Many of our students fare poorly on their initial SAT essay, low marks that often hurt their overall writing scores. Usually, these students score poorly on their first SAT essays because they have had no prior spontaneous creative writing experience. Every essay they have been required to write in High School has been pre-assigned, outlined, drafted, re-drafted and edited.
Unlike the typical High School essay assignment, SAT essay topics are never disclosed prior to test day. Because the student is unaware of the essay topic until the exam starts, the student is forced to “think on their feet” and argue a thesis that they may or may not have previously thought about. Students do not have the safety net of grammar or spell check, luxuries that assist them during every take-home paper they write for school. Furthermore, the finished product must be written in their own hand, in pencil and in 25 minutes! A daunting task indeed.
To avoid the potential of “writer’s block” on the SAT, we urge that High School students immediately start practicing and learning creative writing skills. We instruct our students to buy a composition notebook to use as an informal journal. We also urge our students to recognize the time of day which they feel they are the most creative. At such time, they are required to write down their thoughts and observations using vivid and descriptive language. No specific topics are mandated, but yesterday’s severe weather would have provided an excellent opportunity for students looking to hone their creative writing techniques.
Journal entries must be completed everyday until they become habit. After a month or so, we review the entries and make our suggestions. Usually, we suggest ways for the student to achieve a balance of descriptiveness and brevity. We encourage our writers to mix up their sentence structure, decrease the wordiness of their entries, avoid the passive voice, and vary their descriptive language. Most importantly, we also teach our students to avoid writing like a child! When a student writes in “baby” language, we work with the student on rewrites to achieve a more adult voice in their pieces.
Bottom line- put the pencil to the page every day, let the ideas and observations flow, and a writer will eventually be born.