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Writing for AP Courses

Writing for the SAT
SAT Writing Brainstorming Activity
Vocabulary in an SAT Essay
Known Vocabulary
Tips for Acing theSAT Writing Section
SAT Writing Resources

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Writing for the SAT

Writing an essay for the SAT is about preparation prior to the test and the endurance to produce a quality essay in twenty-five minutes.  This is not an easy task.  And most educators will admit to a certain level of discomfort in having to complete such a task.
How does a student prepare for a timed essay on a topic that is assigned to him/her on the day of testing?
Simply, students should take inventory of what they know and their interests so that they enter the test site with a tool-kit of topics that they can address.

Students should research the following topics so that they enter the test site prepared:

  • Famous, Infamous, or Influential Person
  • Historical Event
  • Literary Novel
  • Classic/Literary/Historical Documentary/Film
  • Pop Culture History
  • Personal Achievement
  • Controversial Issue

Each student should fill in one large index card with information related to the above topics.  Although the cards can’t be used during the test—the process of researching and organizing the material on the cards will help students form an inventory of topics that will help them answer any number of questions. 
Visit this website to read a comprehensive list of SAT essay topics.

Scoring Guide

SAT Writing Brainstorming Activity

Using note cards helps students prepare information that covers a series of topics, but there are also recurring themes that appear in the SAT essay prompts.  For instance, decision-making and freedom of speech are themes that seem to appear in a variety of questions.  In order to help you be more prepared for the essay section of the SAT, we are going to brainstorm some vocabulary and writing examples that you will be able to use in your essay responses.  If you look at your “Tips for Acing the Writing Section of the SAT” handout, you’ll notice two key suggestions:

  1. Be prepared with topics and examples prior to taking the essay test
  2. Use five elevated vocabulary words

The following brainstorming activity is designed to help you tackle those two suggestions. 


This section is designed to help with your examples.  Typically, the essay prompt has to do with human behavior, experience, or values.  It does not require any prior knowledge in any particular subject area.  There is usually a quote or stimulus, followed by a question.  In order to get you thinking about several different examples, four themes have been chosen that are likely to show up on the SAT writing section.  For each theme, please choose a personal example (something that has happened to you or a current event), an historical example (something that has happened in the past), and a literary example (something that has happened in a written work you have read).

Theme 1 index card Theme 2 index card
Theme 3 index card Theme 4 index card
Vocabulary in an SAT Essay

After you have chosen examples for your response, choose five vocabulary words for each example so that you can “spice up” your writing.  Choose words that naturally go with the examples you have written. For example, if you are going to discuss Rosa Parks in one of your examples, you may want to use any of the following words:  intolerance, discrimination, or boycott. Think of the examples that you brainstormed above. Are there five vocabulary words that you could use to increase your vocabulary level? 

1. __________________: 

Definition:  ________________________________________________________________________

2. __________________: 

Definition:  _______________________________________________________________________   

3 . __________________: 

Definition:  _______________________________________________________________________

4. __________________: 

Definition:  _______________________________________________________________________

5. __________________: 

Definition:  ______________________________________________________________________

Known Vocabulary

One simple technique for increasing the level of your vocabulary is to use "known" words to "spice up" your vocabulary level.

For instance, think of words that could be used in place of the common "low level" phrases/words.

1. This book took place in

  • What could you say in place of the above phrase?
  • Use the word, Setting.

2. He came from a poor family and worked hard to earn respect.

  • What word could you use in place of the word, poor?
  • Use the word poverty.

3. The good guy in the movie...

  • What term could you use in place of, good guy?
  • Use protagonist.

Top 100 SAT Words

Tips for Acing the Writing Section of the SAT
  • Become familiar with the rubric for the writing section of the SAT.
  • Be prepared with examples that you can use prior to taking the essay portion of the test.
  • Include TWO examples in the essay.  Write your first example on page one and your second example on page two.  Develop both examples FULLY.
  • Use five elevated vocabulary words.  (Be sure to use them correctly.)
  • Remember to organize your essay.  This essay lend itself well to a four-paragraph essay.
  • Paragraph one should include your thesis
  • Paragraph two should have your first example
  • Paragraph three should have a transition and your second example Paragraph 4 should include your conclusion
  • Write two full pages – your introduction and paragraph one on page one, paragraph two and your conclusion on page two
  • Remember to answer the question, instead of just responding to the stimulus. 
  • Remember the qualities of a good persuasive essay:  Good reasoning, solid support, an interesting and consistent point of view, logical organization, and effective use of language
  • Use the following pacing guide:
  • Three minutes for pre-writing (70% of the highest scoring writers pre-write)
  • Two minutes for writing an introduction/thesis
  • 18 minutes for writing the body (two example paragraphs)
  • Two minutes for the conclusion

Extra Tips for Advanced Writers (that’s you!)

    • Write like a reader – think about the person who will be scoring your essay
    • Use natural language – avoid language that you wouldn’t ordinarily use
    • Use strong verbs – try to minimize the use of the word “be”
    • Write with personality and intelligence
    • Use personal and concrete nouns – Instead of “my opinion is…” write “many people agree that…”
    • Minimize jargon and slang
    • Eliminate wordiness
    • Don’t state the obvious
    • Eliminate clichés
    • Vary your sentence structure and length
    • Neatly cross out sentences that you want to eliminate
    • Explain yourself.  If you think your paragraph is too short, add the word “because” and keep going!
SAT Resources

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