SAT Tip of the Week: How to Write a Perfect Essay on the New SAT

SAT Tip of the Week - FullOn the old SAT, the essay questions were often vague philosophical prompts asking you to develop and support your position on the topic. This opened itself up to all sorts of shenanigans by students, like blatantly lying about personal examples (I’m guilty…) or using examples from classic novels to show off their smarts.

On the new SAT, the format of the essay is different. Now the SAT is about analyzing how an author develops her argument and convinces readers of her point. This difference means that the same old strategies won’t cut it anymore. Luckily, there’s an effective way to make the new essay as formulaic as the old essay, giving students a useful framework that they can always use, regardless of the prompt

First, here are the directions for the essay. The top of the page will read something like:

As you read the passage below, consider how (the author) uses

  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.

After the article, the instructions for the essay will be:

Write an essay in which you explain how (the author) builds an argument to persuade his/her audience that (author’s argument is true). In your essay, analyze how (the author) uses one or more of the features in the directions that precede the passage (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his/her argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.

Your essay should not explain whether you agree with (the author’s) claims, but rather explain how (the author) builds an argument to persuade his/her audience.

At first glance, these directions might seem vague. “Evidence,” “reasoning,” and “stylistic or persuasive elements” are sometimes too broad to conceive an essay out of. Here’s where my strategy comes in.

On every essay, I like to have three go-to techniques that I always look for when reading the article and can use in my essay. These three are pathos, logos, and ethos – modes of persuasion that are present in practically all argumentative writing, these three techniques are easy to apply to an SAT essay. Plus, analyzing how the author uses these intellectual terms will show your grader that you have a high-level command of rhetorical analysis, and set you up for a classic five-paragraph essay. Let’s break down these techniques further:

Pathos is an appeal to emotion. Authors use pathos to draw readers into their pieces and connect them with the story. You can often find examples of pathos in anecdotes, calls to action, or appeals to a common purpose.

Logos is an appeal to logic.  Authors use logos to make their pieces more intellectually persuasive and consistent. You can often find examples of logos in the use of data, statistics, or research. You can also find logos in trains of reasoning: if x happens, then y will also happen, because of factor z (or something akin to that).

Ethos is an appeal to ethics, character, or credibility. Authors use ethos to add authority or legitimacy to their arguments. This can be done by demonstrating that the author is qualified to make the argument he or she is making. It can also be done by citing experts or authority figures who let the reader know that the author’s claims are backed up by sound evidence or opinion. As such, ethos is often present in quotes from experts or citations of authority figures.

These three techniques – pathos, logos and ethos – are specific and complex enough to let you write a sophisticated new SAT essay, as well as broad enough to allow you to find and analyze them in any article the SAT essay throws at you. This combination of factors creates a structure of analyzing how the author uses pathos, logos and ethos to build his or her argument that is a great way to approach the new SAT essay.

Still need to take the SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Aidan Calvelli.

SAT Weather Postponement: What This Means for You

snow studentIf the College Board ever wanted to make a splash, they sure picked a doozy of a weekend to say au revoir, sayonara and adios  to the “old SAT.” Winter Storm Jonas is primed and ready to pack a punch that will likely impact thousands of test takers. What’s a test taker to do after months of preparation?

If you’re scheduled to take the SAT this weekend (January 23/24) anywhere along the Mid-Atlantic, I-95 East Coast corridor, read on. And if you’re scheduled to take the SAT this weekend and don’t live anywhere close to the East Cost, still read on – even if you’re not directly impacted by winter weather this weekend, it’s good to plan ahead in case something happens that derails your test day experience.

Get the 411

Where’s the first place to go for information? College Board has a dedicated page on their website where they post real-time updates. Don’t trust what your friends are posting on Facebook or Twitter. Official word will come from College Board via this site as well as local media outlets, so turn on your local news and radio stations if the web page has issues.

Should your test center close, there may be a few options:

  • Some test centers are shifting students to other nearby centers. You’ll need to print a new ticket (via their online account) and bring that ticket to the new center.
  • If your center is closed (and no new center is assigned), do NOT go to another center. You won’t be admitted as a walk-in.
  • If you’re on a waitlist, and the center is closed, the waitlist request is closed. You won’t be eligible for makeup testing and will need to register for a new test date.

SAT Reschedule?

 Word on the street is that some centers have already closed and are rescheduling for SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 20. If you find yourself in this position, don’t panic! Take a deep breath and remember a few important things:

You will not forget everything you’ve just learned overnight, but it’s important to stay “fresh” over the next 4 weeks. Have you ever had a test in school that you wish you had a little extra time to study for? Well, now is your chance to make the most of that extra study time. This extension is a great opportunity to strengthen some areas of weakness. Take a look at your last practice test and identify some topics that you’d like to improve upon. Do you forget some of those special triangles? Do you have trouble remembering some of the less common prepositions? Are you still working on speed reading? Pull out your SAT study guide and complete a few extra drills, improve your pacing, and take an extra practice test or two.

