Barron's SAT, 26th edition (2012)


Chapter 7. Writing a 25-Minute Essay

• Scoring Overview

• Facts About the SAT Essay

• How to Write an Essay in 25 Minutes

• Testing Tactics

• Resources to Help You Become a Better Writer

• Scoring the Essay

In this chapter you will find basic guidelines for writing an essay, plus tips on dealing with the pressures inherent in writing a timed essay on an unfamiliar topic. You’ll also become acquainted with a host of resources that will help you develop your essay-writing skills.


First, a few words about how your SAT essay will be scored, and about what the readers expect of you. Two readers will grade your essay in about two minutes, reading it very quickly to judge it as a whole. (The College Board calls this process holistic scoring.) Each reader will assign your essay a score of 1 to 6, with 6 the highest possible score. If both readers give your essay a 4, your combined score will be 8. If one reader gives your essay a 3 and the other assigns it a 4, your combined score will be 7. If the two readers seriously disagree about your score—for example, if one reader considers your essay a 3 and the other judges it a 5—a third reader will look over your essay and determine your score.

A word of warning: It is possible to receive no credit for your essay. The test directions state you must write on the assigned topic. An essay on any other topic is unacceptable. If you write on another topic, you will receive a score of zero.

Scored sample essays appear at the end of this chapter.

Both your essay subscore (that is, your combined score of 2 to 12) and your multiple-choice writing subscore will go into making up your eventual writing skills score, with the essay subscore counting as one-third of your total writing score.


Before we take you, minute by minute, through writing a 25-minute essay, here are some facts about the essay writing section on the SAT.

1. It will be the first section on your test.

2. It will consist of a 4-page student response sheet.

3. Page 1 is your sign-in sheet. It tells you to:

• get ready to plan and write an essay in 25 minutes

• use the blank space at the bottom of page 2 for outlining and jotting notes

• use the lined pages (pages 3 and 4) for writing your essay

• use pencil

• be careful not to run out of space

• be careful to write or print neatly

• be careful to write on the assigned topic


4. Page 2 is your essay prompt. It presents you with a quote and gives you an assignment to

• think about the quote

• answer a question about the quote by writing an essay

• support your viewpoint with evidence, that is, with examples and reasons

• use examples from your reading, schoolwork, or personal experience

5. Pages 3 and 4 are where you write your essay.

Frequently Asked Questions—Deciphering the Directions

1. Is it better to print or to write in cursive?

Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif print     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif cursive     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif  whatever is more legible

2. Should I skip lines, double-spacing my essay, or should I write on every line?

Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif single space     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif double space     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif  it does not matter

3. Should I make extra-wide margins, so that my essay looks longer?

Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif yes     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif no     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif  it does not matter

4. Will the length of my essay affect my score?

Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif yes     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif no     

5. Should I write in pen or pencil?

Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif pen     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif pencil     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif  it does not matter

6. Will the readers give me any credit for the outline and notes I write on page 2?

Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif yes     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif no     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif  I don’t know

7. Should I prepare a standard essay in advance and tweak it to make it fit the topic?

Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif yes     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif no     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif  I don’t know

8. Is it better to use personal examples or to use examples from books and magazines?

Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif personal examples     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif books and magazines     Il_7_4436_SAT_319_340_0002_001.gif  it does not matter

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

1. Whatever is more legible. Neatness counts. As long as printing or writing in cursive doesn’t slow you down, write in whichever style is easier to read. Legibility really matters. Remember, what the graders see is a scanned copy of your essay, not the original paper. If your handwriting is sloppy or if you cross out every other word, your essay is going to be hard to read. Scanning will only make things worse. Write as neatly and clearly as you can.

2. Single space. Don’t take the chance of running out of room. Write on every line.

3. No. You won’t fool the readers into thinking you’ve written more than you actually have.

4. Yes. According to a 2005 analysis of graded sample SAT essays by Dr. Les Perelman of MIT, the longer the essay, the higher the score. As you practice writing essays and when you take your test, go for length as well as legibility.

5. Pencil. You get no credit if you write in pen.

6. No. The readers will read only what you’ve written on the lined pages of your student response sheet.

7. No. You must write on the assigned topic. If you write on any other topic, you will get a score of zero. Don’t assume you can memorize a standard essay and then tweak or fiddle with it to make it fit the assignment. Focus on thisassignment, this essay prompt. Answer the question that you have been asked.

8. It does not matter. As long as the examples you choose support the position you take, they can come from your personal experience, from your observations of others, from your reading, your coursework, your browsing on the Internet. Quotes from Shakespeare and references to nanotechnology may look impressive, but if they don’t further your argument, they are worthless. A good example is appropriate to your argument: it helps you make your point.

Now that you’re clued in on the basics of the essay-writing section, here’s how to deal with it on the day of the test.


Minute One—Analyze

Look at the essay question or prompt. What is it asking you to do? Is it prompting you to explain the reasons for an opinion of yours? Is it prompting you to take a stand on a particular issue? If you are being asked to argue for or against something, you may have an immediate gut reaction to what you’re being asked. Pay attention to how you feel. If your immediate reaction is “Of course!” or “Never!” ask yourself why you feel that way. See whether you can spot any key word or short phrase in the prompt that triggers your reaction. For example, consider the following essay prompt:

“If we rest, we rust.” This statement is certainly true; inactivity and lack of exertion over time can cause our skills to deteriorate through disuse. In fact, people who have ceased practicing an activity for a long period and who attempt to take it up again frequently are thwarted in doing so because of the decline of their skills.

