### How to deal with patterns on the SAT

 broccoli fractal (source)
Pattern questions on the SAT aren't super common, but they tend to give people all sorts of difficulty when they do appear. Let's take one apart.

1. A farmer is planting a row of plants. He first plants 2 broccoli plants, then 3 cabbage plants, then 1 apple tree, then 2 orange trees, then 1 dill weed plant. He repeats this pattern over and over again until he's filled up all the land on his (very unorthodox) farm. What kind of plant is the 782nd one he plants?

(A) cabbage
(B) apple
(C) broccoli
(D) dill weed
(E) orange
Obviously I'm taking some liberties with the writing style of the test makers, but take away the goofiness and this question could totally appear on your SAT. How do you solve it?

Start by writing a few iterations of the pattern on top of each other:

B, B, C, C, C, A, O, O, M,
B, B, C, C, C, A, O, O, M,
B, B, C, C, C, A, O, O, M, ...

### #20 is the LEAST Important Question on the Test: An Economic Argument.

I'm getting a bit tired of all the focus on #20, which is usually the hardest math question on the test. I guess I'm a bit complicit in all the hype, since I like to illustrate techniques on here using difficult problems, but that's only because I like to show how powerful those techniques can be. Seriously, let's be very clear about this: #20 is the LEAST important question on the test. You shouldn't be worrying about it at all unless you're getting 780's or higher every time.  Here's an argument based on a simple economic principle.

If you've taken or are taking an economics course, you're surely familiar with the concept of opportunity cost. Put succinctly, opportunity cost is the cost of a certain decision in terms of the best available alternative. For example, if you choose to go to the movies (which costs you $10), but if there weren't any good movies you you would have spent those two hours babysitting for$15/hour, then your opportunity cost for going to the movies is what you paid plus what you COULD HAVE made instead (\$40). That's an expensive movie, right?

Of course, opportunity cost is really just a way to codify the thought processes we have about the decisions we make: "if I didn't do thing 1, I could have done thing 2 instead; the benefits of doing thing 1 are valuable enough to me that I will forgo the benefits of doing thing 2." With that in mind, let's look at some facts about the SAT math section:

Facts:
• Every multiple choice question is worth the same: +1 raw score point for a correct answer, -1/4 raw score point for an incorrect answer, +0 for a blank.
• Although they're worth the same, questions vary greatly in difficulty.
• You have a limited amount of time to complete a section.
• In math sections, questions proceed in an order (roughly) from easiest to hardest*.

### The Average Table

 source
The SAT loves to ask a particular kind of question about averages that can pretty confusing without a nice, easy way to organize your information. Enter The Average Table. KNEEL WHEN IT ENTERS THE ROOM, KNAVE! Seriously, this thing kicks ass.

To build it, just remember what you have known for a long time about averages: how to calculate them. If I gave you a set of 5 test scores and asked you to average them, what would you do? You'd add them up, and then divide the total by 5. That's because...

$\tiny&space;\inline&space;\dpi{300}&space;\fn_cm&space;Average\:&space;of\:&space;Values&space;=&space;\frac{Sum\:&space;of\:&space;Values}{Number\:&space;of\:&space;Values}$

That's just how averages work. But what if we multiplied both sides of that equation by [Number of Values]?

$\tiny&space;\inline&space;\dpi{300}&space;\fn_cm&space;[Number\:&space;of\:&space;Values]\times&space;[Average\:&space;of\:&space;Values]&space;=&space;[Sum\:&space;of\:&space;Values]$

You can use this to set up a very handy little table, which will help you solve even the hairiest looking average questions. I'm going to use colors to help you see how! SHIT yeah.

Let's illustrate with a problem that looks like it sucks:

1. A delivery truck is loaded with seven packages weighing an average of 30 pounds. At his first stop, the delivery man drops off three packages weighing a total of 60 pounds. He also picks up one package weighing 15 pounds. He makes one more stop to deliver two more packages, which weigh 42 and 48 pounds. What is the average weight, in pounds, of the packages that remain on the truck?

(A) 15
(B) 17
(C) 19
(D) 25
(E) 30

Answer and colorful explanation after the jump...

### Lines are easy, bro.

Let's talk a bit about lines. Like everything else on the SAT, questions about lines will require some very basic knowledge of a few math rules, but you don't need to know everything you ever learned about Cartesian coordinate planes. It's important to be able to differentiate what's important from what's not.

