As part of this summer’s alpha test of ePrep’s new SAT prep product, ePrep for the SAT, students were required to submit essays that I agreed to hand-grade. Since grading essays always gets me thinking about some of the common mistakes that keep students from scoring high on the essay, I though I would share a few while they are fresh in my mind.
(1) Stay on topic. If you are directed to give an opinion on whether or not you believe in karma, for example, do not write an essay explaining “karma.” You can safely assume that the reader is familiar with the concept. Spend your time giving examples that support your belief in karma or your lack of belief in karma.
(2) Examples should be first-hand, not second-hand. If you are asked to decided which is more important to success in life, luck or hard work, the examples you include in your essay should not merely entail the main character of a literary classic pontificating about the virtues of hard work. Writing about a person or character who expresses an opinion on the topic is what I call a weak, “second-hand” example. A “first-hand” example is much more persuasive. A first-hand example might be something like the description of a character in a book who discards the notion that he can rely on luck and finds success through hard work. If your essay includes first-hand examples, you will be on your way to a high score.
(3) Do not try to argue both sides. The assignment is to pick a side/opinion and argue it. If, for example, you are asked whether honesty is the best policy, do not include one example that highlights honesty as the best policy and another example that highlights the opposite. I lot of students do this because they want to appear reasonable and well balanced. Guess what? That’s not the assignment. The assignment is to pick a side and argue it. You do not need to even acknowledge the opposing view.
I hope this advice helps.