SAT Essay Exam – No Big Deal

SAT essay - piece of cake

Students – writing an SAT Essay is not that hard. Sit down; take a deep breath and let’s put the SAT Essay into perspective. Your parents are all in a tizzy about the SAT Essay because back when they took the Verbal section of the SAT exam, there was no Essay. It was all “multiple choice.” To most of them, the prospect of writing an essay is terrifying. They need to chill out. Writing the SAT Essay isn’t such a big deal. Here’s an explanation and some strategies:

A)  70% of the Writing Section of the SAT still consists of multiple-choice questions; the SAT Essay counts for only 30% of your score on the Writing Section.

B)   In 25 minutes, no one reasonably can expect you to write a masterpiece.

C)   The College Board has stated for the record that the two people grading your essay have only three minutes to determine your score.

D)  Each grader assigns your SAT Essay a score between 1 and 6. Those scores are combined for a maximum grade of 12. Each SAT Essay point counts for 2.5% of your overall Writing Section score. Many self-appointed “experts” imply that it’s critical to score a 12 on your SAT Essay. Hogwash! A 10 is enough to do well on the Writing Section. This relieves a bit of the pressure of taking the SAT Essay exam. You want to earn at least 5s from the graders. How can this be done?

E)   In the scant three minutes graders have to evaluate your SAT Essay, they try to determine if you understood the theme contained in the question; if your answer to the question related to that theme, and if the statements supporting your answer seemed plausible and relevant. It is my contention that the key to receiving a combined score of 10 is to write an essay that the graders can read easily. Let the ColorCode Essay Writing System guide you. It prompts you to  answer the question in the first sentence and then present reasons supporting that answer in a systematic manner. Following this format makes your essay seem logical and persuasive. Only in the final 30 seconds do graders evaluate the quality of your statements. Suppose your SAT Essay is rather bland, supporting your answer with statements lacking specific detail, and providing no special insight. Probably it wouldn’t merit a score of 6 from each grader. However, after wading through disorganized essays full of muddled reasoning, the graders will welcome the clarity with which you presented your ideas and each should reward your essay with a score of 5.

Rodney Daut’s e-book The SAT Essay Formula provides more information about how to write a successful SAT Essay than you’d ever want to know. It can be downloaded from his website http://www.sat-essay.net. Having purchased and read his 87-page book, I found the last 17 pages most instructive. Titled “SAT Scoring Policies of the top 374 Schools,” they revealed that only 1 college (Loyola) gives the SAT Writing Section “more weight” than the Math or the Critical Thinking sections. Only 54 schools give the Writing Section “equal weight”. All the rest give it “less weight,” “no weight,” or else were “undecided.” Moral of the story: most colleges have limited expectations about the value of a 25 minute SAT Essay as an indicator of a student’s true academic potential.

Because Blogs are in Print, Be Truthful

thumbnail.aspxIn the old days, our stomach muscles clenched whenever a teacher asked us to write an essay.  “Not again,” we thought to ourselves. “Has he really asked us to write yet another paper? He just ruined our weekend.”

How quickly times have changed! Now everyone wants to be a Blogger. Thanks to the Internet and word processors, anyone can be “Brenda – Star Reporter”. However, there is one BIG difference: Brenda had to submit articles to her Editor before they could be published. He wasn’t just checking her grammar. His job was to ensure that she could back up her statements with verifiable facts. Bloggers must be their own Editors. With a Blog comes great responsibility.

This may come as a shock to some of you out there in the “Blogosphere.”

Billy, a typical Blogger, might reply with righteous indignation, “What? Are you implying that I cannot write anything I want in my own Blog? Haven’t you heard that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees Freedom of Speech? I’m an American. I can say or print whatever I choose!”

Well, not quite. A famous example is the 1919 U.S. Supreme Court case Schenck vs. United States. In his opinion, Justice Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr. wrote that freedom of speech does not give citizens the right to falsely shout “Fire” in a crowded theater.* It seems obvious in that situation, but most of us also would agree that citizens do have the right to voice their opinions. I respectfully suggest that Bloggers should use “informed opinions” as a guideline when writing their Blogs.

