SAT English Study Tip #7 – SAT Writing : The Essay

Sat English

Once you have decided what to write about for your SAT essay, students always benefit from an approach that helps them to develop their ideas clearly and effectively. Many do not realize that self-questioning as you create your sentences is one of the best ways to ensure you are eliminating confusion in your reader’s mind, while enhancing the persuasion of your argument. It’s as easy as asking yourself, ‘So What?’.

Consider the following prompt:

Think carefully about the issue presented in the following quotation and the assignment below:

I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.    

-          Albert Einstein


People learn at different rates, with different styles, and by different methods. What type of learning environment is optimum for maximized learning  – a group atmosphere or an individual setting? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

Assume you decide to develop the argument for learning in a group atmosphere. You choose your main points to be (a) a group atmosphere allows for generating discussion and provoking thought (b) you experienced a group learning atmosphere when you first took swimming lessons and it helped to see how others applied the techniques being taught.

Now, in your first body paragraph, you may start to write something along the lines of ‘When it comes to learning new things, a group atmosphere is best as it allows one to gain insight from others which can help to clarify confusion that may have occurred otherwise.’ But now, where do you go from here, right?  This is where the self-questioning comes in. At the end of each sentence, ask yourself ‘So what?’. In other words, you are asking yourself what the SAT grader will be wondering as well. Your answer to your ‘so what’ prompt actually becomes your next sentence. It helps you to fully develop your idea, while also eliminating any gaps in your logic. It goes something like this:

‘When it comes to learning new things, a group atmosphere is best as it allows one to gain insight from others which can help to clarify confusion that may have occurred otherwise.’

So What? ‘Many students struggle with learning new things, so to help them to see things differently, hearing what others have to say can help them to clarify points they could not understand before.’

So What? ‘Because people have different ways of explaining ideas or coming to understanding, another member of the group may explain things a little differently than the instructor.’

So What? ‘A group atmosphere gives people a chance to not only develop what they think about a topic, but also to generate new ideas and connections they may not have even had if it weren’t for hearing a classmate’s explanation or response to a question posed by their teacher.’

So What? ‘This allows for as much learning as possible to occur in the group and takes pressure off of the instructor to provide the only source of teaching, one that not everyone may respond to.’

Before you know it, you’ve written a solid paragraph that takes your initial point and coherently develops it before your very eyes. Each sentence is completely connected to the one previous because your ‘so what’ prompting made you write something that took each thought a little further. If you can remember to bring it back to the question at hand – in this case, why a group atmosphere is the best learning environment – then you can wrap up your paragraph by connecting right back to the wording given in the opening assignment question.

Now, do the same thing for your next point. Something like this:

‘One of the best examples of the benefit of a group learning environment came to me when I took swimming lessons.’

So What? ‘I struggled to learn the front crawl, as my arm motions and kicking techniques seemed to not be propelling me forward like they were supposed to.’

So What? ‘By watching others in my group try to apply the methods our teacher was modeling, I began to see how those who were most effective in their techniques moved smoothly through the water.’

So What? ‘While observing helped me, it was only when I had the chance to ask other members what I was doing wrong that I really started to understand.’

So What? ‘Before long, I was moving just as well as they were able to, since one of the students told me to kick my feet like my ankles were the only thing that I could move, that my knees weren’t allowed to bend no matter what.’

So What? ‘Even though my instructor tried to explain it as best she could to me, it was my classmate’s interpretation that gave me the insight I needed to learn to swim, and it is all the proof I needed that learning in a group atmosphere provided more opportunity for success than learning all by yourself.’

Self-questioning as you write is one of the best ways to make sure you stay focused and on topic. Because you are writing a persuasive essay for the SAT, the ‘so what’ technique works very effectively in taking each point in-turn and addressing the natural questions the SAT grader will have – most notably, how is it that what you just wrote is connected to the essay question at hand? So what does swimming lessons have to do with a group learning environment anyway? It’s easy to see that giving yourself the tools to develop your ideas soundly will serve to minimize stress during the SAT essay, while ensuring more than enough time to draft an essay of quality and coherence.

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