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The SAT Essay: Basic Principles

RocketRule #2: Write Fast and Keep Your Pencil Moving!
If you're a habitual perfectionist in your writing, someone who labors over finding just the right word, who agonizes over whether or not to include a comma after a phrase, who mulls over the perfect metaphor to capture the subtle nuances of your thoughts, you'd better get over that habit—and I mean pronto!

The SAT essay is a 25-minute all-out sprint, not a marathon. Once you've finished planning your essay, take a deep breath, launch into your paper, and keep that #2 pencil moving. You should be writing at a rate of one or two sentences per minute in order to produce 400 words (which is the minimum length graders expect of the highest scoring essays).

Relax: You're Graded on How Well You Write a First Draft—Not a Polished Final Paper
You bet: writing fast is scary. Twenty-five minutes is not enough time for you to gather all your thoughts. Or to find the best supporting examples. Or to say exactly what you mean.

Writing fast also means that your handwriting won't be as elegant as it might be otherwise. It means that you'll probably make a spelling mistake or two, not to mention the occasional grammatical error. Writing fast may even mean that you'll change your mind mid-sentence. (If you need to change something, cross it out—neatly erasing takes too much time—and continue writing.

Don't worry about these problems. The graders know that you're writing under enormous pressure, and they make allowances for it. Obviously, your handwriting or printing should be as legible as possible, and you should avoid flagrant spelling or grammatical gaffes, but most of all you need to focus on getting your thoughts down on paper as quickly as possible.

The Most Common Grammatical Goof in SAT Essays
The SAT essay graders might not notice any such errors, and it's not a big deal if they do, but singular-plural errors show up frequently in students essays, especially in the conclusion.

The Top 35 Misspelled Words in SAT Essays
As I mentioned, spelling is not that important to your overall essay score. Still, the fewer spelling errors in your essay, the better.

The following words appear frequently in SAT essays, and are often misspelled:

  • accept
  • achieve
  • apparent
  • appearance
  • argument (argues, argued, arguing)
  • beginning
  • belief
  • business
  • describe (description)
  • definite (definitely)
  • destroy
  • different
  • especially
  • environment
  • foreign
  • government
  • independent
  • interest
  • judgment
  • knowledge
  • necessary
  • occasion (occasionally)
  • occur (occurred, occurring, occurrence)
  • particular
  • portray
  • receive
  • religion
  • separate (separation)
  • several
  • similar
  • tragedy (tragic)
  • truly

You don't have to memorize this list, but do skim it to see whether any of these words tend to trip you up. To quiz yourself on these words, have someone read a word. Then write it down and move on to the next word.

Many spelling errors result from your ear for words. Words that sound alike (such as it's versus its, or they're versus their versus there) cause problems, as do words we pronounce sloppily (accept, government, particular, different, describe, probably, several), or words that spell the "uh" sound differently (definite, separate, independent). Silent vowels or consonants (receive, judge, foreign) or single or double consonants (occasion, occur) are also common causes of spelling problems.

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From The RocketReview Revolution: The Ultimate Guide to the New SAT and the PSAT by Adam Robinson. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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