We'll get into mathy math in a minute, but first take a moment to try to remember the first time a math teacher introduced the concept of slope to you. You'll often need math, but I encourage you to think about whether a line question can be solved simply by counting over and up from point to point using "rise over run" before you get too involved in equations. You might save yourself a lot of time and aggravation that way.

##### Keep it simple if you can.
1. Line j has a slope of ⅓ and passes through the point (1, 1). Which of the following points is NOT on line j?

(A) (-5, -1)
(B) (-2, 0)
(C) (0, -3)
(D) (4, 2)
(E) (7, 3)

### Is the SAT graded on a curve?

Holy mackerel are people misinformed about the SAT. And boy howdy do they like to disseminate their misinformation as though it's gospel truth. I've heard some really dumb things coming even from people who should know much better, like high school college counselors/guidance counselors. In fairness, mastering the SAT (not just the test itself, but the system in which it resides) is a complex and ever-evolving task. Then again, The College Board's own website is a veritable wealth of information, so if it's your job to know this stuff and you don't know it, you really don't have a good excuse. The bottom line, though, is that I'd just like to hear more stories of a guidance counselor telling a student: "You know, I'm not sure. Let me check and I'll get back to you," instead of sputtering half- and untruths from a position of authority. I'm getting off-track. All of this is to introduce what will probably be a recurring feature on this site: dumb (but persistent) rumors about the SAT. Oh, here go Hell come.

When I hear people say this it drives me crazy: "Take the January test, because fewer other kids take it so the curve isn't so bad." Let me say this without equivocation: the SAT is not curved in the classic sense, and it doesn't matter when you take it.

### Some interactive SAT vocabulary tools

Let's just say, for argument's sake, that you found this post because your penurious ass is Googling for ways to learn SAT vocabulary without spending any money. Today is your lucky day, though, friend-o. Although the multitudinous search results for things like "SAT vocab words" can be daunting to say the least, and a lot of what you'll find is total dreck, there is some good, free stuff out there for those willing to sift through the morass.

I've been checking out some interactive online vocab tools for the past few days. Here are some resources I might come back to myself.
• Word lists for your calculator. "Yo dawg I heard you like the SAT so I put some words on your calculator so you can think about the SAT while you're thinking about the SAT." Seriously though, different people learn vocabulary in different ways, so a prudent instructor should be willing to try some unconventional approaches if a student isn't responding well to the standard flash card approach. Maybe...put the words on a calculator instead?
• Visual Thesaurus. This list features "the 100 most common" SAT words, but clicking around inside the actual "visual thesaurus" will introduce you to tons more. Look for a word with a lot of branches coming off it as a starting point, and explore. I started at "benevolent" and just kept on going until my trial ran out. Not sure I'd pay for this, but it's fun to poke around.
• Vocab Concentration. A little hokey, perhaps. This site also has word searches, matching games, and flash cards for what it claims are "the 100 most common" SAT words. Is it the same list as the Visual Thesaurus folks? I don't know, I didn't check.

### What you need to know about circle questions.

Circles can be difficult to deal with, especially if you're approaching them from a very mathy perspective. Approach them from the perspective of someone who grasps that the SAT is not a math test, and you're going to have a much easier time.

Here's what you DON'T need on the SAT:
• Polar coordinates
• Cartesian circle equations (like [x - h]2 + [y - k]2 = r2)
• Any other kind of circle equations
• Trigonometry
Get those things right out of your head. They'll only overcomplicate things for you, obfuscating the solution.

On the SAT, you only need to know a few things about circles. Let's start with what they tell you in the beginning of every section:
• The area of a circle can be calculated using A = Ï€r2.
• For circumference, use C = 2Ï€r (or C = Ï€d, as some prefer--potayto/potahto).
• The number of degrees of arc in a circle is 360.
Here's what they don't tell you:

### Think you know parabolas? Try this question.

1. The parabola in the figure above has its minimum at
x = 2. Which of the following could be an x-intercept of the parabola?

(A) 2.5
(B) 3
(C) 3.5
(D) 4
(E) 4.5

Answer and explanation after the jump...

### Paragraph Improvement Strategies

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The Paragraph Improvement section accounts for only 6 questions per test, so mastering it shouldn't be your first priority, but it should be an eventual priority. You’re going to see a lot of the same grammatical themes we’ve already discussed in Error ID and Sentence Improvement popping up again here. In fact, if you’ve got all those things down pat, there’s really not much more to think about here, excepting one very important thing.

