How to Master the SAT Essay | College Made Simple

Strong writing skills are always important, but a few helpful tips can help even the weakest wordsmiths crack a high score on the SAT’s newest section.

Hey parents, remember back when you were in high school and it came time to take the SAT?

Remember all those hours you spent studying… taking practice test after practice test… writing sample essay after sample essay, so you’d be ready when it was time for the real thing…

What’s that you say? You never had to write an essay for the SAT?

Well, that makes sense, because the essay section of the test wasn’t instituted until 2005. And while it only counts for 10% of your total SAT score, it very well may be the most useful section of the test.
That’s because the writing skills it helps to hone are critically important to any student wishing to be successful in college, where papers are assigned on an almost weekly basis.

Today I’ll offer a few tips on how to craft a killer SAT essay that’ll help your student prepare for having to think on their feet when it comes to college writing assignments.

Don’t over think it.

You only get 25 minutes to write the SAT essay and it comes right at the start of the test. Don’t spend too much time trying to craft a scholarly masterpiece. Most important is to read and make sure you understand the writing prompt, which is usually a famous quote, or a stated idea.

For instance, here’s a prompt from the January 2011 version of the test…

Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.

Idealistic people, people who pursue great ideas in hopes of changing the world, often have ambitious plans that are difficult or even impossible to carry out. These people can claim few solid accomplishments. In contrast, practical people concentrate on workable ideas and goals, even though these may not meet an idealist’s high standards. Their approach is likely to be more valuable than the approach of idealistic people.


Is an idealistic approach less valuable than a practical approach? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

Read over the prompt and question several times in order to make sure you know what they’re asking.

Then organize your thoughts quickly and begin writing. Students shouldn’t worry about making it a perfect piece of writing or the most original thought every put on paper. The people reading your student’s essay know they’re on a time crunch. They’re simply looking for competent writing, insight and the ability to think on their feet.

Use real-world examples to illustrate your points.

Nothing will prove to a scorer more that your student understands the point of the question than if they’re able to use examples from current events or history to back up their opinion.

Make sure your student attempts to include this kind of proof in their essay.

If your student can’t come up with examples to back up one opinion, it doesn’t hurt to take the opposite viewpoint and see if they may have more luck there.

Remember this isn’t a declaration of a life philosophy. Even if they don’t personally agree with what they’re writing, it may make for a better more thorough essay if they go against their instincts.

Go long… but not TOO long.

A good length for an SAT essay should be four to five well developed paragraphs.

Don’t let your student think that quantity automatically equals quality. There’s always going to be the temptation to write a novel in hopes that the scorers will be impressed with how much you were able to get done in a short period of time.

But a good score will almost always be more likely if the essay is well plotted, well thought out and backs up its points intelligently… and all of that can be done in five paragraphs or so.

Also if your student is writing a 3-page essay, that probably means they didn’t take sufficient time to brainstorm and organize their assignment. 25 minutes is more than enough time to do this, plus compose a 5-paragraph essay worthy of a good score.

And remember to leave time at the end to review for any glaring errors or omissions.

Don’t stress out… it’s only 10%!

While the essay section of the SAT is one of the most useful and applicable sections to future college life, don’t allow your student to get TOO hung up on it.

Good writing skills are always a huge advantage for students. But even if they’re not quite present yet at the time of the SAT, they can always be developed down the road. If writing isn’t your student’s strong suit, make sure they know that they still have 90% of the SAT left to make up for it.

Don’t allow their stress to negatively affect their performances on other sections of the test as well.

Set the correct expectation that every part of the SAT is important… and there are always opportunities to make up for weaker sections as they go.

To your child’s successful college pursuits,

Jodi Polster
Education Director, College Planning Network, LLC

P.S. Would you like to know if you can lower your child’s Total College Cost… and possibly save your family thousands of dollars?

It’s now easier than ever to find out. Simply take advantage of our FREE College Funding Analysis, offered exclusively to College Made Simple readers. Click here to get your free analysis.


Related Articles:

5 Proven Ways to Increase the SAT Score

The Best Way to Improve SAT Scores

The Five Most Common Types of SAT Problems



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Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News,, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.