Tips for Parents: SAT Writing Prep
Martin, C.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Carol Martin, who outlines the various steps to successfully complete the writing section of the SAT. Tips include how to properly prepare for alleviating the anxiety of test-taking for some students.

The Writing Section of the SAT consists of three parts: A twenty five minute essay, A 25 minute multiple choice section and a ten minute multiple choice section. The multiple choice questions test grammar, usage, and word choice. The score range with the essay factored in, is 200 -800. The short essay question always appears in section one of the SAT. The short essay measures ones ability to:
1) Organize and express ideas clearly, develop and support the main idea with examples
2) Use appropriate word choice and sentence structure

Students will be asked to develop and support their point of a view on an issue, using reasoning and evidence — based on their experiences, readings, or observations.

The essay will be scanned and sent via the Internet to two different, trained high school and/or college teachers to be scored. Each reader will give the essay a score of 1 to 6 (6 is the highest score) based on the overall quality of the essay and the student’s demonstration of writing competence. Finally, the two scores will be added together to comprise a final score.

Often, young gifted scholars feel reluctant and anxious about this new part of the SAT. This is partly because many young gifted children have not had specific, structured writing lessons. Furthermore, many young scholars taking the SAT are only in fifth to seventh grades. They are expected to be accelerated in writing just because they have high I. Q .s. The erroneous logic here is apparent. Many of these children refuse to write long essays and end up in tears when forced to write. Perfectionism often stymies them.

Here are some general tips to give your children to alleviate anxiety and to help them learn to write with more ease:

A) Getting Ready to Write

  1. Teach children to visualize
    A large part of the problem with difficulty in writing starts with difficulty in visualization. Students need to be trained to see, feel and smell images in their heads. The written word should not just be thought of as black ink on white paper. The written word was invented for communication. It should be as strong as the spoken word or stronger! Writing is analogous to painting a picture. It can be a beautiful painting with words. When I teach reading and writing, I encourage my students to imagine a big VCR in their heads. I tell them, "Close your eyes, turn on the VCR in your head and tell me what you see. Now tell me what you smell . . . feel . . . hear... etc." Once you can get your children to visualize, you can then move to the next step which is brainstorming for ideation.
  2. Teach children to brainstorm when learning how to write
    Brainstorming is a time of free associating and exploring one's thoughts in an effort to discover new ideas, options, and alternatives. It is often helpful to brainstorm with others: teachers, classmates, siblings, parents. When your children get writing assignments, remind them to close their eyes and visualize. Then have them brainstorm a jot list...which in essence is emptying out all their thoughts, without judgement, onto a piece of paper. There should be absolutely no criticism at this point. All ideas, including the bizarre ones, should be acceptable. Have them "talk to the paper " with no rules.
  3. Immerse your children in structured writing lessons
    Now I will explain how to move from that jot list (Yes! bullet points) or web to the paragraph.
    After the brainstorm list is completed, it is helpful to briefly walk away. As an adult, after I make a brainstorm list, I then take a shower or take a drive. The ideas then have time to incubate. The brain is like a computer, and it needs time to process. Sometimes your computer slows down when it overloaded. Well, your brain does that too. Many times when I give my self time to incubate ideas, I suddenly get an epiphany or what is called an "AHA" experience. When that happens, it is time to go back to the brainstorm list. Now one can begin to be more judgmental and cross out ideas he or she no longer likes.
    The next step is to return to the original assignment and to paraphrase (say it in your own words) what it is that you have to do. For example, let's look at the assignment "Pretend you visited a new planet. Write a story of 200 words telling about your visit to this new planet." Your child should be able to say using the old WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, HOW formula, "Ok I have to create a new planet, and I have to describe what it looks like, when I went there, where it is, why I am going, how I got there and who or what I met there." It might be very helpful and easier to now make a new structured list with the five W's and the H and transfer some ideas from the original brainstorming list that your child wants to use. The key here is to have your child narrow his/her topic so he/she ends up with a list of details that is manageable! Another idea, if they don't want to use the 5W's and H, is to try to number their ideas in the brainstorming jot list in order of importance.
  4. Learn what a paragraph really is
    Next a child has to learn how to transfer his lists of key ideas into paragraphs.
    First, a paragraph is about one main idea. Start with an introductory paragraph. When a new idea is presented, a new paragraph must begin. Second, A coherent paragraph has unity. All of the ideas are related to one another and they flow in an orderly sequence to support the main idea. This is where your YS can begin to use transition words! (first, second, also, additionally, moreover...).The main idea is usually presented in the topic sentence. The topic sentence is usually the first sentence in a paragraph. Remind your young scholars to use the words from the question or assignment in the topic sentence. The subsequent paragraphs need to have vivid,supporting details that foster the main idea and thesis.

B) Getting Ready for the Actual SAT
Must Know Tips for the Writing Sections
1. Read the question carefully and underline the key words in the question.
2. Spend two to three minutes brainstorming before you organize your essay.
3. Remember to write two full pages for the practice essays and the actual essay; shorter essays usually receive lower scores.
4. Write in pencil, essays written in pen receive a zero.
5. Write in the third person. First-person essays usually receive lower scores. Stay away from I am, I think I believe....
6. Try to "show." Don’t "tell." A good essay never tells the reader things directly; instead, it "shows" the reader through concrete, vivid experiences and examples.
7. Try to write four well-developed paragraphs. Five may be too many to develop well. Include an introduction and a conclusion!
8. Historical, current-events and literary examples are preferable to personal examples.
9. Before the exam prepare colorful index cards with possible topics you can write about. Examples: famous people, infamous people, wars, movements, etc..
10. Immerse yourself in word study. This can help you with the essay, sentence completions and reading comprehension. Use vivid words in your essay. (However, don't overdo it.) Can you define perspicacity, sinecure, tendentious, anachronism and gaffe?
11. Learn parts of speech and grammar rules, and put them on 5x7 index cards. Include examples.
12. Read as much as you can. Also read the newspaper everyday. Try the editorial pages for "pedantic" SAT vocabulary.
13. Learn idioms. There are many of them on the exam. Examples: Write frightened by, not frightened of....write preoccupation with, not preoccupation in....write opposite of, not opposite to.....
14. Learn what a persuasive essay is. Try writing some persuasive essays for your parents to convince them to get you what you want.
15. Write at least one or two essays a week for practice "getting your speed up." Do this for several months before the test.
16. Buy a good grammar book. I recommend The Bedford Handbook by Diana Hacker. Read it.
17. Don't forget to include transition words and topic sentences. Sample transition words(again): similarly, furthermore, clearly, finally.....
18. Stay up to date on current events. Watch the news the morning of the exam. You never know what the question might be....
19. Remember to bring a healthy snack and a drink with you to the exam and enjoy yourself!

Hopefully some of these tips will help reluctant writers and ease the anxieties of all test takers.....who must know grammar....and who must know how to write a coherent essay.

Good luck!

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