by Kim Kautzer
Old news about the new SAT: This well-regarded college entrance exam now contains a timed essay.
If this information strikes a chord of fear, take heart! Purchased curriculum, writing classes, and online resources all help parents and teachers guide high schoolers through the maze of essay writing. Finding materials is not hard. Still, the majority of these programs focus heavily on content, since it’s considered the most vital element of a student essay. But important though it may be, content is only one ingredient of a top-notch essay. Successful students will also know how to use appropriate vocabulary and sentence variety, hone their mechanics, and write under pressure.
WriteShop II aims to more fully prepare students for the essay portion of the SAT exam. According to collegeboard.com, this new timed essay "will measure [a student's] ability to:
- develop a point of view on an issue presented in an excerpt
- use reasoning and evidence based on reading, studies, experience, and observations to support that point of view
- follow the conventions of standard written English
The essay portion of the writing section was created with an understanding that an essay written in a short amount of time will not be polished but represents the initial phase of the writing process: the first draft." (from New SAT Preparation Center: The Essay)
Good news indeed! Essay scorers certainly understand that in the mere span of 25 minutes, a student cannot possibly brainstorm, write, edit, and revise with the same attention to detail she would give a two-page assignment with a due date. Nonetheless, the student who knows how to break down the elements of an essay into bite-sized chunks will feel more relaxed when the fateful moment arrives.
CollegeBoard.com states that a top-scoring SAT essay will:
- carefully and clearly develop a point of view and offer strong supporting details.
- be well-organized in structure and flow.
- use appropriate and mature vocabulary.
- vary structure by using different kinds of sentences.
- contain limited mechanical errors (grammar, punctuation, spelling)
WriteShop II essay lessons prepare students in each of these important areas.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Timing Once WriteShop II students know how to develop and polish their essays in a pressure-free setting, they are ready to begin writing against the clock. The 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.
- Practice 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. Appendix B of the WriteShop Teacher's Manual offers dozens of essay topics suitable for practice. You can also find a practice question at the New SAT Essay Preparation Center.
Copyright © 2005 Kim Kautzer