Making the SAT Essay Easy

Writing an SAT essay at 9am on a Saturday in only twenty-five minutes can seem like a pretty daunting task. Which is why you shouldn’t wait until 9am on a Saturday to start preparing your SAT essay!

Obviously, you won’t know the topic of the essay before the test, so you can’t prepare an essay ahead of time and then regurgitate it onto the blank pages the proctor gives you. But you will know that the topic is going to be very general—essay topics on the SAT always are. They will generally involve big abstract ideas such as courage, fear, happiness, progress, technological change, etc. The other thing you will know is that the SAT essay is evidence-based—meaning you need to use specific examples (from history, current events, literature, your studies, your own personal experience, etc.) to support your argument. This is where the advance work comes in: if you prepare a stable of examples—important people, significant literary figures, meaningful personal experiences—ahead of time, you won’t have to waste five or ten valuable minutes of the essay scrambling to think up examples. At Revolution Prep, we call this the Rule of Abraham Lincoln: Lincoln relates to many of the abstract concepts that SAT essay topics tend to revolve around (e.g., courage, progress, leadership), so you’d be able to use him as support for arguments on many SAT essay topics.

But, of course, if you don’t know much about Abraham Lincoln, you can certainly fill your mental stable with other major figures—Franklin Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Hester Prynne, Romeo or Juliet, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, etc. The goal is just to pick people you know something about and feel you can write about intelligently. Then, if you put together a diverse array of seven to ten examples—a couple figures from history, a literary character or two, perhaps a scientist, a personal experience—you’ll have your bases covered.

How exactly do you “prepare” an example, then? Make sure you know the essential “bullet point” facts about the example: what person X is famous for, what (s)he accomplished, what obstacles (s)he faced.

Here’s an example of the bullet points for Abraham Lincoln:

  • as president, he took the country to Civil War in order to preserve the Union
  • he wanted to abolish slavery, so he issued the Emancipation Proclamation (1863)
  • he had the courage to stand up for his convictions, which eventually got him assassinated by those who disagreed with his policies

Once you know these key facts, you can plug Lincoln into an essay and discuss these facts in a way that relates to the essay topic. And as you keep writing practice essays, see if you can reuse the same examples each time, shaping them toward each particular topic. That way, you’ll be able to write about your examples comfortably and efficiently when the real SAT hits.

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