Do you think that rest has a detrimental effect on us and that we must keep active to avoid losing our edge? Plan and write an essay in which you explain your position on this issue. You may use examples from history, literature, popular culture, current events, or personal experience to support your position.

What key words trigger your reaction? Rest and rust.

Minute Two—Brainstorm

Write down the key words you spotted in the prompt. Circle them. Now write down all the words and phrases that you associate with these key words. What words come to your mind, for example, when you think of rest?

Neutral words like sleep, inactivity, motionlessness?

Negative words like idleness, laziness, indolence?

Positive words like relaxing, tranquil, trouble free?

Even if you have never thought that there might be a connection between resting and rusting, you have some mental associations with these ideas.By brainstorming, or clustering, as this process is sometimes called, you get in touch with these associations, call up the wealth of ideas you already have, and forget any worries you may have had about having nothing to say.

Note, by the way, in the illustration that follows, the many other words and phrases that branch off from the key words rest and rust. When you brainstorm, your mind leads you in innumerable directions, hinting at the whole range of what you already know about the subject at hand. If you feel like it, draw lines and arrows linking the various words and phrases to your two key words. Don’t worry about setting these words and phrases in any particular order. Just play with them, jotting them down and doodling around them—a sense of where you are going will emerge.

You have plenty to say. You have gut reactions to all sorts of questions. Trust yourself. Let the brainstorming process tap the knowledge and feelings that lie within you.


Minute Three—Take a Stand

After you have been brainstorming for a bit, something inside you is going to say, “Now—now I know what I’m going to write.” Trust that inner sense. You know where you are going—now put it into words.

Look over your “map” or record of your mentalassociations and see what patterns have emerged. Just what is it that you have to say? Are you for the idea that if we rest, we rust? Are you against the idea? What you are doing is coming up with a statement of your position—words to express your initial gut reaction—a thesis sentence for your essay.

THESIS 1: I believe that, if we rest, we rust, because inactivity and lack of exertion lead to loss of vitality and to decay.

THESIS 2: I believe that, if we rest, we do not rust, because our times of rest enable us to restore our mental and physical energy and to gain perspective on our lives.

Here are two preliminary thesis sentences, one for, one against. Note how their main clauses start: I believe that. Cut out that preliminary song and dance. In your thesis sentence, simply take a stand:

If we rest, we do not rust: our times of rest enable us to restore our mental and physical energy and to gain perspective on our lives.

The examiners want to see whether you can express your ideas clearly. Make your point clear to them from the start.

In a sense, the test-makers give you your introduction. All you have to do is take the prompt and rephrase it, putting it into your own words. This does not take much work. Remember, your job is to prove your writing competence, not to demonstrate your literary style. You do not need to open your essay with a quotation (The philosopher Blaise Pascal warns us, “Our nature consists in motion; complete rest is death.”) or with a statement designed to startle your reader (“Sleep is for sissies.”). You simply need to take a stand. In doing so, however, you must exercise some caution: you must limit your thesis to something you can handle in a few hundred words.

The one problem with brainstorming is that you may wind up feeling that you have too much to say. Your job is not to write everything you possibly can about the topic. It is to write one or two pages and make a single clear point. Avoid starting with open-ended statements like “Keeping active is important” or “Everybody needs rest.” These are weak thesis statements—they are too broad to help you focus on the topic and too vague to show why you hold the opinion that you have. In writing your thesis statement, limit yourself. State your point—and be ready to support it with reasons.

Minute Four—Outline

Now take a minute to organize what you are going to say in outline form. In a sense, your thesis sentence sets up everything else you have to say. If you have a clear thesis, the essay almost writes itself.

Your goal is to produce a four- or five-paragraph essay consisting of a brief introduction, two or three solid paragraphs presenting examples that support your thesis, and a conclusion that restates your thesis. This is what such an essay looks like:


THESIS SENTENCE: State your point (often last sentence of opening paragraph)

Summary of Essay: Present your supporting examples (2–3 sentences)


TOPIC SENTENCE: State the main idea of this paragraph. Show how it relates to your thesis.

Development of Example: Provide specific facts about the first example. Show how this example supports your argument. Be as detailed as possible: cite names, places, events. (3–5 sentences)


TOPIC SENTENCE: State the main idea of this paragraph. Show how it relates to your thesis. (Use transition words to connect this paragraph to the previous example paragraph.)

Development of Example: Provide specific facts about the second example. Show how this example supports your argument. Be as detailed as possible: cite names, places, events. (3–5 sentences)


Write a third paragraph only if you have enough time left to wrap up your essay.

TOPIC SENTENCE: State the main idea of this paragraph. Show how it relates to your thesis. (Use transition words to connect this paragraph to the previous example paragraph.)

Development of Example: Provide specific facts about the third example. Show how this example supports your argument. Be as detailed as possible: cite names, places, events. (3–5 sentences)


RECAP: Summarize your argument, restating your main points (1 sentence)

Expansion of Your Position: Consider the broader implications of your argument.

