Sharon Watson shares her tips for success in Writing for the SAT

FAQs from Sharon’s website.

Q. I’m concerned that my student(s) won’t be ready for the essay portion of the SAT. What can I do to prepare them for it?

A. First, your student needs to understand that the SAT essay is a persuasive essay. That means he has to choose a side. He has to support a view. He has to try to convince that hypothetical audience that he is right. Expository essays that explore the pros and cons of each view will not earn a high mark.

Second, your student will benefit from practice. Basketball players practice free throws so that when the opportunity arises in the big game, they will step up to the line with confidence and hear the swish. Give your students some “free-throw” practice. How?

Inside the New SAT, written by the staff of Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, advises the following schedule for the 25-minute SAT essay:

T hink about the topic (2 minutes)
O rganize your paragraphs (5 minutes)
W rite your essay (15 minutes)
F ix your mistakes (3 minutes)

I recommend giving your student a quotation based on a topic (just as the SAT test gives) so he can practice thinking about the topic (brainstorming ideas and examples) and organizing his paragraphs (putting his points and examples in order). Do this several times with several quotations/topics — without his ever writing the essay. Breaking the tasks down, first untimed and then timed, will allow your student to get used to the rhythm of the process without getting bogged down in the writing. Check to make sure he is actually supporting a view and choosing points that will persuade readers to that view. After he has gained some proficiency in thinking and organizing, add the writing portion to the practice session. Later, add the three minutes to the end of the session so he can fix his mistakes.

Third, I recommend going to the College Board’s Web site, It has practice questions and aids to help your student write a better persuasive essay.
Sharon is the author of Jump In!, writing for 5th-8th Graders and Writing Fiction in High School. She homeschooled her children for 18 years and has taught high school composition, fiction writing, and literature.