Test Prep

3 Typical SAT Essay Mistakes

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You’ve probably heard plenty about the SAT Essay: “it’s optional,” “schools don’t care about it,” “schools only say they don’t care about it.” Regardless of what people are saying, it’s usually a good idea to add the SAT Essay during your registration just in case you end up needing it.

While there are plenty of ways to write a winning SAT essay on test day, it can also be easy to slip up and write one your graders won’t be so thrilled about. There are plenty of common (and avoidable!) mistakes students make on the essay just because they don’t spend enough time considering the task at hand. Wondering what those might be? I’ve got a handy list here to make it easier for you to avoid them.


No One Asked Your Opinion

Given a free response opportunity like on the SAT Essay, it can be easy to assume that the prompt is open for interpretation — they didn’t give you a list of answers to choose from, so it’s implied you can say whatever, right? Not exactly!

While the essay portion of the SAT is certainly more open for interpretation than the rest of the test, there are still right and wrong answers in terms of what you put on the page. The wrong answer students choose over all others? Their opinion.

The SAT essay calls for an analysis of a given text, not an op-ed piece. That means you should avoid saying whether you liked or disliked something — in fact, it’s a good idea to keep “I” out of it altogether. (If you’re looking for more on how to give an analysis of quality on such a time crunch, use these tips on how to read the passage.)

Brevity Is (Not Always) Best

Believe it or not, quite a few students end up scoring low on their essays -- not because of poor writing -- but because they didn’t write enough. It’s a general rule that graders of the SAT Essay tend to favor students who write more. With that said, don’t just add in a bunch of fluff. It’s not enough to simply make your essay longer; you must also add substance.

Since you’re offering an analysis of the text, you should already be using short quotes or references from the speech or article. Follow these quotes by stating their effect on the audience. End your analysis of the quote or reference by tying the effect on the audience to the text’s overall main idea. With even just a few specific examples, you’ll be giving yourself a lot of material to work with when you add the analysis of each.

Making Your Point Is Not Enough

As with any section of the SAT, it’s important to set a pace from the very beginning of the essay so you aren’t surprised when time’s up. Remember, the key to a well-rounded essay is to tie all of your points together, leaving the reader with a clear sense of closure at the end.

Don’t be that student who furiously writes until time’s up, not even bothering to write a conclusion. Think of the impression this leaves on the grader. If your essay just ends, especially in the middle of a thought, the grader will know that you didn’t plan out your essay enough before you started writing. You want to show that you gave your argument proper organization and forethought before diving in.

As you prepare for the essay, don’t just think about the surefire ways in which you’re going to wow the graders. Make sure that you’re also avoiding all the ways in which you might lose points or score low. Look at sample prompts and take SAT practice tests to familiarize yourself with the structure and types of essays you’ll have to write. Remember that knowing common mistakes is a key aspect of proper SAT prep, which in turn is often what can make or break your score.

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