For Multi-Taskers: What if …

. . .  you registered for BOTH the January (old SAT) and March (new SAT) tests? You might be looking at testing on February 20 (old SAT) and March 5 (new SAT), but you can still take both in a two week window. Remember that any studying will help, but be smart about what you’re studying. For example, algebra is algebra. It’s not going to change tremendously across both tests, so prioritize some of your studying based on common elements. Both tests contain reading passages of varying lengths, so also work on speed reading.

. . . you registered for BOTH the January (old SAT) and February ACT (February 6th)? Again, you can still take both in a two week window, but consider shifting your focus to more difficult math, longer reading passages, and writing/grammar for the next two weeks (ACT emphasis) and then switch back to some of the more SAT-specific topics (vocab, shorter reading passages, etc) after the ACT.

Above all, don’t panic. You’ve done the work and put in the time, and whether you test this weekend or in a few weeks, you’re still going to have the opportunity to put forth your best effort on the SAT. In the meantime, if you’re looking for some real world practice, head outside and figure out how long it will take to shovel a driveway that’s 10 meters long if you can only remove 2 cubic feet of snow at a time and snow if falling at a rate of 2 inches per hour. (I’m pretty sure that one won’t show up on the SAT, but the practice can’t hurt.)

Still need to take the SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Joanna Graham

The New SAT Essay

stressed-studentStarting in March of 2016, high school students across the country will be introduced to the new SAT. Like the current test, the new SAT has sections that challenge a student’s reading and math skills, as well as an essay, which is now optional. Students who choose to write the essay now have 50 minutes instead of just 25.

Let’s learn more about the new SAT essay, discover some helpful tips students can use when tackling this portion of the exam, and determine whether it’s necessary for every high school student to write an SAT essay.

Writing the Essay on the New SAT

Students who decide to write the SAT essay begin the process by reading a passage. Next, they must follow the essay prompt and craft an essay that analyzes the passage. A student’s essay must clearly explain how the author of the passage made their argument, and should include examples and evidence from the passage to support their analysis. In addition, they should point out persuasive elements used by the author and highlight words that add to the writer’s argument. A student writing an essay for the new version of the SAT does not take a stand on the argument put forth by the author of the passage – this is one of the main differences between the current SAT essay and the new SAT essay.

Skills Tested in the Essay Section

The essay on the new SAT tests a student’s reading comprehension skills, as a student must be able to both read and understand the passage in order to write an analysis. The essay also tests a student’s ability to recognize evidence used by the author to persuade readers toward a certain point of view.

Most importantly, a student’s ability to take this information and create a clear, organized essay is put to the test. The essay section on the new SAT gives students the opportunity to sample the type of writing they will be doing in their college courses – the ability to analyze an argument is a valuable skill that college students can use in practically any course.

Tips for Writing an Impressive Essay

Writing practice essays is the best way for students to prep for this portion of the test. After reading a practice prompt, it’s a good idea for students to make an outline for the essay and jot down critical pieces of evidence and pertinent details. An outline will also help a student organize all of the parts of an essay and make note of important points to include in their piece. In some cases, an outline can help a student to refocus if they lose their train of thought during the test.

At Veritas Prep, we assist students in learning how to write a compelling essay for the SAT. Our talented instructors have practical experience with the SAT and know what it takes to craft a stellar essay, so students who work with our professional tutors are receiving instruction from the experts!

Should Every Student Write the Optional Essay?

Most students want to know if they should write the optional essay. The answer depends on where a student wants to go to college. There are some colleges that require an applicant’s SAT essay score and some that don’t – it’s a smart idea for students to check with the schools they plan to apply to. Some students make the decision to take the essay portion of the SAT so they can offer a college solid proof of their excellent writing skills.

In addition to offering guidance on writing an essay for the SAT, our online tutors at Veritas Prep help students study for all of the other sections on the exam. Students learn valuable test strategies that they can use on test day to boost their performance from tutors offer who encouragement every step of the way. We know that preparing for the SAT can be stressful, and we are here to help!

Planning to take the current or new SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on FacebookYouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

SAT Tip of the Week: 5 Steps to Increase Your Speed

SAT Tip of the Week - FullMany adults still have stress dreams in which they are running out of time on a timed test (How unfortunate that so many cannot even escape this dread in their sleep!). I have personally had the unfortunate experience of waking up in a cold sweat after dreaming of a clock winding down to zero as I have pages of questions left unanswered.