Place your discussion within a larger context.

See how each of the thesis sentences just discussed sets up the essay, in each case requiring a slightly different outline.


I. Introduction—State your overall thesis

If we rest, we rust: inactivity and lack of exertion get in the way of progress and lead to the loss of vitality and to decay.

II. State the point of your first supporting paragraph.

We have to keep moving to keep up with others and to avoid falling behind. This is as true for industries as for individuals.

A. United States auto industry’s decline: GM vs. Honda
B. Outmoded technology: pay phones, cassettes

III. State the point of your second supporting paragraph.

We have to keep active to prevent our skills from going bad.

A. Loss of memory with age
B. Muscles atrophy from disuse

IV. Conclusion—Restate your thesis


• Detailed—names, dates, places, events

• Varied—personal, literary, historical, contemporary


I. Introduction—State your thesis

If we rest, we do not rust: our times of rest enable us to restore our mental and physical energy and to gain perspective on our lives.

II. State the point of your first supporting paragraph.

We need times of rest to restore us mentally and physically.

A. Sleep deprivation lowers IQ
B. New work hour limits for hospital residents
C. Exercise programs build in rest days

III. State the point of your second supporting paragraph.

Rest allows us to develop perspective and to set goals.
A. Caught up in rat race
B. My brother’s gap year, when he decided what he wanted to do in life

IV. Conclusion—Restate your thesis


Start with the personal: catch your reader’s attention with a personal example, something uniquely your own. Make it vivid and concrete.

Move on to the general: take your second example from history or literature or current events.

Be sure to develop your examples thoroughly. Two carefully thought-out, detailed examples will impress your readers more than a hodgepodge of oversimplified examples will.

Minutes Five to Seventeen—Write

You have 12 minutes to begin writing your essay. You have your opening, your outline, and your conclusion all in mind. Devote this time to putting down your thoughts, writing as much as you legibly can. Try to write neatly, but don’t worry so much about neatness that you wind up clenching your pencil for dear life. There is no problem if you occasionally cross something out or erase.


Is your handwriting hard to read? If your printing is more legible than your cursive, go ahead and print.

Minute Eighteen—Perform a Reality Check

You have been writing for 12 minutes straight. Take a moment to see how far you have gotten in your outline. If you’ve written your introduction and have barely finished your first supporting paragraph, now’s the time for you to abandon the idea of writing a five- or six-paragraph essay. Instead, whip through the second supporting paragraph and start on your conclusion. You need to allow yourself enough time both to come up with a good ending and to look over your essay before you turn it in.

Minutes Nineteen to Twenty-Two—Wrap Things Up

Finish the supporting paragraph you’ve been working on, and bring your essay to a close. You’ll be able to fine-tune your essay in just a moment.

Minute Twenty-Three—Read and React

Expert writers often test their work by reading it aloud. In the exam room, you cannot read out loud. However, when you read your essay silently, take your time and listen with your inner ear to how it sounds. Read to get a sense of your essay’s logic and of its rhythm. Does one sentence flow smoothly into the next? Would they flow more smoothly if you were to add a transition word or phrase (therefore, however, nevertheless, in contrast, similarly)? Do the sentences follow a logical order? Is any key idea or example missing? Does any sentence seem out of place? How would things sound if you cut out that awkward sentence or inserted that transition word?

Take a moment to act on your response to hearing your essay. If it sounded to you as if a transition word was needed, insert it. If it sounded to you as if a sentence should be cut, delete it. Trust your inner ear, but do not attempt to do too much. You know your basic outline for the essay is good. You have neither the need nor the time to attempt a total revision.


Transition words are signposts that show your readers the direction your argument is going. They are cues that help your readers figure out how your ideas fit together logically. Graders like them if you use them well.

Minute Twenty-Four—Proofread

Think of yourself as an editor. You need to have an eye for errors that damage your text. Take a minute to look over your essay for problems in spelling and grammar. From your English classes, you should have an idea of particular words and grammatical constructions that have given you trouble in the past—sentence fragments, or phrases like “everybody except my teacher and I.” See whether you can spot any of these words or constructions in your essay. Correct those errors that you find.


Don’t risk misusing a word just to show off. You get no points for using big words incorrectly.

Minute Twenty-Five—Reword, Reread, Relax

Look over the vocabulary used in your essay. In your concern to get your thoughts on paper, have you limited yourself to an over-simple vocabulary? Have you used one word over and over again, never substituting a synonym? Try upgrading your vocabulary judiciously. Replace one word or phrase in the essay with a synonym—deteriorating in place of going bad in the sentence “We have to keep active to prevent our skills from going bad,” for example. Substitute a somewhat more specific adjective or adverb for a vague one—insignificant in place of not important; extremely busy in place of really busy. Again, do not attempt to do too much. Change only one or two words. Replace them with stronger, college-level words, words whose meanings you are sure you know.

Look over the changes in the paragraph below to see how the student writer replaced a couple of easy words with more complex ones whose meanings she knew:

Helen Hayes takes a firm stand against laziness indolence when she says, “If we rest, we rust.” Though laziness indolence is commonly considered a sin at worst, and a waste at best, our negative attitude toward rest is not good detrimental. Rest is critical to progress because it enables us to function well and it helps us to set appropriate goals.