## Context.

In the Paragraph Improvement section, you’re dealing with paragraphs. Duh, right? But it’s important to remember that in a paragraph, every sentence should flow logically from the one before it and into the one after it. And every new paragraph should flow nicely from the one before it and into the one after it as well. Paragraphs should be neatly organized around a main idea. When a question begins by saying “In context,” this is what it’s talking about. You’re being asked to make the paragraph and the sentences therein flow nicely together, on top of all the grammar fixing you’ll be doing. Don’t sweat this too much, it’s easier than it sounds. Here are some common types of questions.
1. Which sentence should be removed? The one that has the least to do with the paragraph it’s in. If a sentence caused you to pause and make sure you read it right because it seems to have come from left field, that’s the one you want to get rid of.
2. Which sentence is best to come at the end? Two common correct answers here...both supported heavily by context. You’re looking either to summarize the author’s argument (but don’t fall for overfacile choices that say things like “To sum up..." those are there to trick you), or you’re looking to neatly wrap up the second paragraph.
3. What should be done to this sentence? Usually, they’ll present you with a sentence here that’s grammatically incorrect due to one of the rules we’ve already discussed (commonly a run-on, but not always). Fix it just like you would a Sentence Improvement question, but pay attention to the sentences before and after to make sure you’re not creating awkwardness elsewhere.
4. Miscellaneous Main Idea questions. These come in all shapes and sizes (sometimes they’ll come right out and ask you what the main idea is; sometimes they’ll ask you to pick a good title for the passage), but the song remains the same: pick the choice that best encapsulates the main idea of the passage.

### SAT Math Truism: You'll increase your score more by getting fewer easy ones wrong than you will by getting more hard ones right

Imagine you're given the task of picking as many apples from a particular apple tree as possible, in a short amount of time. You know that none of the apples on the tree are any more or less delicious than any of the others, but of course the higher up they are, the harder they are to get.

Are you going to climb right to the top to get the most difficult apples first? Not if you want to get the most total apples. I guess if it's important to you to brag to your friends that you got the highest apple, you might do that. But if that's what you want to brag about to your friends, maybe it's time to look at your life, and look at your choices.

In the SAT math section, the questions go roughly in order from easiest to hardest, but each question is worth the exact same amount of points. There's no bonus for getting the hardest ones right. So if you're skipping questions early to get to questions late, or if you're rushing through the easy ones to get to the hard ones at the end, you're doing it wrong. You're spending precious time on questions that are very difficult without having given enough thought to questions that are much easier. If you prioritized your time differently, you'd probably see a higher score.

### Sentence Improvement Strategies

All the rules from Error ID still apply, but when you’re doing a Sentence Improvement question, you have to think about the following as well.

## Run-On Sentences.

Since the only thing you need to know about Run-On Sentences on the SAT is that you can’t tie two independent clauses (translation: an independent clause could stand alone as a sentence) together with only a comma, you might sometimes see these called “comma splices.” There are basically 3 ways to fix them:
• Conjunctions. And, but, or, nor, yet, so, for. NOT therefore, however, or because.
• Bad: I went to the beach yesterday, Peter came with me.
• Fixed: I went to the beach yesterday, and Peter came with me.
• Semicolon. Unlike a comma, a semicolon requires an independent clause on both sides to be grammatically correct.
• Bad: I went to the beach yesterday, the water was freezing.
• Fixed: I went to the beach yesterday; the water was freezing.
• Make a clause dependent. If neither of these are an option, you might just have to change the wording of whatever part of the sentence is underlined in order to fix a run-on.
• Bad: I went to the beach yesterday, a lifeguard punched a shark in the nose!
• Fixed: At the beach yesterday, a lifeguard punched a shark in the nose!

## Dangling Modifiers.

A modifier begins a sentence by describing the subject without naming it, and ends with a comma. It will often (but not always) contain an “-ed” or “-ing” word. Basically, if the thing being described in the modifier doesn’t follow directly after the comma, the modifier is left “dangling,” and that’s grammatically unsound. You have to fix it. Some examples:

• Bad: Because he had bet on the race, the horse disappointed Mr. Johnson a great deal.
• Fixed: Because he had bet on the race, Mr. Johnson was greatly disappointed in the horse’s performance.
• Bad: Excited for the concert, the auditorium shook with the noise from the crowd.
• Fixed: Excited for the concert, the crowd made so much noise that the auditorium shook.
• Bad: Fleeing the zombies, a safe-looking building appeared to the survivors.
• Fixed: Fleeing the zombies, the survivors spotted a safe-looking building in the distance.

