Writing the essay portion of college entrance exams like the SAT demonstrates your logical reasoning skills. It is important in essay-writing to begin with an introductory paragraph, which sets the stage for the arguments to come. You then use body paragraphs to make your 'arguments' using reason and evidence, building toward your final paragraph one step at a time. Each new idea you write builds on the last one until you reach your conclusion.
Even if you had no difficulty in writing your high school term papers, it pays to practice with essay questions similar to those you will encounter in the SAT. Additionally, you have a pre-set time—25 minutes—to complete your essay on standardized tests, so you need to be able to write quickly—which adds a level of pressure. The following are also critical to writing a clear and coherent essay:
• Use correct grammar (with attention to correct use of past tense and prepositions), • Use correct punctuation (with correct placement of commas and semi-colons), • To improve clarity, keep sentences fairly short and avoid ‘run-on’ sentences.
For each point you wish to convey, make sure you include at least one sentence in the same paragraph presenting some evidence so it will be easier to grasp as an argument for your conclusion.
It's especially important to brush up on your grammar since your frequent use of the Internet and email may have exposed you to incorrect spelling and punctuation. If you are unsure of correct spelling or punctuation, look at a dictionary or style manual. The dictionary is your friend when it comes to improving your vocabulary and spelling.
There are many excellent resources for improving your rhetorical essay writing (such as required on the SAT exam), including The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White—an indispensible book for learning how to write clearly and effectivley. Another is the Chicago Manual of Style.
In order to become comfortable with rhetorical writing, write as much as possible. One way for you to exercise your essay writing skills is to create an outline before you start. While this will probably not be possible on the exam itself, practicing creating a structured outline to plan your argument to a logical conclusion may help you write more logically. If you tend to get nervous on tests, it can be especially useful to write practice essays in an environment that mimics the testing environment.
One trick that helps some students (but certainly not all) to write spontaneously and quickly on SAT test day is to think and write out examples—pre-written essays—in advance. For example, you can study prompts of old SAT tests, and create a stable of essays that could be molded to fit the range of themes on the SAT. In the essays, use references to books you enjoy, a historical or political figure you admire, or a current affairs issue that appeals to you. The more you know about a topic the better. It's not only easier to write on something you are passionate about or have expertise in, but it's likely your essay will be detailed and keep your reader's interest.
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