Mainstream newspapers and magazines employ “fact checkers” to verify statements made by reporters in their articles. This may be due in part a desire to avoid lawsuits, but also because of an obligation to tell the truth. Billy the Blogger probably doesn’t need to worry about being sued for expressing his opinions, but he still has a responsibility to ensure his information is accurate before blithely repeating statements based on faulty logic or rumor. Readers and Bloggers alike should be skeptical of outrageously extreme statements. They can check their authenticity easily at www.snopes.com, a free service, which does a pretty good job of debunking urban legends.

If most Bloggers are expressing their opinions, why raise a fuss about accuracy? The reason is this:

Statements become believable simply by being in print.

The Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) has known this fact for decades. That’s why SEC regulations insist that a prospectus accompany those dreamy brochures created by Mutual Fund and Insurance Company Marketing Departments. Throughout my twenty-five year career as a stockbroker, I noticed the brochures always had the same theme: They’d have pictures of impossibly handsome older couples (never overweight) strolling along the beach, sailing on large yachts, or playing golf in front of expensive homes. The brochures had “mountain charts” showing the value of the couple’s investments increasing dramatically over the past twenty or thirty years. The implication was, “invest now in our mutual funds or annuities, and you too can live comfortably like this couple during your golden years.” There was no mention of possible steep stock market declines, Bernie Madoff, or economic slowdowns. Investors had to read the prospectus to find any mention of risk.

Presumably, Bloggers wish to impart useful information to their fellow citizens. We all can benefit from their wisdom if they make sure that their information is accurate.

* Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/Shouting_fire_in_a_crowded_theater

Outline Essay Useful Tool for Speeches

Giving Speech

Giving Speech

Writing an essay, taking a pop quiz, and  giving a speech probably are three of the tasks students dread most. Speaking in public terrifies many people of all ages. Adolescents are not immune. It doesn’t matter that they may be speaking only to their closest friends; most students feel very nervous because peer pressure is so intense. Usually there are a few students who delight at being given a chance to address their classmates. Over time with practice, the rest can learn to enjoy making oral presentations. They simply need to learn a few secrets.

The steps involved in writing a good essay are the same as those used to prepare a good speech. Both require the student first to organize his ideas and then to present them systematically. This helps readers and listeners to understand his line of reasoning.

Secret #1 is to write an “outline essay.”

The first sentence answers the question, or makes a general statement. Each of the following sentences expresses a single reason or argument to support the first sentence. Think of these sentences as “bullet points;” students will elaborate on these points with facts and details in subsequent paragraphs. The last sentence offers a preliminary conclusion.

The “outline essay” becomes the first paragraph of the paper. It provides an overview of what the student is going to tell the reader. Then he actually tells him in the paragraphs that follow. Finally, he uses the final paragraph to remind the reader what he was told. The “outline essay” provides the student with a road map for presenting his ideas in an orderly manner.

The outline essay also can function as a “crib sheet” for presenting the essay’s content orally to the student’s classmates. So what? How does this make it any easier to stand up in front of the class and give a speech?

Here is secret #2: It is not necessary to memorize every sentence in the essay.

The other people in the class won’t have a copy of the essay in front of them. They don’t know what the student wrote. It won’t matter if he leaves out a few minor details. All that matters is presenting the ideas in a logical sequence to make it easy for classmates to understand them. Think about it:  What do folks fear most about giving a speech?

A) They are afraid of appearing foolish.
B) They are afraid of losing their train of thought.

No one enjoys listening to someone reading a speech word for word. It sounds awkward and stilted. More important, it prevents the speaker from making eye contact with individuals in the audience. A relaxed speaker can use vocal tones and voice inflections to  add another dimension to the content of a paper, causing it to be even more persuasive.

Accomplished public speakers always know their material well, yet they present it as if they were merely having a conversation with the audience. After writing the essay itself, a student should be familiar with its content. It should be fairly easy for the student to address his or her classmates about the essay’s topic, referring to the outline occasionally to stay on track. Giving a speech provides students with a taste of what it’s like to be in “Show Biz.” The fear of ridicule is offset by the delicious sense of power that comes from delivering a speech that is well-received by the audience. Presenting an essay orally to classmates is excellent training for becoming a competent public speaker. This skill can be useful to students for the rest of their lives.