## Concise Expression.

80% of the time, the correct answer in the Sentence Improvement section is either the shortest answer, or the second shortest. Longer answers can be wrong for any number of reasons, from improper use of the passive voice to redundant word choice, but the point is that if there’s nothing grammatically wrong with the shortest answer, it’s probably the right one. If you’re really stumped, then, it’s not a bad idea to Backsolve a Sentence Improvement question: start with the shortest choice, and move to the next shortest if that one doesn’t look good.

## Oh, and One More Thing...

The word “being” is wrong something like 98% of the time. Again, it’s wrong for a number of different reasons (sometimes it’s a bad conjugation, sometimes it’s creating passive voice), but for whatever reason, I’ve only ever seen it in a correct choice like...once. When you see it, it’s almost definitely wrong. If you pick it, you're cruisin' for a bruisin'. Don't believe me? I'm not alone in saying so.

##### Think you've got this?
Try a full section 10 drill! Give yourself 10 minutes, and see if you can nail all 14 questions.

### The Importance of Vocabulary

 source
When it comes to the reading comprehension section, there are very few quick fixes. The one exception -- if you consider learning words a "quick fix" like I do -- is a quick vocabulary augmentation. Start looking up every single word you come across that you don't know. Do so assiduously, with sedulous care. Become a Predator of words. Wear a mask, if you have to. Your friends will dig it. Seriously.

I've made special links all over this blog to help you get started (hover over red words for definitions), but to see results, you're going to have to devote yourself to the cause.

### Have a go at this hard area question.

1. In the figure above, AB is the diameter of the circle, and AC = BC. What is the area of the shaded region?

(A) 4Ï€ - 2
(B) 2Ï€ - 1
(C) Ï€
(D) Ï€ - 1
(E) Ï€ - 2

Answer and explanation after the jump...

### Can you solve this tough math question?

1. For real numbers a, b, and c, ab = 1.5, bc = 6, and ac = 25. So abc =

(A) 9
(B) 12
(C) 15
(D) 100
(E) 225

Answer and explanation below the fold...

### "When should I guess on the SAT?"

In short: almost always.

(Note: This is generalized advice; if it doesn't sit well with you, read this.)

I've encountered a lot of misinformation about the SAT in my travels, but the single subject that generates the most confusion and rampant speculation is The Guessing Rule.  So here it is, as plainly as I can put it: If you have read a question and thought about it for more than 5 seconds, you should not leave it blank.

Here's how it breaks down:
Every incorrect answer in a multiple choice section* costs you 1/4 of a raw score point. Every correct answer, of course, gives you a whole raw score point. A blank has no positive or negative effect on your score. Fractional points are rounded to the nearest whole number when scores are compiled.

Imagine two ne'er-do-wells, Johnny and Morrissey, are taking a much shorter test with the same scoring scheme. Johnny doesn't give a damn about the test, and guesses C for every question without even looking at it.  Morrissey cares even less than Johnny, and just leaves the whole thing blank, opting instead to stare out the window dolefully.

### Try this hard function/exponent question.

1. For all positive integers p and q, let the function pq be defined as pq = 2p-q. If g♮12 = g, then g =

(A) 2
(B) 4
(C) 8
(D) 16
(E) 76

### "How much should my score go up?"

While it'd be nice if you could expect to go up exactly 2400-p points (where = your starting score), it's a good idea to have more tempered expectations as you begin your SAT prep journey. What follow are some generalizations based on my experience. Your mileage may vary.
• Improvement is relative. If a course or tutor claims an overall average improvement ("our students improve 200 points on average"), keep in mind that figure doesn't take into account the starting scores of the students. It's a lot easier to bring a 1500 to a 1700 than it is to bring a 1700 to a 1900. It's even harder, of course, to bring a 2100 to a 2300. A 200 point improvement is a great goal if you're starting around 1700. It might be less realistic (though not impossible) if you're starting at 2000.
• Improvement takes time. I like about 2 months of regular prep before the exam, but I've worked with lots of kids whose improvements have taken longer. If you start your prep 3 weeks before your test, you'll probably be disappointed in your improvement.

