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The SAT Essay: Basic Principles

RocketRule #5: Avoid Personal Statements or Qualifiers
Phrases like I feel, I think, I believe, and It seems to me have no place in your essay. Such phrases are unnecessary (it's a given that you're expressing your opinion) and suck the vitality right out of your writing.

For example, instead of writing,

    I think that our plans are always at the mercy of events outside our control.
Write this instead,
    Our plans are always at the mercy of events outside our control. To demonstrate the dramatic difference, here are some famous quotations followed by versions that include personal qualifiers:

    Famous Quotes Same Quotes Diluted by Personal Qualifiers
    Experience is the name we give to our mistakes. I feel that experience is the name we give to our mistakes.
    Imagination is more important than knowledge. In my opinion, imagination is more important than knowledge.
    Every truly new idea looks crazy at first. I believe that every truly new idea looks crazy at first.
    There is more to life than simply increasing its speed. I sincerely think that there is more to life than simply increasing its speed.
    The journey is the reward. It seems to me, from my point of view, that the journey is the reward.

    See? Omit the humble personal qualifiers and write with confidence; your words will be much more convincing.

    This rule is an extension of our general principle to avoid personal words—I, I'd, I'll, I'm, I've, me, mine, myself—as much as possible in your SAT essay.

    Note: It is unlikely but still possible that your SAT topic will specifically require you to write about a personal experience. Even in this instance, however, you should focus on the other persons involved in the anecdote and put yourself in the background.

    While we're on the topic of phrases to avoid, another common weakness is attempting to make assertions sound more convincing by including any of the following adverbs for emphasis: a lot, definitely, especially, extremely, greatly, terribly, really, very. These adverbs are rarely necessary, and using them too often is a hallmark of unsophisticated writing. One or two of these adverbs in your essay is okay, but avoid using more than two.

    As an exercise, experiment with adding any of these adverbs to the famous quotes above, or indeed any famous quote, and you'll see how these adverbs sap the vigor of writing. Or take a sample of your school writing: if you're using more than one of these adverbs every page, find ways to reduce your dependence on them.

    Take a Break Before Moving On
    We've already covered most of what you need to know to ace the SAT essay. It's probably a good idea to take some time off maybe switch to one of the math or reading chapters if you're still feeling energized before you move. Spending some time away from the material will give these rules a chance to sink in.

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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.

    If you'd like to buy this book, click here.

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