When I build the perfect tree house, it will include four spectacular features.

2. Operation X-Ray Vision

Making a superhero costume from stuff around the house is actually quite easy.

3. It’s Classified

This book will self-destruct in fifteen minutes, so follow these directions carefully.

4. A Modest Proposal

Dear Mom & Dad: Here is my detailed plan to redecorate my bedroom.

5. D.I.Y. Fashion

With a jar of paperclips, beads, and mismatched buttons, you can transform any item of clothing.

Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Photo: Wonderlane, courtesy of Creative Commons.

 

Giving kids clear writing expectations

clear writing expectations, teaching writing, WriteShop

IF you have kids, you step into the role of teacher every moment of every day. Your toddlers and teens alike look to you for guidance and approval as they navigate a complex world of social interactions, household responsibilities, and time management.

Clear expectations from you make all the difference in their learning experience. If children fail to understand what you require, the confusion quickly leads to frustration or discouragement. The realm of writing is no exception.

You might not have an antique desk and blackboard or the perfect “teacher outfit” for the first day of school. But when it comes to teaching writing, I’m confident you’ll be the poised and prepared Writing Teacher of the Year if you avoid two common pitfalls!

Pitfall #1: Giving an “A” for Effort

In the writing department, this parent requires little of her kids. She may only ask for 15 minutes of freewriting each week or give a purposeless assignment here and there, yet she rewards any student who fulfills her arbitrary requirements. Liberally bestowing checkmarks, smiley faces, and passing grades, she lets her children’s grammar and spelling mistakes continue and multiply.

The problem with this mom is not her fun-loving or soft-hearted spirit, but her non-existent expectations. This haphazard teaching style not only creates a stumbling block for overwhelmed students, but it quenches their confidence as well.

Pitfall #2: Giving an “A” for Perfection

If you have a background in English, love creative writing, or consider yourself a grammar geek, you may have especially high standards for your children. This becomes a problem only when you don’t communicate these great expectations.

Guard against foisting vague standards of perfection on your kids (which sets them up for failure). Instead of burdening them with unclear ideals that can turn them off to writing, take the time to distill your expectations into well-defined, achievable goals.

The Write Solution

Giving clear expectations will help you raise better writers and reduce stress in the meantime. That’s why I’m such a fan of teaching writing skills the WriteShop way. Red-pencil corrections such as “too vague” become unnecessary when you make tasks concrete and give kids measurable targets beforehand:

  • Include emotion words to add a stronger voice.
  • Choose vivid, exciting words instead of dull, vague words.
  • Write one paragraph of five to seven sentences.

Now, instead of criticizing your children’s writing as “too vague” or “too short,” you can instruct, guide, and correct with confidence. As you and your children practice communicating specific ideas, requests, and concerns, the habit of sharing clear expectations might just overflow into the rest of your home life as well.

Interested in learning more about WriteShop curriculum choices? Read more and feel free to send us your comments and questions!

WriteShop Primary (grades K-3)

WriteShop Junior (grades 3-5)

WriteShop I and II (junior high/high school)

Daniella Dautrich is a WriteShop alumna and a graduate of Hillsdale College. She and her husband fill their home with books on writing, literature, and computer science. Daniella blogs at www.waterlilywriter.com.

Photo: Steven S., courtesy of Creative Commons.

Get your homeschool year off to a great start!


Free Homeschool Interviews

Summer is quickly coming to an end and many homeschool moms are starting, or at least planning, their homeschool curriculum. In order to help encourage homeschool parents, Kerry Beck is offering 2 weeks of homeschool interviews to get your school year off to the right start!

Kim Kautzer

Kerry is hosting interviews of 15 experts in the homeschooling community. Each one has practical advice to help you get started on the right foot this year. I’m honored to be one of the guests who was interviewed.

I’ll be sharing my own story about teaching a struggling student, plus I’ll have lots of tips for teaching writing in your homeschool. I hope you tune in to listen!

When is Homeschool Super Heroes Week?

Actually, it’s more than a week —it is 2 weeks of wonderful information and inspiration!  You can listen to the interviews each day for free during August 19-30.  All you have to do is register for Homeschool Super Heroes Week and you will have daily access to practical tips & tricks for you to start your year right.

  • No traveling to your state convention
  • No hotel expenses
  • No registration fees

See you there!

Kim

Register for this free event here.

WriteShop is an affiliate of Homeschool Super Heroes. This post contains affiliate links. Please see our complete disclosure policy for details.

Journal prompts for horse-loving kids

journal prompts, horse, writing prompts, horseback riding

CLOSE your eyes, and step into a barn where feed, hay, and leather tack bathe your senses. Imagine your horse’s smooth coat and glistening eyes as the two of you come alive in an early morning ride. Now, capture a few of your thoughts and feelings with these horse-inspired journal prompts.

1. And the Winner is…

If you could spend one day as either a sleek Triple Crown race horse or fancy, high-stepping show horse, which would you choose and why?

2. Through Rain, or Snow, or Gloom of Night

From police to cowboys to stagecoach drivers, people from all walks of life have formed close bonds with their horses. Write about three ways horses have helped mankind throughout history.

3. Sitting Tall in the Saddle

Western style riding offers the security of a wide saddle, the casual feel of both reins in one hand, and the smooth gait of the Western jog. English style riders enjoy a lighter saddle, a lively trotting gait, and the option to compete in dressage events. Which style do you prefer? Explain your opinion.

4. A Perfect Partnership

Riders quickly learn that half-hearted signals won’t control their steeds. For successful horse and rider communication, you must be fully present and committed to following through with each signal. Write about a time when riding—or another outdoor activity—demanded you to give one-hundred percent. Describe the challenges you faced and the result you achieved.

5. One of a Kind

In personality, appearance, and skill, no two horses are alike. Breyer model horses capture this spirit with handcrafted sculptures, painted and finished by the finest artisans. Perhaps a Breyer model reminds you of a horse you hope to own someday. Maybe you’ve already had the good fortune to meet this special animal. Write about your dream horse and what makes it unique.

6. Little Things

Have you ever wondered about your horse’s strange behavior, and later discovered rocks stuck in a hoof? Write about an experience with your horse (or sibling or best friend) when you learned that small things in life make large difference.

Be sure to check back each week for more Writing Prompt Wednesdays!

Photo: David, courtesy of Creative Commons.
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