### Six questions to ask a potential SAT tutor

If you've decided to go the private tutoring route, you need to do your due diligence in selecting a tutor that's right for you, lest you waste precious blood and treasure on someone who's the wrong fit, or someone who's just a plain old charlatan. SAT tutoring is big business, and lots of people who aren't exactly experts will be all too happy to take your money if you'll give it to them.

I trust that you know to ask the basic questions: the ones about availability, cost, frequency and length of sessions, etc. Here are, in no particular order, six less obvious questions you should ask a potential tutor before you sign on the proverbial dotted line.
1. How many other clients do you have? A student-tutor relationship is very personal when done right, and if you're going to pay this fellow the exorbitant fees he's commanding, you want to know he's going to be available when you need him, and that you'll have his full attention when you're with him. If he's got fifteen other clients, he might be willing to take another one on, but you might want to consider looking elsewhere.
2. What is your approach? There are countless philosophies about and approaches to preparing for the SAT, and you want to make sure that a potential tutor is a good match for you in that respect. Some tutors, for example, believe that the best way to improve a math score is to practice algebra incessantly; they take a strict, math-only approach. Others (like me) believe that you already have a math teacher every day in school and that you should approach the SAT a little differently. Different strokes for different folks, as they say. Make sure you and your tutor see eye-to-eye on this.
3. When is the last time you took the SAT, and how did you score? There's no law against an adult signing up for and taking the SAT, and a good tutor should have done so at least once after high school. You'd be surprised how many people think their experience teaching other things qualifies them to teach the SAT. This test is a different animal, and if you're going to pay someone a lot of money to tutor you one-on-one, you want to be sure that person knows how to tame it. You're looking for 2400s here, if you're going to pay top dollar.
4. Do you have your own materials? Some tutors write their own materials, and some simply tell you to buy a book and go through it with you. I, personally, write my own materials (many of which you'll find on these pages) and supplement them with practice tests from the Official SAT Study Guide. If your tutor is just going to go through a book with you without adding much of her own insight, she might not be worth the money you're paying her.
5. How will you personalize your program for me? Every student is different, and a good tutor will adjust his techniques to fit your strengths and weaknesses. This could mean bringing practice problems to your session that he's specifically picked out because of your performance on the last test you took, for example.  If he's going to give you the same cookie-cutter treatment he gives everyone else, you might want to look for someone who won't.
6. Can you supply me with references? Any tutor worth her fees will be able to back up her large price tag with a list of previous clients who were so happy with her that they've agreed to be contacted once in a while by a potential new client. Of course, this one is less important if you were referred to her directly by a friend, which might obviate the need for additional references.

### Error Identification strategies

You should be mechanical in checking every Error ID question for the following.

## Verbs.

Start here.  If there is a verb underlined in the sentence, you need to check:
1. Subject/Verb Agreement.  The SAT’s favorite ways to trick you include:
1. Prepositional phrases (The display case of trophies at the top of the stairs in my father’s house is very old.)
2. Appositives (The display case, an enclosure of glass and wood in which my father showcases his many awards, is very old.)
3. Subject after verb (Hidden in the back of the display case are my father’s high school report cards.)
4. Compound subjects (A baseball, a bat, and a catcher’s glove were found in the player’s closet.)
2. Verb Tense.  Often multiple tenses are appropriate for a particular sentence, and even though you might be able to imagine a different tense, the one that’s used is not wrong. Make sure, however, that the SAT isn’t using the present tense to discuss an event that very clearly happened in the past (i.e. a scientific discovery made in 1880). Also, make sure the tense plays nicely with the other, non-underlined verbs in the sentence.

## Pronouns.

If the verbs are ok, you need to check all underlined pronouns.
1. Pronoun/Antecedent Agreement.  Common tricks:
1. The use of “their” when the antecedent is singular (Every coach wants their his or her team to win.)
2. The use of non-personal pronouns for people (The book was about the lives of three teenagers, all of which whom grew up in New Orleans.)

