SAT Tip of the Week: Brainstorming for Your Essay

SAT Tip of the Week - FullIt’s easy to jump an extra point on the SAT essay when you’ve got specific, relevant examples. Good logical reasoning can definitely help you get a better score, but if you can combine your solid logic with powerful, concrete, real-world examples, you’ll be well on your way to a 12!

To do this, create an “Example Chart” like the one pictured below, and add at least 3-5 items to each category. Choose things that you are an expert in, not ones that necessarily sound the most scholarly.

You should know enough about each example so that you could write a detailed paragraph describing them. If you feel like adding 10 or 12 possible examples to a certain category, rather than just a couple, then go for it! Not everyone will have a lot of ideas for “Current Events” or “Travel,” and you can even make your own categories depending on what YOU are knowledgeable about!

The idea is that by the time you arrive at your SAT Test Day, you will already have brainstormed a lot of possible examples. When you see the prompt in Section 1 of the SAT, you won’t waste valuable time coming up with examples. All you’ll have to ask yourself is: which examples from my Example Chart best match this specific prompt?

Try to match 3 different examples to each side of the prompt, and then choose to argue the position for which you have the best examples. You don’t even have to agree with that side! The reader won’t penalize you for your opinion – they just want to see a specific, forceful, well-reasoned essay. Let’s look at an example SAT essay prompt:

Assignment: Do you believe that success is based more on natural talents and inherent abilities, or more on hard work?

The two sides of the issue are “YES, success is based on talent” or “NO, success is based on hard work.” If we wanted to choose the “YES” approach, we could pick three examples from our chart like: Katniss from The Hunger Games, Paul Revere, and Julius Caesar, arguing that each of them had inherent talents and abilities that led to their success.

If we went the other direction, we could choose three examples to supports the “NO” position: Abraham Lincoln, Egyptian pyramids, and Miley Cyrus. We could argue that Lincoln was born in a log cabin but achieved the presidency based on hard work. We could say that the pyramids are emblematic of what human tenacity and ingenuity can achieve, since their construction was so difficult to pull off. Finally, we could say that the media attention surrounding Miley Cyrus at the VMA’s shows that pop singers know (somewhat unfortunately) that working hard to promote themselves in shocking ways will pay off more than just showcasing the talent of their singing voices alone.

Once you create your Example Chart, apply your examples to multiple sample prompts. You may find that you go back to certain examples over and over again. Some are more “flexible” than others and depending on your argument, could actually be used to support either side of the prompt. Just make sure to always take a strong stand on the issue, and don’t take a 50/50 “middle of the road” approach – you won’t be able to support two sides in one short essay!

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Vivian Kerr is a regular contributor to the Veritas Prep blog, providing advice to help students better prepare for the GMAT and the SAT.