25 Minute Miracle: How to earn a 12 on the SAT essay

The biggest hurdle to jump when writing the SAT essay is the time constraint. Most students are experienced with writing polished prose, but have very little experience writing under time pressure. As a result, they struggle with how to get a full essay down in such a short time.

The tips in this article are designed to help you write an essay worth a score of 12 by making the most of the 25 minutes you are given.

An easy way to save some time is to remember that the instructions for the essay are always the same. Consider this sample topic:

Many persons believe that to move up the ladder of success and achievement, they must forget the past, repress it, and relinquish it. But others have just the opposite view. They see old memories as a chance to reckon with the past and integrate past and present.

—Adapted from Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, I've Known Rivers: Lives of Loss and Liberation

Assignment: Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

The words in italics after "Assignment" are always the same. So don't bother reading them. All of the stuff that becomes before "Assignment" doesn't matter either. A lot of students make the mistake of writing an essay about the quote provided, but that's not what you should be doing.

The only part of the essay question that matters is what's underlined. That's the actual topic and will always be in the form of a question. You can use the quote as a piece of supporting evidence if you want, but you can also completely ignore it without any penalty.

So if this were your actual SAT essay question, you would want to read what's underlined and immediately start brainstorming your answer. The first thing that you should do is answer the question posed, either 'yes' or 'no'. 'Sometimes' answers are difficult because qualifying your explanation will likely take longer than 25 minutes. So just stick to a yes or no response. Then support your answer with 2-3 examples from history, literature, or current events.

Ideally, you will want to have pre-planned these examples. That means sitting down now with a piece of paper and coming up with 9 solid ideas (three from each type) that you can apply to almost any question. The essay topics will usually be very broad and generic, so it shouldn't be difficult to pick 2 or 3 from your bank of 9 possibilities.

Then, using whatever essay structure you most prefer -- it doesn't have to be a classic 5-paragraph essay, but it's usually easier if it is -- give your answer, support your answer, and then give your answer again. Be brief and to the point, and never wander away from the answer you are giving.

By focusing your answer in this way, you should have no problem completing an essay in 25 minutes. Not only do you cut out all the superfluous instruction reading, but you save time by preparing in advance. All that's left for you to do is come up with your 9 solid examples. Remember that the essay graders are not expecting perfection. All you need to do is write a competent first draft.

Have any insight on this topic? Want to ask a question or make a suggestion? Click here to leave a comment.

Related Articles



I especially like the advice about recommending students create an essay brainstorming bank. I recommend that student's review their english notes for themes and character names from some of the books they have read. I feel that you can draw examples from Shakespeare to support a number of arguments. As for history, I usually recommend that students review World War 2 and the great depression, as there are a number of examples that can be drawn from the great depression that you can apply to any argument.

- james, 09/24/09 at 3:27 pm

1.What conditins are neccessary to write sat exams n how does one know she is qulified.
2.what are the benefits after writing the exams

- PAROUSIA OBENG, 05/27/11 at 2:52 am

Have a question or comment about this article? Leave me a message.