At the beginning of both the SAT and the GRE you will have to write an essay–two on the GRE. This is a prime place to rack up some extra points and get your test started off with a bang. It’s also a prime place to do something really stupid and write yourself into a corner with no time to undo the damage. How ofter do you think “need someone to write my paper“?
Here’s how to avoid those stupid mistakes, when you write by yourself…
- Prepare ahead of time. That means knowing exactly how you will analyze whatever topic you are given, as well as how you will generate some good ideas. One simple method is to summarize the topic in your own words, decide if you agree or disagree, and then list out as many ideas as you can to support your belief. Generate eight or nine reasons, then go back and pick the best three to actually write about. You should also…
- Have a template. A template is a basic outline of your essay that you will use no matter what topic they give you. The template should specify your paragraphs, key sentences, and basic structure. For example, the first sentence of your template might be something like, “While some may assert that [opposite of your thesis], a more trenchant analysis will show that [your thesis].” Memorize the template; then on the actual test you can generate your ideas and plug them into your template.Templates help! They allow you to do much of your work before the test, force you to be organized, allow you to use good vocabulary words (like trenchant), and allow you to concentrate on generating ideas and writing rather than coming up with a structure on the fly.
Any test prep book can provide you with some basic templates to use, just make sure you practice using the same one every time, so it will be easy to recall on the test.
CAUTION: I’ve found that the students who most dislike using templates are the ones who most need to do so, either because they are unstructured in their writing and the template forces them into a structure OR because they are very good writers and the template forces them into a writing style they find uninteresting. But the SAT and GRE essays are not the place to get fancy! The readers (at least on the GRE) spend an average of two minutes per essay. Your verbal flourishes and cleverly constructed paragraphs may be lost on them. You may even confuse them. It’s much safer to write a boring but solid paper with a very obvious structure.
- Don’t start writing immediately. When confronted with the actual essay on test day, many people spend way too little time in the planning stage preferring to jump right into the writing or from a fear of running short on time. That’s a bad idea. Insufficient planning virtually guarantees sub-par ideas. Worse, you can get half way through and discover that you really needed to go a different route or that the idea isn’t working out as you’d expected, wasting valuable time. Your goal should be to spend almost one fifth of your time planning before you ever begin the actual writing. It seems like an eternity, but combining this planning with the template described above will ensure you use your time wisely and come up with better ideas.
- Read it out loud. Finally, try to finish up with two or three minutes to spare. Then reread your essay to yourself under your breath where you can hear yourself. Imagine that you are actually reading the essay to an audience. When you do this, you will spot all sorts of errors that you wouldn’t see otherwise. Don’t take my word for it though. Try it for yourself. Write a practice essay and do your very best to catch all your errors. Then read it out loud to a friend. You’ll almost always spot a few errors that you hadn’t noticed; unclear wording, dropped word endings, etc.[/hidepost]
Having a strategy and following it religiously is a sure fire way to come up with a better essay. Do as much of the work as you can now by planning your strategy and template so you don’t waste time on the real essay.
Updated from 2008 post