The SAT is a beast of a timed test and many students have a hard time determining how to manage their time while taking this exam. Whether you are taking the old version of the exam, or the new format, there are a number of ways that you can increase the your pace on the SAT:

1) Practice in a Timed Setting

It is surprising how many students sit down for the SAT having never actually timed themselves on any full SAT sections. Doing SAT practice problems is great, I will never chastise anyone for doing these, but there is simply no substitute for replicating the actual timed conditions of the SAT. You don’t have to take a full length timed SAT every week; you don’t have to be a hero! Simply do a timed section when you feel comfortable with the format. Work until you run out of time and mark the questions attempted and skipped.

After the time is up, go back and finish up the other problems so you have a chance to attempt all the problems even if your time management is still being developed. Being prepared for the SAT is imperative to being able to use time effectively on the test day, and part of preparation is knowing what twenty five minutes feels like and what spending too much time on one question feels like. There is no substitute for practice.

2) Create a General Template for an Essay

The time spent figuring out how to structure an essay on the SAT is time wasted. This may sound counter intuitive as structure is a big part of what the SAT graders are evaluating, but it is this reason exactly that makes the structure of the essay the first thing that can be systematized and recycled. If you are taking the old format of the SAT, use a little time to brainstorm examples. Essentially all a brainstorm consists of is the position on the question and the examples that will be used in the argument.

If you are taking the new format of the SAT, use the time to identify stylistic elements, logical elements, and evidence used in the document. The new format is an analysis essay, but its set up is the as the previous test same. You simply need to set up an introduction with a clear thesis that the document is effective or ineffective because of the three elements listed above. Read the essay and mark any sections that fall into those three categories – once this work is done, the essay is practically written. All a student must do now is plug these specifics into the general essay template and the essay quickly writes itself. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the clock in this section as it is easy to get behind (you should start writing by the 15 minute mark on the new format).

3) Answer Questions From the Section of the Text Being Referenced

The answer to all reading test questions are in the passage. Anyone who has had me as a tutor is likely tire of hearing that mantra, but it is as true as the sky is blue. It is not simply that the answer is in the passage though, but it is also the case that the answer is in the part of the passage referenced by the question. If the question asks for what the author is doing in a specific few lines it is best to search for the answer in those lines (and the lines directly before and after those lines). The biggest waste of time on the reading section in either format of the test is random searching of the passages. Mark the passage so you know which sections deal with what general topic. By simply writing one word by a paragraph you can save yourself a fair bit of time searching through the passage.

4) Skip Hard Math Questions IMMEDIATELY

For most students who wish to achieve SAT success at the highest level, all questions will need to be attempted, but should a student encounter a question that is difficult for them to answer, the student should skip the question immediately and come back to it later. The SAT gives equal weight to every question, so spending six minutes on one question and coming up with no answer not only hurts a student on that question, but also on every question that follows. A student should attempt to answer every question that they can, so if the student does not even get to four questions at the end of a section , they have no way of knowing if they would have been able to more easily answer one of the final questions.

The SAT questions are presented in order of difficulty, but difficulty is relative. What’s hard for one person might be simple for another, so do not waste time being baffled by a question. Be baffled, then if you have answered all the questions that you feel you can approach easily, go back to the questions where you didn’t know how to start and do SOMETHING. Write out formulas, label givens, eliminate answer choices that don’t make sense. Sometimes, doing the first step will lead to others and an impossible question will become possible.

5) Do NOT Focus On The Time

Wait, didn’t you just say to make sure to keep an eye on the clock? A little glance at the clock is fine, but you should be so used to the timing of the test that you feel whether or not you are spending too long on a question. If you realize that you are running out of time, don’t panic! Do your best to complete the questions you can with accuracy and take a glance at the questions you have left so you can attempt those that seem possible to complete quickly. Perhaps you will get one or two more questions correct, instead of getting all the remaining questions wrong because you rushed through them.

The biggest thing a student can do on the day of the test to make sure that they are pacing themselves properly is to practice often in advance and to breathe! The stress of the day can make people jittery and poorly focused, but preparation and breathing help to eliminate these problems and prepare students to rock the SAT. So what are you waiting for? Get out that timer and start practicing!

Still need to take the SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And, be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

David Greenslade is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor based in New York. His passion for education began while tutoring students in underrepresented areas during his time at the University of North Carolina. After receiving a degree in Biology, he studied language in China and then moved to New York where he teaches SAT prep and participates in improv comedy. Read more of his articles here, including How I Scored in the 99th Percentile and How to Effectively Study for the SAT.