You Will An Essay Write

All the young Jedi apprentices groaned when Master Yoda announced, “You will an Essay Write.

You Can Do It!

You Can Do It!

Once upon a time, everything was made by hand. Each item had to be crafted individually; it took forever because there was no standardization. When Man grasped the concept of using patterns, templates and molds to mass-produce identical parts for later assembly, manufacturing efficiency took a great leap forward. Whether making furniture or automobiles, once people had assembled the first model, building additional copies was a piece of cake. They could be certain that the parts would fit together.

Why Can’t the same process be applied to Writing Essays?

Many folks would argue that writing an essay is not the same as building a car. An essay written by one individual will always differ from that of another. Conventional Wisdom says, “Essays defy standardization, so of course there is no way to make writing them easy.” As a result, students believe that they must start from scratch all over again on each new essay assignment. The prospect causes great consternation. “What will I write? Where will I begin? If only there were some kind of Essay Writing System.

The perception that no part of the essay writing process can be “systematized” (i.e. repeated over and over again),  is flawed. It overlooks the fact that the structure of virtually every type of essay follows the same format. American high school English classes focus almost exclusively on the content of an essay. Since each  essay assignment deals with new subject matter,  students  assume that all essays are different. They don’t realize that “topic” is an irrelevant factor. There is very little discussion about the format of a properly structured essay.

Writing Essays Made Easy

Too bad! Most students don’t learn the secret that makes writing essays easy – all they have to do is follow the same format every time. Usually the topic of the essay assignment is posed in the form of a question. There is never any doubt about where to begin – the first sentence of the essay should answer the question! After that, list some reasons supporting that answer. In the following paragraphs, provide details to back up those reasons. Each paragraph should deal with only one reason. Come to a conclusion.

Morceau de gateaux (piece of cake). There is no need to feel confused. When students follow the format, writing an essay becomes like painting by the numbers. The formula never changes. Follow the Yellow Brick Road and always stay on the path. If high school English teachers would devote three measly days to teaching this concept (and only this concept), most students would no longer have to panic when they hear, “You will an essay write.”

Essays Made Easy

My daughters 1996

My daughters 1996

“Daddy, we want essays made easy,” my daughters said back in 1996.

I replied, “I’ll have to think about that for a while. I’ll get back to you shortly.”

At the time, my girls were enrolled in 6th and 9th grades at Carolina Friends School. Their teachers were assigning essays to write on a wide variety of topics. Both girls suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and one was dyslexic. Making essays easy would be very challenging.

When I was in 10th grade at South Kent School in Connecticut, I had the good fortune of having Sidney Guberman as my English teacher. Sidney had recently graduated from Princeton, where he had been a star goalie on the Varsity Hockey team. Since he taught English at South Kent for only one year, I suspect he was marking time, while deciding what he really wanted to do with his life. Ironically, this may have contributed to making him such a great teacher. This vibrant young man lit up the classroom with his enthusiasm. He projected tremendous optimism, encouraging each of us to believe that we were destined for great achievements. He hadn’t been teaching long enough to become pedantic. We were in awe of him.

We read Shakespeare and other “classic” high school literature, but Mr. Guberman also assigned John Fowles’ coming-of-age novel, A Separate Peace, about boys at a prep school. We could relate to the story. We’d read a few chapters each night; then the next day, we’d discuss motivations of the characters and themes explored in the book. At the end of class, Mr. Guberman would pose a question and have us write 350-word essays in response overnight. At first, I moaned and groaned (under my breath); I couldn’t believe we had so much more homework in 10th grade English than in 9th grade. My early submissions were pretty lame, not because I didn’t comprehend the themes in the novel, but rather because my essays were so disorganized. Mr. Guberman attacked this issue head on:

“Answer the question, Mr. Strong. Your first sentence always should answer the question and then state your reasons in the sentences that follow.”

Mr. Guberman didn’t focus on the content of my answers; he just insisted on seeing them in the first sentence of every paper. That may not sound important, but in fact it was a great revelation – from then on, I always knew where to start every essay. “Answer the question, Mr. Strong.”