Now that you’ve looked over your essay like an editor, give yourself one final opportunity to hear your words again. Reread the composition to yourself, making sure that the changes you have made have not harmed the flow of your text.

You have just completed a basic four- or five-paragraph essay. Now it is time to regroup your forces and relax before you go on to the next section of the test. Take a deep breath. At this point, you have earned a break.

Skill-Building Exercise: Generating Good Examples

For each prompt below, come up with one personal example and one “impersonal” example (an example from literature, history, or contemporary life).

1. Essay Prompt

Progress is not an illusion; it happens, but it is slow and invariably disappointing.

George Orwell

Is progress necessarily slow and invariably disappointing? Plan and write an essay in which you explain your position on this issue. You may use examples from history, literature, popular culture, current events, or personal experience to support your position.

Personal Example        Learning to play an instrument        

(Fill in your example) ______________________________

Impersonal Example        Equal opportunity for women and minorities        

(Fill in your example)_________________________________________

2. Essay Prompt

The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.

Thomas Paine

Do we most value the things that are difficult to attain? Plan and write an essay in which you explain your position on this issue. You may use examples from history, literature, popular culture, current events, or personal experience to support your position.

Personal Example        Winning a medal in gymnastics        

(Fill in your example)__________________________________

Impersonal Example        Frederick Douglass learned to read despite his master        

(Fill in your example)__________________________________

3. Essay Prompt

We can succeed only by concert. It is not “Can any of us imagine better?” but “Can we all do better?”

Abraham Lincoln

Can we achieve success only through collective effort rather than as individuals? Plan and write an essay in which you explain your position on this issue. You may use examples from history, literature, popular culture, current events, or personal experience to support your position.

Personal Example        My rehab after the accident        

(Fill in your example)___________________________

Impersonal Example        China’s great leap forward        

(Fill in your example)___________________________________

4. Essay Prompt

Success is somebody else’s failure.

Ursula Le Guin

When somebody wins, does someone else invariably have to lose? Can there be no “win–win” situations? Plan and write an essay in which you explain your position on this issue. You may use examples from history, literature, popular culture, current events, or personal experience to support your position.

Personal Example        Winning the lead in the school play        

(Fill in your example)__________________________________

Impersonal Example        United States westward expansion and treatment of Native Americans        

(Fill in your example)______________________________

Testing Tactics


Keep Careful Track of Your Time.

Doing so is especially necessary on the essay section. Writing an essay on an unfamiliar subject is pressure enough. You don’t need the added pressure that you’ll feel if you lose track of the time and discover you have only 60 seconds left to write the two final paragraphs that are critical to your argument.


Pace Yourself: Keep to Your Essay-Writing Plan.

You have only 25 minutes. Allow yourself 3 to 4 minutes for prewriting. Read the essay topic or prompt with care. If you haven’t a clue where to begin, jot down words and ideas that pop into your mind when you look at the prompt (brainstorming). Generate questions about the topic until you come up with a point you want to make. Briefly outline what you plan to say. Then devote the remaining 18 plus minutes to writing your essay, reserving 2 or 3 minutes at the end to clean up your draft.


Write As Much As You Can Within the Allotted Time.

On the SAT, longer essays have tended to receive higher scores than shorter ones. Be clear, be coherent, but don’t kill yourself trying to be concise.


Don’t Forget to State Your Conclusion.

It’s all too easy to get so caught up in writing your essay that you run out of time before you can come to a conclusion. Nail that conclusion! If you don’t, your readers are bound to notice that your concluding paragraph is missing.


Remember That You Don’t Have to Write a Perfect Essay to Earn a High Score.

The readers are instructed to overlook false starts (“beginning stutters,” some readers call them) and incomplete conclusions in determining your score. With only 2 minutes to read your essay, they don’t have time to check your facts. It’s all too easy to psych yourself out about the essay-writing assignment and wind up so blocked that you can barely write a paragraph, much less a fully-developed essay. Relax. Loosen your grip on your pen. Shake out your fingers if that helps. Your job is to turn out a promising first draft in 25 minutes, not to create a finished work of prose.


Write As Legibly As You Possibly Can.

Neatness helps. If your printing is neater than your cursive and you can print rapidly, by all means print. Keep within the margins on the page. The easier you make the readers’ job, the more well-disposed they will be toward your essay.


Follow Traditional Essay-Writing Conventions.

Make a point of showing the readers you know the “right” way to set up an essay. Indent each new paragraph clearly. Use transitions—signal words and phrases, such as “consequently” and “for this reason”—to indicate your progress from idea to idea.


Don’t Alter Your Essay Capriciously.

Change what you have written only if you have a solid reason for doing so. If you have time to read over your paper and spot a grammatical error or a spelling mistake, by all means correct it, making sure your correction is legible. However, try to avoid making major alterations in your text. Last-minute changes can create more problems than they solve. You may run out of time and wind up with a muddle instead of a coherent argument. Or, in your haste to finish your revision, you may scribble sentences that not even a cryptologist could decipher.


