SAT Test Prep
WRITING A GREAT ESSAY
Lesson 3: Brainstorm Your Alternatives Creatively
Take 6 to 8
Good writers always brainstorm creatively before writing, even when they have strict time limits. If you brainstorm and organize well, the rest of the essay will flow smoothly and easily. If you don’t take the time to brainstorm and organize, your essay will flounder.
• Always set aside 6 to 8 minutes to analyze the question, brainstorm possible examples, write a thesis, and write a quick outline. Don’t worry—you won’t waste time. Doing these right will save you lots of time in writing the essay. The writing will flow easily once you’ve laid the groundwork.
• When brainstorming, turn off your internal “critic.” Don’t dismiss ideas right away. Think about them for a bit, and you may find that the ideas you were going to throw away are the best ones after all!
• Brainstorm on paper, not just in your head. The SAT will give you room to scribble notes. Use it. Write down thoughts, connect them, cross them out, underline them—do whatever your creative brain tells you to do.
Don’t take the first thesis that pops into your head. Chances are that the first thesis you think of will be the same thing that pops into thousands of other heads. Instead, focus on finding a unique perspective. You can hone your perspective by first thinking of the most interesting examples.
Think of Examples Before You Make
Don’t write your thesis until you’ve brainstormed several interesting examples. Since your thesis rests on your discussion of your examples, think about interesting examples first.
After you have analyzed the assignment and defined your terms, ask, “What is the most interesting example I can think of that helps to answer this question?” Show off what you know and how creative a thinker you are. Think of examples from your reading, your studies, and your life. Think of examples that other students won’t think of, but make sure that they are on the mark and that you can discuss them with authority.
Go Off the Beaten Path
Avoid a run-of-the-mill point of view. If you’re asked, “Can a loss ever be more valuable than a victory?” try to avoid clichés such as “losing the championship game” or “getting a D on a test” unless you can analyze them with unique insights. Instead, go off the beaten path, and try to think of more interesting examples of loss, such as the Green Party’s loss in the 2000 presidential election, or America’s loss in the race to put a human being into space, or Captain Ahab’s failure to capture Moby Dick. Make the readers notice your unique and well-informed mind.
Going off the beaten path will keep you on your toes and force you to write a better essay. If you take an “easy” position, you will fall into lazy writing habits such as cliché, redundancy, and vagueness.
Practice 3: Brainstorm Your Alternatives Creatively
Give yourself 6 minutes for each exercise below. Use the space below each question to practice brainstorming. Write down all the words, ideas, associations, people, events, books, etc. that pertain to the issue implied by the question. Don’t censor or criticize any idea; just get it down on the paper. Then, in the last few minutes, try to organize your thoughts into ideas for individual paragraphs. Try to find one idea for each of four paragraphs. (Don’t write the paragraphs, though.)
1. Should safety always be first?
2. Is the pen always mightier than the sword?
Show this work to your teacher or tutor. Discuss ways of efficiently releasing your creativity and connecting to your academic knowledge.