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Write the SAT Essay … Whatever the Prompt!

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The fairness of the writing portion of the SAT has been under debate  since its introduction a few years ago, but the prompt for the March 2011 test was brought under particularly scrutiny.

It posed two questions: whether reality TV shows are a redeeming form of entertainment, and whether the shows truly reflect “reality,” even if producers create specific conflicts for participants.

Critics of the prompt said it was unfair to students who didn’t watch reality TV shows because they would be unable to make an informed response. However, the College Board stated that the prompt contained all the necessary information and was general enough for any student to write the SAT essay.

The College Board was right (sorry). Prompts for the SAT essay section are specifically designed so that anyone can write the essay, even if the topic is unfamiliar.

Though you’ve probably done lots of sample questions and preparation to know how to tackle the test and write the SAT essay, if you find yourself faced with a strange prompt, here’s what you can do:

1. Keep calm and stay confident.

Remember, though this prompt topic may seem foreign to you, you will be able to write the SAT essay. The College Board knows standardized tests, and it is extremely conscious of the kinds of questions it asks. The prompt is fair. Period.

2. Focus on the questions.

The first few paragraphs of the prompt might be describing something unfamiliar, but the questions themselves are broad enough to be answered regardless. What do the questions ask? What do they want you to think about and form an opinion on? In terms of March’s SAT essay question, even if you’ve never seen a reality TV show before, you’re no stranger to entertainment. You can judge whether a show is truly real or fake and whether a form of entertainment is good or bad.

3. Play to your strengths.

You know that the content of your essay is the key to getting a good score. Be sure to play to your strengths. Use examples in your essay that you are familiar with in addition to what you just learned from the prompt. The March SAT prompt taught you the basics of reality TV, so think of books, plays, or other shows you know of that approach entertainment and reality in a similar way. Just be careful to stay on topic and keep to your stance.

4. Remember your test prep.

You’ve done the practice essays, you’ve reviewed the SAT scoring system and you’ve read examples of essays that scored a six and others that scored a one. Keep all the tips and tricks in mind and focus. Familiar prompt or unfamiliar prompt, the principles on how to write the SAT essay are all the same!

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