## Parallelism.

There are two very commonly tested parallelism rules, and then some miscellaneous things that you might see once in a while.
1. Lists.  If a sentence is listing two or more things, make sure every element in the list is parallel in every way.
1. Verb conjugations (There are two ways Rick knows to kill zombies: to shoot them in the head or setting to set them on fire.)
2. Mixing nouns and verbs (My favorite things are pizza, dogs, and going hiking hikes.
3. Preposition use (A good vocabulary will take you far in your career, your education, and in your personal life.)
2. Comparisons.  Only like things can be compared to each other. For more info on this, see this post.
1. Possession (Even though he is only a shoe salesman, Justin’s income is higher than his boss that of his boss because he’s also an underground street fighter on the weekends.)
3. Miscellaneous.  Here are some other things you might see.
1. One vs. You (Before you go skydiving, one you should do thorough equipment inspections.)
2. Neither/nor (I enjoy neither hiking nor biking.)
3. Either/or (I’d be happy with either mini-golf or bowling)
4. Not only/but also (My boss was happy that not only did I increase sales in my district, but I also kept my company car spic and span.)

### Try this hard question.

1, 7, 49, 343, …
1. Each term in the sequence above after the first one is determined by multiplying the previous term by 7. What will be the units (ones) digit of the 96th term?

(A) 9
(B) 7
(C) 5
(D) 3
(E) 1

### On "Math"

 image source
I spend most of my SAT-related energy thinking about the math section. It's the section about which I've had the most arguments with people in my line of work and far outside of it. Emotions tend to run high on both sides, which I understand completely because my own philosophy on the section has changed so much since I was in high school.

I was a math guy in high school. I looked forward to math class every day. I loved the satisfaction I got from constructing an elegant geometrical proof; I thrived on the sturdy reliability of algebra. I won awards for the best math GPA. I couldn't wait to get to college and take harder, more complex courses in advanced mathematics.

But of course, like everyone, I still got questions wrong sometimes. I'd subtract incorrectly, or forget to distribute a negative sign, and feel my stomach sink when my teacher handed me back a 95% when I'd been sure a 100% was coming.

Despite mountains of evidence indicating that I was fallible and likely to make a few mistakes under pressure, I brute-forced the math section on the SAT because I knew no other way. It's been too long for me to remember any of the questions and I'm fairly sure I never knew which ones I got wrong, but I do remember that I was devastated when my scores came back that I had only scored a 730 in math. I had done better than that in reading! FFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUU

### Thoughts on the Blue Book (The Official SAT Study Guide)

I recommend anyone who's planning to prepare for the SAT purchase The Official SAT Study Guide (you'll see me refer to it a lot on this site simply as the Blue Book), but that doesn't mean I think it's the world's greatest prep book. In fact, I find the whole first half of it to be pretty weak.

It makes sense that it would be, if you think about it. The College Board wants to sell books, but at the same time prop up their test as the go-to exam for college admissions. They can't very well sell you a book that's going to reveal every strategy necessary to ace the test, they'd be putting themselves out of business. So they sell you a book full of very good practice tests, and very mediocre strategies.

They know that the back cover of their book (you'll see it when you buy it - it insists that there are no tricks to help you get a better score) is baloney. They know that the first half of the book isn't that helpful. But they need to prop up the myth that their exam is a pure measure of your academic prowess. They can't very well admit that it's susceptible to test-specific strategies and tricks, and that kids who prep with someone who knows them have a huge advantage!

So buy the book, and do ALL the tests. They're written by the same people who write the SAT, and in fact the first three tests in the 2nd edition were real SATs (they're the October 2006, January 2007, and May 2007 (Saturday version) tests, respectively). But don't take the back cover, or the first half of the book, too seriously.