Upgrade Your Vocabulary Judiciously.

Top-scoring essays typically include a sprinkling of “college-level” words. (See our High-Frequency Word List in Chapter 3.) The readers like your using big words, words like theoretical and allusion, but only if you use them correctly. Don’t try to bluff: it’s too risky. If you have a minute or two to spare and are absolutely sure of the meaning of a college-level word that you can substitute for a simple one, go for it. But use your judgment.


Don’t Second-Guess Yourself.

Once you have finished writing your essay, let it go. You have been concentrating on a single topic for almost half an hour, and you may find it difficult to refocus on a set of multiple-choice questions when you are still worrying about your essay. Avoid the temptation to criticize yourself for those grammatical and spelling errors you may have made or to brood over all the clever arguments you might have made. Take a deep breath, loosen up your shoulders, and move on.


Recommended Sources of Practice Essay Topics

To practice brainstorming and outlining, you need a good supply of potential essay topics. One excellent source is an Internet Quote of the Day.

Great Web Sites for Quotes

Good Books of Quotations

The Harper Book of Quotations Revised Edition, Robert I. Fitzhenry

Peter’s Quotations: Ideas for Our Times, Laurence J. Peter

Recommended Books on Writing

The Elements of Style, Strunk and White (Strunk’s original Elements of Style, without E. B. White’s revisions and added chapter, is available on the Web at

The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein

The Practical Stylist, Sheridan Baker

On Writing Well, William K. Zinsser

Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing, Claire Kehrwald Cook

A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, H. W. Fowler (Fowler’s classicThe King’s English is available on the Web at

Additional Sources of Writing Help

You learn to write by writing and rewriting, preferably with lots of feedback from your teachers and classmates. If you are not getting enough opportunities to write in high school, create fresh opportunities for yourself.

Find writing help through after-school tutorials, public library programs, etc.

Join your high school forensics team, and consider specializing in impromptu debate.

Set up writing cooperatives with your fellow students and practice critiquing one another’s drafts.

Volunteer as a reporter for your local neighborhood newspaper.

Keep a folder of your old book reports and compositions, and review it periodically to see whether you are still making the same old mistakes.

Find writing help through the Internet. Potentially useful web sites are:

The George Mason University Writing Center site contains useful material on grammar, punctuation, and the writing process.

The Hunter College Writing Center site is a source of handouts on grammar and mechanics, the writing demands of different disciplines, and the writing process in general.

The Lynchburg College Writing Center provides online guides to grammar and to general writing techniques.

Author Michael Harvey offers extracts from his reader-friendly Nuts and Bolts of College Writing.

The Paradigm Online Writing Assistant provides advice on writing and revising various types of essays.

The Scholastic site features an excellent section, Writing with Writers, offering workshops on writing news articles, speeches, and book reviews.

In addition to providing advice on the writing process and on fine-tuning your grammar, the

Teenwriting Forum enables teens to discuss writing problems and critique one another’s poetry and prose.


What characteristics distinguish essays at the various scoring levels? Here’s what the test makers say:

Scoring Level 6

Essays on this level demonstrate a clear command of writing and thinking skills, despite the occasional, infrequent minor error. Characteristics of essays on this level include:

1. intelligent, convincing development of a position on the issue

2. selection of relevant examples and other evidence to support its position

3. smooth, well-orchestrated progression from idea to idea

4. use of varied sentence types and appropriate vocabulary

5. freedom from most technical flaws (mistakes in grammar, usage, diction)

These essays are insightful.

Scoring Level 5

Essays on this level exhibit a generally dependable command of writing and thinking skills, despite some mistakes along the way. Characteristics of essays on this level include:

1. proficient, coherent development of a position on the issue

2. selection of basically relevant evidence to support its position

3. relatively well-ordered progression from idea to idea

4. reasonably varied sentence structure

5. relative freedom from technical flaws

These essays are effective.

Scoring Level 4

Essays on this level exhibit a generally adequate command of writing and thinking skills, although they are typically inconsistent in quality. Characteristics of essays on this level include:

1. workmanlike development of a position on the issue

2. selection of reasonably appropriate evidence to support its position

3. acceptable progression from idea to idea

4. somewhat varied sentence structure

5. some flaws in mechanics, usage, and grammar

These essays are competent.

Scoring Level 3

Essays on this level exhibit an insufficient command of writing and thinking skills, although they do show some signs of developing proficiency. Characteristics of essays on this level include:

1. sketchy development of a position on the issue

2. selection of weak or inappropriate evidence to support its position

3. erratic progression from idea to idea

4. somewhat limited vocabulary

5. inadequately varied sentence structure

6. multiple flaws in mechanics, usage, and grammar

These essays are inadequate.

Scoring Level 2

Essays on this level exhibit a quite flawed command of writing and thinking skills. Characteristics of essays on this level include:

1. limited development of a position on the issue

2. selection of weak or inappropriate evidence to support its position

3. tendency toward incoherence

4. highly limited vocabulary

5. numerous problems with sentence structure

6. errors in mechanics, usage, and grammar serious enough to interfere with the reader’s comprehension

These essays are seriously flawed.

