Conquering the SAT Essay in under 25 Minutes

Of course, 25 minutes to write a full-length essay that is also meant to be descriptive, detailed, and persuasive seems a little too much like a Herculean task. They must be joking! They can’t possibly be serious about only giving us 25 minutes to write an essay for the SAT. They must really mean that we are meant to take the 25 minutes to think about an essay plan! I remember the first time I attempted the essay section, it took me the full 25 minutes to write 2 short paragraphs. Nearly every student I’ve met has felt frustration at the short time limit in the SAT writing section. However, there is hope and, similar to every other part of the SAT, the SAT essay can also be conquered with a few easy strategies.


[Continue reading to find out how you can conquer the SAT essay in under 25 minutes…]

1. Understand the question well

This seems relatively simple, but it is perhaps the most important thing in the SAT essay section. Because of the time limit, College Board is not likely to set a complicated question. Instead, they are likely to set a question that is in the form of simple yes-no questions. This doesn’t mean that the essay can’t be well-written just because it’s not complex – even more so, the fluency and strength of your writing can shine through because of the simple topics. Ask yourself what exactly your stance on the issue is (yes/no), and then ask yourself why you support that stance. Remember that you should take a stand on the issue and should not sit on the fence. To get a good idea of what kind of essays you are expected to write, you should definitely check out the scored sample essays on the College Board website.

2. Prepare, prepare, prepare

Preparation is key to doing well in the SAT, and the SAT essay section is no different as well. Pick out examples that you can use to support your stance in the essay – of course you won’t know what question will be given during the exam, but there are some examples that might apply across various topics or values. Imagine George Washington – he is an example of a man who was a brave leader that also possessed a keen mind. You could use the example of George Washington to talk about bravery or heroic war leaders who fought patriotically for their country.

3. Don’t have second thoughts

You might be in the midst of writing your third paragraph and then have a mini panic that your first two paragraphs weren’t that good and want to go back to re-write them. Don’t do this (unless you had completely misunderstood the question)! Having second thoughts slows down your writing as well as breaks off your train of thought. You need not write a perfect essay to do well on the SAT – remember that your essay will just be one of the millions of essays that College Board essay graders will grade.

4. Practice under time pressure

As we talked about in the beginning, one of the scariest parts of the SAT is how short the time limit is. The best way to overcome this is to continuously practice under 25 minutes. You will find yourself learning how to write faster as well as plan more effectively. Instead of writing full sentences out during your planning, you might start writing short phrases and key words you want to use.

Importantly, you might also want to develop a few ‘good’ sentences to use for the introduction and conclusion. As many essay prompts are very similar in terms of yes/no questions, your essay introductions and conclusions are likely to be similar in structure. These sentences would form your template and allow you to be comfortable with a good introduction and conclusion.

Additional Reading:

Check out my other posts on the SAT Essay:

About the author: Shimin Ooi is a senior in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs department. She has a strong interest in economic and health policy and has recently returned from a semester of study at Hertford College, Oxford. In high school, her extensive research on standardized tests helped her achieve a near perfect SAT score and perfect scores on each of her SAT Subject tests. Through these blog posts, she hopes to help others achieve test-taking success as well!

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