There were 15 of us in Mr. Guberman’s English class. That meant he had to read and grade 15 papers three or four nights each week. It didn’t take long for him to develop “Pet Peeve #2:”

“Stop skipping around so much. Reading your papers makes me dizzy. Look, it’s real simple: Answer the question in the first sentence. Then back it up with some reasons. State each reason in a separate sentence. That’s your first paragraph. Next, provide some details about your first reason in a short second paragraph. Do the same for reason #2 in your third paragraph, etc. But for heaven’s sake, DON’T mix details about reason #1 with the details supporting reason #2 in your third paragraph. That’s very confusing and it drives me crazy! Stay in sequence.”

Mr. Guberman was expressing his frustration at how difficult we made it for him to read our papers. In essence, he was saying, “Give me a break.” Because we admired him and wanted to please him, we tried our best to follow his guidelines for organizing our papers. And that’s how Sidney Guberman taught us to present our ideas systematically when writing an essay. He never mentioned the word “format.” Yet by voicing his complaint, he inadvertently provided us with a road map to follow for thinking logically about an issue and then writing a properly structured essay. I never saw Sidney Guberman again after that year, but I always have been grateful that he made writing essays and research papers so much easier.

While I learned the secret that made writing essays easy almost by accident,  I hear college professors complain constantly that despite three years of High School English classes, many of their students still can’t write good papers. They have never been taught how to present their ideas in a logical sequence. Yet being able to communicate clearly in writing is an essential tool for students to be competitive in a global economy. I knew my daughters needed to master this skill.

Telling my daughters “The Sidney Guberman Story” was not an option. I tend to be long-winded. With their short attention spans, they’d tune me out had I tried to relate his advice verbally. Preparing a long list of steps to follow to write a well-organized essay wouldn’t work either. My dyslexic daughter would resent having to slog through all that information.

I had to find a faster way to convey the basic concept. What I needed was a visual method for showing them the format of a properly organized essay. This led me to devise The ColorCode Essay Writing System, initially comprised of a color-coded Sample Essay. A week later, I added an Owner’s Manual, explaining how the colors could serve as a guide to make writing a good essay easy.

Sentences were shaded with different colors in the first paragraph of the Sample Essay. They appeared in the same sequence in later paragraphs. The pattern of the colors created a visual representation of the essay’s “format.” This enabled my daughters to grasp the concept almost immediately. We discussed what each color symbolized and why it was assigned to a particular sentence. Together, the colors created a format, which could be followed again and again for every essay, regardless of its topic. In less than 30 minutes, the girls understood how to use The ColorCode System. Each new essay became easier to write. They began writing better essays and started getting better grades.

Click on the links in the left-hand margin to reach other pages of my website for more information about The ColorCode System. You can download and learn to use my essay writing system in less than 30 minutes. Start getting better grades today. Tell your friends about www.essaywritesystem.com.

James Bond’s Essay Writing Secrets for Pop Quizzes

007's Essay Writing Secrets

007's Essay Writing Secrets

The announcement, “Today I have a little quiz for you,” has to rank amongst the “Top Five Most Terrifying Moments” in an Academic Career. When your professor springs a “pop quiz,” usually he’ll instruct you to write essays answering two out of three questions. Will you be prepared? It might be useful to think about how 007 (James Bond) would deal with this situation. Bond trivia fans know that he was kicked out of Eton for repeated curfew violations and “trouble with one of the maids”*, yet went on to attend Fettes College and the London School of Economics. Since he obviously remained enthralled with women, he must have learned a few study secrets along the way. Here is what I imagine he learned to always be prepared without working very hard.

The rationale for pop quizzes is to help professors ascertain whether or not students are keeping up with their reading assignments. Some professors seem to take perverse pleasure in giving pop quizzes; others couldn’t be bothered, simply assuming that students are mature enough to adhere to the reading schedule. Each semester, multiple classes for a particular course may be offered at different times of day or on different days of the week. A different professor teaches each one. During an “online enrollment period,” college students often can choose which class to attend on a “first come; first served” basis. James Bond would determine in advance which professors were prone to giving pop quizzes and try to avoid them. The vast majority of his classmates would not have the foresight to take that precaution.