Scoring Level 1

Essays on this level exhibit an acutely flawed command of writing and thinking skills. Characteristics of an essay on this level include:

1. absence of evidence to support a point of view

2. lack of a position on the issue

3. absence of focus and organization

4. rudimentary vocabulary

5. severe problems with sentence structure

6. extensive flaws in mechanics, usage, and grammar severe enough to block the reader’s comprehension.

These essays are fundamentally deficient.


Look over the following scored sample essays to see the characteristic strengths and weaknesses of compositions on each of the six scoring levels. These essays are all based on the following question.

The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.
—Thomas Paine

ASSIGNMENT: Do we most value the things that are difficult to attain? Plan and write an essay in which you explain your position on this issue. You may use examples from history, literature, popular culture, current events, or personal experience to support your position.



















Introduction to the Math Sections

Chapter 8: Math Strategies and Tactics

Chapter 9: Reviewing Mathematics

Introduction to the Math Sections

Math Sections

PART THREE consists of this Introduction and two extremely important chapters. Chapter 8 presents several important strategies that can be used on any mathematics questions that appear on the SAT. Chapter 9 contains a complete review of all the mathematics you need to know in order to do well on the SAT, as well as hundreds of sample problems patterned on actual test questions.


Five different types of tactics are discussed in this book.

1. In Part One you learned many basic tactics used by all good test-takers; for example, read each question carefully, pace yourself, don’t get bogged down on any one question, guess whenever you can eliminate choices, and never waste time reading the directions. These tactics apply to all sections of the SAT: critical reading, mathematics, and writing.

2. In Chapters 1 and 2 you learned the important tactics needed for handling the questions in the critical reading sections.

3. In Chapters 4, 5, and 6 you learned tactics for handling the three different types of writing skills questions, and in Chapter 7 you learned strategies for writing a good essay.

4. In Chapter 8 you will find all of the tactics that apply to the mathematics sections of the SAT. Specific strategies are presented to deal with each type of multiple-choice and grid-in question found on the SAT.

5. In Chapter 9 you will learn or review all of the mathematics that is needed for the SAT, and you will master the tactics and key facts that apply to each of the different mathematical topics.

Using these tactics will enable you to answer more quickly many problems that you already know how to do. The greatest value of these tactics, however, is that they will allow you to answer correctly, or make educated guesses on, problems that you do not know how to do.


How much time you initially devote to Chapter 9 should depend on how good your math skills are. If you are an excellent student who consistently earns A’s in math, you can initially skip the instructional parts of Chapter 9. If, however, while doing the model tests in Part Four, you find that you keep making mistakes on certain types of problems (averages, percentages, geometry, etc.) or if you are spending too much time on them, you should then study the appropriate sections of Chapter 9. Even if your math skills are excellent, and you don’t need the review, you should do the sample questions in those sections; they are an excellent source of additional SAT questions. If you know that your math skills are not very good, it is advisable to review the material in Chapter 9, including working out the problems, before tackling the model tests in Part Four.

No matter how good you are in math, you should carefully read and do the sample problems in Chapter 8. For many of these problems, two solutions are given: the most direct mathematical solution and a solution using one or more of the special tactics taught in these chapters.


Throughout the book, the symbol “aero” is used to indicate that one step in the solution of a problem follows immediately from the preceding one, and that no explanation is necessary. You should read:

2x = 12 aero x = 6

as 2x = 12 implies (or which impliesthat x = 6, or, since 2x = 12, then x = 6.

Here is a sample solution, using aero, to the following problem:

What is the value of 3x2 – 7 when x = –5?

x = –5 aero x2 = (–5)2 = 25 aero 3x2 = 3(25) = 75 aero
3x2 – 7 = 75 – 7 = 68.

When the reason for a step is not obvious, aero is not used: rather, an explanation is given, often including a reference to a KEY FACT from Chapter 9. In many solutions, some steps are explained, while others are linked by the aerosymbol, as in the following example:


In the diagram below, if w = 30, what is z ?


• By KEY FACT J1, w + x + y = 180.

• Since imagesABC is isosceles, x = y [KEY FACT J5].

• Therefore, w + 2y = 180 aero 30 + 2y = 180 aero 2y = 150 aero y = 75.

• Finally, since y + z = 180 [KEY FACT I3], 75 + z = 180 aero z = 105.


In Chapters 8 and 9, you will see seven headings that will appear either in the text or in the margins. They will indicate valuable information and will help to guide you as you study this book. Here is a brief explanation of each heading.


A useful strategy for attacking a certain type of problem. Some TACTICS give you advice on how to handle multiple-choice questions, regardless of the subject matter. Others point out ways to handle specific subject matter, such as finding averages or solving equations, regardless of the type of problem.

• Key Fact

An important mathematical fact that you should commit to memory because it comes up often on the SAT.


A basic mathematical fact that is included in the “Reference Information” that appears on the first page of every math section.

Helpful Hint

A useful idea that will help you solve a problem more easily or avoid a pitfall.

• CAUTION: A warning of a potential danger. Often a CAUTION points out a common error or a source of careless mistakes.

•  Il_7_4436_SAT_341_352_0005_005.gif Calculator Shortcut

A method of using your calculator, even when it is unnecessary, to help you get an answer faster than you otherwise might. Often this heading will signal an unusual or nonstandard way of using your calculator that you might not think of.


