Timed writing: Preparing for SAT essays

Preparing for SAT essays begins in early high school. Practice w/timed essays helps make responses nearly automatic. WriteShop 2 can help.

Here’s a question we see often in our WriteShop mailbag:

Q: In a few years, my sons will be taking their SAT college entrance exams. Is the essay section in WriteShop II good preparation? My sons are in 9th and 10th grades.

A: Fortunately, you have plenty of time to start preparing for SAT essays. The best time to start training your kids in the art of timed writing is during 9th and 10th grades, followed by weekly practice in 11th grade.

There’s a good reason for not putting off teaching this important skill till the last minute. In reality, students are worried enough about the WriteShop II | WriteShop 2questions they’ll face and whether they’ll be able to answer them intelligently and in the allotted amount of time.

Repeated practice with timed essays helps make their responses as close to automatic as possible. Sure, they’ll still have an unfamiliar question challenging them on test day, but they won’t be reduced to a bowl of jelly at the sight of the clock ticking away! All that practice helps them learn to pace themselves, and that’s half the battle.

WriteShop II’s essay-writing unit provides excellent SAT/ACT essay preparation. CollegeBoard.com states that a top-scoring SAT essay:

  • Carefully and clearly develops a point of view and offers strong supporting details.
  • Is well-organized in structure and flow.
  • Uses appropriate and mature vocabulary.
  • Varies structure by using different kinds of sentences.
  • Contains limited mechanical errors (grammar, punctuation, spelling)

WriteShop II essay lessons prepare students by emphasizing each of the following important areas:

1. Content and organization

At first, WriteShop essays follow a widely accepted model: Introduction, body (developing three main points), and conclusion. Once students feel comfortable developing a simple essay and supporting each point with details, they have the freedom to expand their essays.

2. Vocabulary

WriteShop students are encouraged to improve vocabulary by avoiding weak, vague words and finding synonyms for overly-repeated words. Though they can’t use a thesaurus in a timed essay setting, they can apply new vocabulary gained through other WriteShop assignments.

3. Sentence structure

SAT scorers want to read essays that break free from the dull subject-verb sentence mold. WriteShop I introduces nine different sentence variations to add interest and a more mature voice to compositions. In WriteShop II, students review and repeatedly practice each one until it flows naturally from their pens.

4. Mechanics

WriteShop does not teach grammar and punctuation, but the detailed Writing Skills Checklist that comes with each lesson ensures that students pay close attention to these important aspects of their writing.

5. Timing

Once students know how to develop and polish their essays in a pressure-free setting, they are ready to begin writing against the clock. WriteShop 2’s Timed Essay lesson teaches them to break the essay into smaller parts, devoting a certain number of minutes to each.

At first students walk through the process assisted by a guide sheet, teacher prompts, and a clock. As they practice writing timed essays, these “crutches” are slowly removed until the students can pace themselves with the aid of the clock alone.

6. Practice

Parents and teachers are encouraged to assign timed essays once every week or two to keep their students’ skills sharp. Since no advanced prep time is needed for a timed essay, you only need to carve a half-hour time slot out of the week.

Note: Appendix B of the WriteShop Teacher’s Manual offers dozens of essay topics suitable for practice. You can also find a few SAT sample writing prompts here.

I hope this gives a better understanding of how well WriteShop II essay assignments dovetail with SAT/ACT expectations. Hats off to you for preparing for SAT essays now!

Photo: Caitlin Regan, courtesy of Creative Commons
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