• An Essay-Writing Process That Gets Results

• Prewriting: Getting Set to Write

• Choosing a Main Idea

• Arranging Ideas Purposefully

• Composing: Putting Words on Paper

• Developing a Thoughtful, Coherent Essay

• Writing Introductions and Conclusions

• Using a Writing Style That Works

• Polishing Your Essay for a Top Score

Don’t be misled by the title of this chapter. It’s more of a come-on than a promise. For one thing, writing an essay in 1,500 seconds, or twenty-five minutes, may be a contradiction in terms. An essay is basically the product of an author’s thinking. It expresses a point of view arrived at after reflection, analysis, or interpretation of a subject or issue. When given the topic less than half an hour before the paper is due, you can’t expect to pore over the assignment. If you think too deeply, you’ll run out of time before you know it.

Another reason that the heading is illusory is that you don’t learn to write very well by reading about how to do it. You learn to write by writing, by messing around with ideas and words, by experimenting, by practicing, and by doing what seasoned practitioners do when they face a sheet of blank paper or an empty computer screen: they write!

Steps for Writing the Perfect Essay

You won’t have time to invent a process when you write your SAT essay. So, it pays to have a process in mind ahead of time, one that helps you work rapidly and efficiently. Try to map out ahead of time the steps to take during each stage of the writing process. The plan that follows is a place to start. Use it while writing a few practice essays, but alter it in any way that helps you produce the best essay you can.

First Stage: Prewriting

Prewriting consists of the planning that needs to be done before you actually start writing the essay:

• Reading and analyzing the question.

• Choosing a main idea, or thesis, for your essay.

• Gathering and arranging supporting ideas.

Second Stage: Composing

• Introducing the main idea.

• Developing paragraphs.

• Choosing the best words for expressing your thoughts.

• Structuring sentences for variety and coherence.

• Writing a conclusion.

Third Stage: Editing and Proofreading

• Editing for clarity.

• Editing to create interest.

• Checking for standard English usage and for mechanical errors, including spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.

How Long Does Each Stage Last?

The truth is that the three stages overlap and blend. Writers compose, revise, and proofread simultaneously. They jot down sentences during prewriting, and even late in the process weave new ideas into their text. In fact, no stage really ends until the final period of the last sentence is put in place, or until your proctor at the SAT site calls “Time!”

No book can tell you exactly how much time to devote to each stage. What works for you may be different from what works for others. But most students get good results by devoting more than half the time—about thirteen to eighteen minutes—to composing and no more than five minutes each on prewriting and editing/ proofreading.

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The three best ways to prepare:

1. practice

2. practice

3. practice some more.

How to Prepare

The three best ways for anybody to prepare are 1) to practice, 2) to practice, and 3) to practice some more. During the weeks before the SAT, or even sooner, pick same sample essay topics. Following the instructions, write an essay a day for several days in a row, until you get the feel of twenty-five minutes’ writing time. Pace yourself and keep track of how much time you spend thinking about the topic, how many minutes you devote to composing the essay, and how long it takes you to proofread and edit.

To make every second count, don’t waste time inventing an essay title (your essay doesn’t need one). Don’t count words, and don’t expect to recopy your first draft. Because readers understand that SAT essays are first drafts, feel free to cross out, insert words using carets (^), and move blocks of text—as though you were cutting and pasting—with neatly drawn arrows. If necessary, number the sentences to make clear the order in which they are to be read. You won’t be penalized for a sloppy-looking paper. Just make sure that the essay is readable.

Because of the time limit, don’t plan to write a long essay. Essays of more than 400 words are unnecessary. It doesn’t take even that many words to demonstrate your writing ability. In fact, less can be more, for a shorter essay of, say, 250 to 300 words can focus sharply on a limited subject. It can also be written more quickly, leaving time for revising and polishing your work. But don’t be satisfied with an abbreviated one-paragraph essay that could suggest a shortage of thinking ability. Just keep in mind that quantity counts less than quality.