Often, a way of using your calculator to get an answer that you could get more quickly without the calculator if you only knew how. CALCULATOR HINTS allow you to use your calculator to get answers to questions you would otherwise have to omit or guess at.


Before doing any of the work in Part Three and the model tests in Part Four, you should reread the short discussion in Part One on the use of calculators on the SAT. As you do the sample problems in this book, always have available the calculator you intend to take to the SAT, and use it whenever you think it will be helpful. Throughout the rest of the book, whenever the use of a calculator is recommended, the icon Il_7_4436_SAT_341_352_0005_005.gif has been placed next to the example or question. Remember: no problem requires the use of a calculator, but there are several for which it is helpful.

Because students’ mathematical knowledge and arithmetic skills vary considerably, the decision as to when to use a calculator is highly subjective. Consider the following rather easy problem. Would you use a calculator?

What is the average (arithmetic mean) of 301, 303, and 305?

Let’s analyze the four possibilities:

1. Some students would use their calculators twice: first to add, 301 + 303 + 305 = 909, and then to divide, 909 ÷ 3 = 303.

2. Others would use their calculators just once: to add the numbers; these students would then divide mentally.

3. Others would not use their calculators at all, because they could add the three numbers mentally faster than they could on a calculator. (Just say to yourself: 300, 300, and 300 is 900; and 1 + 3 + 5 is 9 more.)

4. Finally, others would do no calculations whatsoever. They would realize that the average of any three consecutive odd integers is the middle one: 301, 303, 305.

NOTE: The more the calculator was used, the longer it took to solve the problem. Use your calculator only when it will really save you time or if you think you will make a mistake without it.

Helpful Hint

In general, you should do very little arithmetic longhand. If you can’t do a calculation mentally, use your calculator. In particular, avoid long division and multiplication in which the factors have two or more digits. If you know that 132 = 169, terrific; if not, it’s better to use your calculator than to multiply with paper and pencil.


Immediately preceding the multiple-choice questions, you will see the following set of instructions.

For each problem in this section, determine which of the five choices is correct and blacken the corresponding choice on your answer sheet. You may use any blank space on the page for your work.


• You may use a calculator whenever you think it will be helpful.

• Use the diagrams provided to help you solve the problems. Unless you see the words “Note: Figure not drawn to scale” under a diagram, it has been drawn as accurately as possible. Unless it is stated that a figure is three-dimensional, you may assume it lies in a plane.

Immediately preceding the grid-in questions, you will see the following set of instructions.

Directions for Student-Produced Response Questions (Grid-ins)

For each of these questions, first solve the problem, and then enter your answer on the grid provided on the answer sheet. The instructions for entering your answers are as follows:

• First, write your answer in the boxes at the top of the grid.

• Second, grid your answer in the columns below the boxes.

• Use the fraction bar in the first row or the decimal point in the second row to enter fractions and decimal answers.


Answer: 100


Either position is acceptable

• Grid only one space in each column.

• Entering the answer in the boxes is recommended as an aid in gridding, but is not required.

• The machine scoring your exam can read only what you grid, so you must grid in your answers correctly to get credit.

• If a question has more than one correct answer, grid in only one of these answers.

• The grid does not have a minus sign, so no answer can be negative.

• A mixed number must be converted to an improper fraction or a decimal before it is gridded. Enter 7_4436_SAT_341_352_0004_006.gif as 5/4 or 1.25; the machine will interpret 1 1/4 as 7_4436_SAT_341_352_0004_006.gif and mark it wrong.

• All decimals must be entered as accurately as possible. Here are the three acceptable ways of gridding


• Note that rounding to .273 is acceptable, because you are using the full grid, but you would receive no credit for .3 or .27, because these answers are less accurate.

On the first page of every mathematics section of the SAT, a box labeled “Reference Information” contains several basic math facts and formulas. In each math section of every model test in this book, you will find the exact same information.

Reference Information



The College Board’s official guide, SAT Preparation Booklet, offers the following tip:

The test does not require you to memorize formulas. Commonly used formulas are provided in the test booklet at the beginning of each mathematical section.

If you interpret this to mean “Don’t bother memorizing the formulas provided,” this is terrible advice. It may be reassuring to know that, if you should forget a basic geometry fact, you can look it up in the box headed “Reference Information,” but you should decide right now that you will never have to do that. During the test, you don’t want to spend any precious time looking up facts that you can learn now. All of these “commonly used formulas” and other important facts are presented in Chapter 9. As you learn and review these facts, you should commit them to memory.

Helpful Hint

As you prepare for this test, memorize the directions for each section. When you take the SAT, do not waste even one second reading directions.


Indicate your answers to math multiple-choice questions on your answer sheet exactly as you do for critical reading and writing skills questions. Once you determine which answer choice you believe is correct, blacken the corresponding oval on the answer sheet. For grid-in questions the situation is a little more complicated.

