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Panel of Experts

Karl Schellscheidt

SAT Prep Expert

  • BSE, Princeton University '90
  • M.A., Secondary Education Seton Hall University '93
  • J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School '00

Fred Hargadon

Dean of Admission

  • Swarthmore College
  • Stanford University
  • Princeton University

Don Betterton

Financial Aid Expert

  • Director of Financial Aid, Princeton University (1973-2006)
  • Certified College Planner
  • Principal, Betterton College Planning

Seamus Malin

Admission Expert

  • Harvard University
    Dir. of Financial Aid
    Asst. Dean of Admission
    International Office Director

SAT Essay Rubric – Use of Language

Karl Schellscheidt

eprep test prep videoThis entry is the third of 5 video posts dedicated to explaining the 5 different categories of the SAT essay grading rubric – or scoring guide. In this entry you’ll find out how essay graders view your choice of vocabulary words.

SAT Essay Rubric – Use of Language (Transcript)
This is the 3rd of five videos in which I discuss the essay grading rubric. In the 1st video I discuss the category Development of Position, in the second video I discuss the category Organization and in this video I’d like to discuss the category Use of Language.

Use of Language is vocabulary. I sometimes ask kids “What do you think is easier to notice a good bus driver or a bad bus driver?” After a minute, most kids come up with the right answer and it’s a bad bus driver. A bad bus driver is pretty easy to notice. Why? Because the bus gets jerked around, it’s an uncomfortable ride, and you might be thinking “What’s going on here? Am I in danger?” You definitely notice a bad bus driver. A good bus driver is not so easy to notice. Why? Because you get on the bus and it’s a smooth ride and you can forget that you’re on a bus. You can fall asleep, you can read a book, you can have a conversation, you can daydream. You can completely forget that you’re on a bus. So good bus drivers are not really noticed but bad bus driver are very easy to notice.

How does this apply to the essay and Use of Language? I’m going to tell you right now. If for example you are writing an essay and you want to use the word ecstatic because you think it’s the perfect word and you want to use it in your essay, but you say to yourself “ I’m not sure if I know how to spell ecstatic.” My suggestion is this – don’t take the chance. If you try to spell ecstatic and you get it wrong, you’re going to be like a bad bus driver – you’re going to be noticed. Your misspelling is going to jump off the page at the reader and you’re going to be noticed for something bad. If you don’t take the chance and you write the phrase very happy instead, that will probably go unnoticed by the reader. So rather than flag yourself for something bad, you’re better off playing it safe and saying very happy in the example I just gave.

The other thing is this. Don’t force vocabulary. If you have a sophisticated word that you want to use in the essay because you want to show off how smart you are, but you’re not 100% sure what the word means and your not 100% sure that the word actually works where you want to use it, you’re better off not taking the chance. You don’t want to come across as somebody who’s just trying to force these sophisticated and fancy vocabulary words into the essay almost gratuitously. They weren’t asked for, they are not appropriate and if you’re just kind of forcing them in, you are definitely going to be noticed if you don’t get it right – if you force the issue.

So when it comes to Use of Language, its all about vocabulary. And again my advice is this; if you’re unsure, don’t take the chance. If you’re not sure how to spell a word, use the less sophisticated version that you know how to spell properly. If you’re not sure what a fancy word is don’t take the chance. Put in the word that (1) you know works and that (2) you know how to spell. If you keep these 2 things in mind you will score very high in Use of Language.

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