Devising a plan for online enrollment in next semester’s classes is an absolutely critical academic survival skill. Students should know the date and exact time (usually 7AM) online enrollment begins. They need to know their enrollment password. They need to investigate the reputations of professors conducting each class. Students usually benefit when attending classes taught by dynamic professors who are never boring. Classes meeting at 11AM Tuesdays & Thursdays fill up quickly. Students who dawdle may discover that the only classes left meet at 8AM Mon-Wed-Friday. 8 o’clock classes are death. Set your alarm early and be prepared to login at 7AM sharp!

Not even James Bond would escape “pop quiz” professors every time. What would be his next line of defense? What do you suppose would be his cardinal rule for achieving academic success?

“Always complete each reading assignment before the next class?”

Wrong!

Answer: “Always go to class.”

One good reason for attending class is that since you paid the tuition, you might as well get your money’s worth. True, but that doesn’t state clearly why you need to go to class. When a single textbook costs $150 at Student Bookstores, you must suspect that many contain substantial amounts of “filler” to justify charging such an outrageous price! By going to class, you learn which information the professor deems important in the reading material. This provides insight as to what questions likely will appear on pop quizzes or on final exams. James Bond not only would go to class, but also he’d sit in the front row and participate actively in class discussions. He knows A) this will make mastering the material easier; B) it will help him identify those concepts most important to his professor; C) it will ensure that the professor remembers his name; and D) he’ll gain a distinctive advantage over students who don’t go to class.

Does this imply that James Bond would seldom complete his required reading? Well, not exactly. However, probably he’d take a few “shortcuts.” Here’s one: most textbooks contain a “Summary” at the beginning of each chapter, which can be read in less than 2 minutes. Even if Bond has a “hot date” the night before the next class, he’ll exercise a bit of self-discipline. He’ll always read the summary and skim the text briefly before going out on the town. He’ll devote an extra 60 seconds to considering how the material might relate to the professor’s favorite themes. Finally, he’ll pick out the dates of two events linked to those themes. That may not sound like much, but in just a few minutes, James Bond has given himself a fighting chance.

Let’s suppose there is no pop quiz at the next class meeting. However, Bond’s date had been so marvelous that he’s arranged to meet her again at 7pm. He won’t have time to read the chapter thoroughly. Nevertheless, he’ll have the discipline to spend 15 minutes performing the following task: referring to notes he took during class, James uses a yellow marker to highlight sections of the text dealing with points his professor identified as “significant,” while at the same time, ignoring others. The chapter now looks like Swiss cheese.

When class meets again, the professor gives a pop quiz.  Students must write short essays, answering two out of three questions. One question covers a topic James failed to highlight, but the other two concern material he reviewed briefly. Because he attended every class, James Bond knows the answers the professor expects. He answers the questions in the first sentence of each essay. Then he lists reasons to support his position. He hasn’t read the material, so Bond states conceptual reasons. Lest his essays seem like pure B.S., Bond cites the two dates and events he memorized to provide factual detail. In his last sentence, he paraphrases his first sentence as a conclusion.

The professor decides that Bond answered the questions “correctly.” He articulated important concepts rather vaguely, but did include some detail. While he offered no great insights, Bond presented his ideas systematically, making his essays easy to read. Since Bond always came to class, sat up front, and participated in class discussions, the professor gives James Bond’s pop quiz essays a grade of B. That’s not bad for a guy who hadn’t done his homework.

The point of this hypothetical story is to suggest students should emulate James Bond’s judicious application of self-discipline at just the right moment on a daily basis. A main challenge students face when entering college is learning how to balance their social lives with their academic responsibilities. Many take an “all-or-nothing” approach. “I can’t do any reading tonight because I’m going out with Sue.” James Bond might reply, “It won’t hurt Sue to wait 15 minutes.” He’s right. Even a few minutes of review before going on that date could make a surprising difference. Everyone can spare a few minutes. James Bond’s secret is that he recognizes those times when a few minutes of effort will produce maximum results.

* http://www.mi6.co.uk/sections/articles/bond_21_007_dossier1.php3