The answer sheet for the section containing grid-in questions will have one blank grid for each question. Each one will look exactly like the grid on the left, below. After solving a problem, the first step is to write the answer in the four boxes at the top of the grid. You then blacken the appropriate oval under each box. For example, if your answer to a question is 2450, you write 2450 at the top of the grid, one digit in each box, and then in each column blacken the oval that contains the number you wrote at the top of the column. (See the grid on the right, below.) This is not difficult; but there are some special rules concerning grid-in questions, so let’s go over them before you practice gridding-in some numbers.


1. The only symbols that appear in the grid are the digits 0 to 9, a decimal point, and a slash (/), used to write fractions. Keep in mind that, since there is no negative sign, the answer to every grid-in question is a positive number or zero.

2. Be aware that you will receive credit for a correct answer no matter where you grid it. For example, the answer 17 could be gridded in any of three positions:


Neverthelesss, try to consistently write all your answers the way numbers are usually displayed—to the right, with blank spaces at the left.


3. Never round off your answers. If a decimal answer will fit in the grid and you round it off, your answer will be marked wrong. For example, if the answer is .148 and you correctly round it off to the nearest hundredth and enter .15, you will receive no credit. If a decimal answer will not fit in the grid, enter a decimal point in the first column, followed by the first three digits. For example, if your answer is 0.454545..., enter it as .454. You would receive credit if you rounded it to .455, but don’t. You might occasionally make a mistake in rounding, whereas you’ll never make a mistake if you just copy the first three digits. Note: If the correct answer has more than two decimal digits, you must use all four columns of the grid. You will receive no credit for .4 or .5 or .45. (These answers are not accurate enough.)

4. Never write a 0 before the decimal point. The first column of the grid doesn’t even have a 0 in it. If the correct answer is 0.3333..., you must grid it as .333. You can’t grid 0.33, and 0.3 is not accurate enough.

5. Never reduce fractions.

• If your answer is a fraction that will fit in the grid, such as pg8_1just enter it. Don’t waste time reducing it or converting it to a decimal.

• If your answer is a fraction that won’t fit in the grid, do not attempt to reduce it; use your calculator to convert it to a decimal. For example pg8_2 won’t fit in a grid—it would require five spaces: 2 4 / 6 5. Don’t waste even a few seconds trying to reduce it; just divide on your calculator, and enter .369.
Unlike pg8_2, the fraction pg8_2 can be reduced—to pg8_3, which doesn’t help, or to pg8_4 or pg8_5, either of which could be entered. Don’t do it! Reducing a fraction takes time, and you might make a mistake. You won’t make a mistake if you just use your calculator: 24 ÷ 64 = .375.

6. Be aware that you can never enter a mixed number. If your answer is pg8_6, you cannot leave a space and enter your answer as 2 1/2. Also, if you enter pg8_7, the machine will read it as pg8_8 and mark it wrong. You must enter pg8_9 as the improper fraction pg8_10 or as the decimal 2.5.

7. Since full credit is given for any equivalent answer, use these guidelines to enter your answer in the simplest way. If your answer is pg9_1, you should enter 6/9. (However, credit would be given for any of the following: 2/3, 4/6, 8/12, .666, .667.)

8. Sometimes grid-in questions have more than one correct answer. On these questions, grid in only one of the acceptable answers. For example, if a question asked for a positive number less than 100 that was divisible by both 5 and 7, you could enter either 35 or 70, but not both. Similarly, if a question asked for a number between pg9_2 and pg9_3, you could enter any one of more than 100 possibilities: fractions such as pg9_4 and pg9_5 or any decimal between .429 and .554—.43 or .499 or .52, for example.

9. Keep in mind that there is no penalty for a wrong answer to a grid-in question. Therefore, you might as well guess, even if you have no idea what to do. As you will see shortly, there are some strategies for making intelligent guesses.

10. Be sure to grid every answer very carefully. The computer does not read what you have written in the boxes; it reads only the answer in the grid. If the correct answer to a question is 100 and you write 100 in the boxes, but accidentally grid in 200, you get no credit.

11. If you know that the answer to a question is 100, can you just grid it in and not bother writing it on top? Yes, you will get full credit, and so some SAT guides recommend that you don’t waste time writing the answer. This is terrible advice. Instead, write each answer in the boxes. It takes less than 2 seconds per answer to do this, and it definitely cuts down on careless errors in gridding. More important, if you go back to check your work, it is much easier to read what’s in the boxes on top than what’s in the grid.

12. Be aware that the smallest number that can be gridded is 0; the largest is 9999. No number greater than 100 can have a decimal point. The largest number less than 100 that can be gridded is 99.9; the smallest number greater than 100 that can be gridded is 101.

Practice in Gridding-in Numbers

Now, check your understanding of these guidelines. Use the empty numbered grids that follow to show how you would enter these answers.

  1. 123

  2. pg10_2

  3. 2fpg10_1

  4. fpg10_2

  5. 1.1111...

  6. 0

  7. fpg10_3

  8. fpg10_4

9. fpg10_5

10. 3fpg10_6



Solutions. Each grid shows the recommended answer. Other acceptable answers, if any, are written below each grid.



If you missed even one of these, go back and reread the rules for gridding. You never want to have a correct answer and get no credit because you didn’t grid it properly. Whenever you practice grid-in problems, actually grid in the answers. Make sure you understand all of these rules now. When you actually take the SAT, don’t even look at the instructions for gridding.