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Demonstrating Mastery of Language

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Demonstrating Mastery of Language

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[edit section] SAT Essay Writing Guide

  1. Your Strategy for Excelling on the Essay
  2. Writing Effective Introduction and Details
  3. Demonstrating Mastery of Language


[edit section] Demonstrating Mastery of Language

The College Board wants to see that you can demonstrate a mastery of the English language. One of the main purposes of the SAT Writing (Essay) assessment is to determine a student's ability to plan, consider, and write out a response in a small amount of time that demonstrates his mastery of language and attention to detail. Therefore, a good essay should not only have a great thesis and introduction but should be supported by many facts.

Here is a general tip/reminder from the last lesson: If you make any kind of statement within your essay, support it with at least one detail. It doesn't matter if the detail is true or not (unless its a stupid and illogical blatantly-false lie), but it does matter if the detail logically supports your argument. Many students fall into the trap of making many claims without supporting them or being specific, as in the following:


  • Incorrect: Increased amounts of consumer spending and materialism lead to more greed and government corruption. Also, materialism can lead to social problems.
  • Correct: When people spend more money and become more materialistic, they tend to become greedier and more selfish. I remember how my aunt went on a shopping spree after she fell into a windfall of money in the form of my grandpa's will. She became angry, violent, and unpleasant. Imagine how people in positions of power take to such increases in spending - they become more powerful and less mindful of their vulnerability, seeking additional wealth and participating in corrupt activities.


Notice how the first paragraph is considerably shorter than the second. You may say: What about terse language? What about being brief? You do want to be brief, but only in the way you use words. It is not good to be brief about the details you include - as you can see, the second paragraph is much more readable than the first. Graders will be more likely to score the second a point or two higher than the first.


Once you have secured a strategy for including many details (and we cannot stress the importance of the inclusion of details enough), you can use figurative language to better convey your knowledge of the English language and mastery of prose.


How can you convey this mastery of language? Below are some easy suggestions that show to the examiner that you know how to write well:


  • Figurative language - Similes, metaphors, hyperbole, and other devices can really add on the points your score. If you are not sure what these are, we suggest you look them up in an English book, but consider the following sentence: "I came home because I was very tired." This sentence is quite tired! Let's add a simile: "I came home, tired as an old winless greyhound dog." Now you have conveyed the same message, but added interesting imagery and a comparison between you and a winless dog. Even further, we can add hyperbole: "I dragged my toes the entire way home, tired as an old winless greyhound dog." Now compare this sentence to the first. It's easy to see which sentence better conveys your message.
  • Complex sentence structure - This is an easy device to implement that will also improve your score. Consider the following simple sentence: "We sent Tyler to his room." Easy enough, right? It consists of a single independent clause. What if we add a dependent clause to the end? "We sent Tyler to his room when he threw a tantrum." Now, more information is conveyed - precisely what the College Board desires that you do. The difference is that the new sentence uses both an independent clause and a dependent clause ("We sent Tyler to his room" / "when he threw a tantrum"), which provides an explanation of the independent clause.
  • Effective Parallel Structure - You should remember parallelism from the ISE/IS lessons, but let's go over implementing it in your writing. Parallel structure, if employed correctly, can make an ordinary point exceedingly powerful. For example, consider the following sentences: "I know many people think the mentally ill are just lazy or can really help themselves, but let me give you a few examples why they are helpless. My grandmother cannot even bathe herself. Also, my best friends mom can't hold a job for more than a few days because she is so mentally ill." This perpetuates an important point but does so in a boring way. Let's add parallelism to the paragraph: "I know many people think the mentally ill are lazy and can really help themselves, but when you have seen my friend's mom struggling to hold a job, when you have seen my grandmother fumbling to bathe herself, when you have seen war-torn veterans lying on the street as drug addicts, then you will understand their suffering."
  • Formal register - This is certainly not a requirement for doing well on the SAT. Many students earn scores of "12" and write in the informal, friendly style that they know best. However, you are probably not an expert in informal writing, and therefore it will be much easier for you to learn how to write in formal prose. Basically, you want to avoid using words such as "I" or "you," and instead use "we" or "one." You will also want to avoid indicating emotion in writing or recalling personal details with an inappropriate lead-in. For example: "When I was young, my dog died and I asked if there was a doggy heaven." This is incorrect register. Equally incorrect, however, is this: "When one is young, one's dog could die and one may wonder if there exists some kind of heaven for dogs." This is what we call "pedantic" - overly academic or formal. You need to strike a happy medium: "Many children experience the death of a pet and wonder if there really is a heaven for dogs."


Of course, these are only a few tips, but they should help you on the SAT Writing: Essay assessment. We want you to show the examiners that you not only can prove a point, but do so with a masterful flow and utilization of English. We wish you the best of luck!


[edit section] SAT Essay Writing Guide

  1. Your Strategy for Excelling on the Essay
  2. Writing Effective Introduction and Details
  3. Demonstrating Mastery of Language

[edit section] See Also

SAT Writing Guide

SAT Wiki

SAT Exam Home

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