For students who plan to apply to college in the coming months or years, the subject of SAT preparation has likely been lingering in the back of their minds. The redesigned SAT is a standardized test that is used by many colleges and universities in the United States to measure an applicant’s college readiness, particularly in the areas of math, reading, and writing. The SAT also contains a written essay, which, as of this year, is optional.
Introduction to the redesigned SAT Essay
The redesigned SAT Essay is a source of anxiety for many students, especially those who lack confidence in their writing skills. For international students, who have varying degrees of English language skill, the Essay section can be particularly challenging. It is important to remember that this portion of the test is optional, and that you will not be penalized for foregoing it. Each college or university in America weighs SAT results differently, so it is worth speaking to an admissions officer if you are not sure whether to take the Essay section (i.e. if you think you might not score well).
If you do choose to complete the Essay, you will be given 50 minutes to read and respond to a portion of text provided by the exam creators. The purpose of the redesigned SAT Essay is to evaluate your ability to read and write critically—your job as the test-taker is to identify the author’s main points, explain how he or she structured the essay’s argument, and assess whether or not the author effectively used the evidence or argument to convince you, the reader.
As you consider how you might respond, keep in mind that this task is not about whether or not you agree with the author. In fact, in this case, your personal opinions and thoughts are not necessary or relevant. Your only responsibility is to determine what the author is discussing, and whether or not he or she has effectively communicated the main idea to the reader. Remember: strong arguments contain evidence, persuasive or well thought out arguments, clearly articulated ideas, and they are typically light on unsubstantiated opinions.
Tips and tricks
As an international student, your command of English will be an important factor in how well you do on the Essay section of the SAT. Because you will receive the same writing prompt as everyone else, you can expect it to be written in American English.
As is the case with many languages, there are certain differences between academic and casual use, as well as differences between spoken and written English. For instance, written English tends to be more formal than spoken English, particularly in an academic context. In order to prepare for this exam, consider reading passages from different textbooks, paying close attention to how the author structures and articulates his or her argument or main idea. Because textbooks are usually written, edited, and reviewed by professionals, you can generally trust that they will be good models of a strong argument.
Another possible challenge is conveying your response in a second language, which is where your English writing skills will be assessed. The key to crafting a strong response is recognizing the components of a solid argument. Once you feel confident in your ability to do so, try writing your responses in your first language to ensure that you can respond appropriately and can say exactly what you wish to say. If you are able to do this, then it is simply a matter of translating your words into English.
Finally, if you are concerned about your ability to articulate your response, practice with a native-speaking friend or study partner. This can be particularly helpful if you struggle with the mechanics of writing in English or the nuances of expressing an idea. Your study partner will be able to catch any small problems with your response, like using slang or conversational language that might undermine your success.
David White is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world's largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.