### Some more notes about the essay

• You’ve got a lot of latitude in selecting your examples, but you should try to use at least one (ideally two) example that will impress your reader. That means Literature (with a capital ‘L’ like a book you read in school and can discuss in depth), a historical event or figure, or a personal event that will resonate with an ADULT reader.
• It’s a good idea, while we’re thinking about examples, to have a few on reserve at all times. In fact, take a minute right now and jot some down that you think you can use for a variety of different prompts. Go ahead...I’ll wait.
• Nobody’s fact-checking you.  This means you can make stuff up if you need to.  Please know, however, that although they’re going to try to ignore it, if your falsities are too blatant, you’ll distract your reader and that’s probably not going to help your score.
• You should absolutely take 2-3 minutes before you start writing to outline your essay. EVEN IF you don’t usually do that when you write an assignment for school. Remember that you can’t easily go back to your intro once you’ve started writing paragraph 3 and add a sentence without making a huge mess of your page. Erasing is not going to be pretty, and will add stress to a section that is already stressful and short on time. A little planning in advance goes a really long way.
• The more you write, in general, the better your score. Get into the habit of filling the two pages, if you possibly can.
• Stay away from controversial topics if you can. Remember that you have no idea who your readers are, and although they are instructed to remain neutral to your opinions and grade you on your arguments, you don’t want to push them. Try to avoid:
• Hotly contested social issues:
• Immigration.
• Abortion.
• Gay Marriage.
• Race relations.
• Recent politics
• President Obama
• Bush vs. Gore.
• Watergate.
• Religion
• Seriously, just don’t go there. People get very emotional about religion.
• Grammar (especially the kind of mistakes they test you on in the multiple choice parts of the test) is pretty important here. Don’t write run-ons, and don’t make pronoun agreement mistakes. One little mistake won’t kill you, but if your essay is full of them, it’ll cost you.
• It’s OK to be a little informal here. You can use personal pronouns. In fact, it’s really difficult to write super-impersonally on a lot of the topics you might be assigned, so avoid the temptation to start saying things like “one should always plan ahead,” because once you go that way, you’re going to have to stay parallel and say “one this” and “one that” all over the place. It gets tiring, believe me. Don’t go overboard though...make sure all the words you use are real words. No “gonna” or “shoulda” or “lol.”  “A lot” is two words. Remember that.
• Avoid cliches, and avoid the temptation to try to open your essay with some broad statement about life and the universe. Just answer the question. For example: “In life,” “In this world,” and “As humans,” are all bad ways to start an essay.
• Good vocab is a good idea, but only if you really know how to use it.  Rule of thumb: don’t try a word out for the first time on your essay. Only use words you’ve used in conversation before and feel comfortable with. Trying to get fancy and using a word incorrectly will be deleterious to your score.

### One way to write a good essay

Your essay is technically worth ⅓ of your Writing score, but in practical terms it’s worth less than that. That’s because the technical range of possible scores for your essay is 0-12, but most essays fall within a range of 6-10. So all those points that would come from scores 0-6 are basically free points for you, provided you put in the minimal effort needed to score at least a 6. If you’re able to increase your score from an 8 to a 10, say, that’ll append about 40 extra points on your Writing score, assuming your multiple choice score stays the same*.

It’s important to state, right at the outset, that there’s no one way to write a good essay; there are many paths to a good score. However, I’ve found that the following format produces reliably good results.

##### Sample Essay Skeleton
1. Intro (2-3 sentences)
1. Sentence 1 is your thesis.  Waste no time getting to it!
2. Sentence 2 (if you like) elaborates a bit on your thesis to make it stronger.  If you’re going to argue that hard work is necessary for success, for example, then maybe you make your second sentence something about failure stemming from lack of hard work. That way you’ve approached your argument from two different angles.
2. Example 1 - Your stronger example (7-10 sentences)
1. Sentence 1 is a mini-thesis.  Basically, it introduces your example again and relates it directly to your main thesis.
2. The rest of your sentences are a mix of relevant details (if your example is literature, for example, then you need to mention relevant plot points) and gentle reminders to your reader that these details support your thesis.  See if you can reference your thesis in some way at least twice in this paragraph.  The outline you jot down before you start writing should have at least 3 bullet points for relevant details you want to include about your example.
3. Example 2 - Your weaker example (7-10 sentences)
1. Sentence 1 is, again, a mini-thesis.  This one should, however, also contain some kind of transition.  Example (transition from a literary example to a personal one, on the topic of careful planning for important events): “Like the Joad family in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, I was once forced to leave my home because of a giant, never-ending dust storm, so I know firsthand the value of careful planning.”
2. The rest of this paragraph should again be a combination of relevant details and pointers back to the main thesis.  If this example is a little shorter than the last one, that’s fine, but make sure you still cram in as much specificity as possible.
4. Conclusion (OPTIONAL, but if you decide to do one no more than 1-2 sentences)
1. Don’t introduce any new information here, just wrap your essay up with 1-2 sentences by reminding the reader once more what your thesis is, and that both of your carefully chosen examples are strong support for that thesis.  Example: “Both Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and my family’s experience surviving a zombie apocalypse suggest that it is difficult to overstate the value of preparedness for difficult situations.”