Writing a good essay means following a few key rules about writing. Take a look at the following paragraph and think about what’s wrong with it.
Sample Topic: Do you agree that no good deed goes unpunished?
It always bothers me when people talk about punishment. It’s not fair. I mean, there are some kids out there who do really good things even though people don’t notice them. In my opinion, everyone spends too much time talking about whether or not there is enough punishment in the world. We should really be talking about more important things like the environment…
Did the author stray from the topic? Does it feel like a conversation? These are common pitfalls of essay writing. Like much else in preparing for your exams, practice makes perfect.
Take a look at the following statements. If it is an “agree or disagree” prompt, decide what position you would take and think of three examples you would use to explain or describe your topic. Take about 5 minutes to do each one.
Sample Topic 1
Should free speech on the Internet be protected? Why or why not?
Sample Topic 2
Do we learn more from our mistakes than our successes? Why?
Sample Topic 3
My fondest memory is…
You’ve probably heard the saying that good writing shows rather than tells. What does that mean, and what do examples have to do with it?
Take the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Say you wanted to disagree with it. You could explain why you believe the statement isn’t true, what you think about teaching and old age, and so forth. Or you could use examples that illustrate the same point. You could discuss the fact that retired people now use the internet on a regular basis. The fact that people generally considered old by society are adapting to a new technology in large numbers serves to show that you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks.
What makes a good example? A good example illustrates the point you want to make. In addition, it comes from the world at large rather than from your personal life. While it may be true that your grandmother emails you, it is more powerful to say that many retirees use the Internet everyday.
What do you need to do as you write your essay?
- Develop and organize your ideas.
- Use three paragraphs.
- Use appropriate examples.
- Write in standard English.
- Stick to the topic.
- Use proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Work through this topic as though it were the real thing. Time yourself (25 minutes if you’re taking the SSAT and 30 minutes if you’re taking the ISEE).
Essay Topic: Voting is such an important responsibility that all citizens should be required to vote in every election.
In this SSAT prep series, we have already covered tips for preparing for the reading and verbal section, as well as the math and quantitative reasoning section. In today’s final blog of the prep series, we offer strategies to help you prepare for the SSAT writing sample.
Understand the essay and choose the right topic
You will be given two options for your essay topic; one is typically a creative approach and one is more of a traditional essay topic. You get to choose. Don’t choose what you think you should write, choose the one that interests you most. The purpose of this section is to showcase your writing abilities and how you think. The writing sample is not scored, but it is shared with the schools you’re applying to as a demonstration of your true abilities.
Seems simple enough. Part of your SSAT experience is a written essay, so practice writing. Know how to properly structure an essay, and practice writing a variety of essay topics. The Test-Prep section of the SSAT website offers sample SSAT essay topics to try. Practice writing essays on each topic and become familiar with what you might want to say for each. Check out this blog on writing your boarding school essay for more tips on essay writing.
Related content: How can I improve my SSAT score?
Practice writing an essay in 25 minutes
If you’re someone who takes a long time to write, then you need to practice writing on a strict deadline. Remember that you only have 25 minutes for this exercise, so set a timer on your phone or ask a parent to time you when you practice. Get into a rhythm of outlining, writing, and editing/proofreading within the allotted time. Using your time wisely will help you write a well structured and complete essay. You definitely don’t want to get caught with five minutes to go, and only an introductory paragraph completed.
Review grammar and spelling
Knowing basic grammar and spelling is important so that you can write a strong essay that reads well to the reviewer. Don’t use abbreviations; this is a formal writing assignment and should be written using proper grammar and spelling. Remember, this is not a text message to friends. This is your chance to showcase your more formal writing skills and your ability to think creatively and thoughtfully on a given assignment. Make sure you use full and proper words, and write in a grammatically correct format.
Related content: 5 tips to write a great boarding school essay
Get friends, teachers, and parents to read your practice essays and give you feedback. Ask them to be critical and give you advice on how you can improve your writing.
Proofread your work
You’re on your own in the test, so practice proofreading your work. Get into the habit of reading materials closely and pay attention to any areas of your essays that you have to read more than once to understand. That’s a clue to possibly rewrite that portion of the SSAT writing sample. After you proofread your own work, ask someone else to read to see what you missed so you can learn more about how to improve your own proofreading skills.
Related content: 5 things you need to know about the SSAT
Visit the SSAT Help Center
Here you’ll find webinars, tutorials, potential SSAT writing sample topics, and format outlines for each level of the test. Reviewing these resources should be a top priority.
Looking for the full SSAT Study Series?
- Reading & Verbal
- Writing Sample
Ms. Jago joined the Cheshire Academy community in August 2013 as the director of strategic marketing and communications. Prior to coming to Cheshire Academy, she spent six years working in communications offices at both colleges and private school, as well as five years in admission at both boarding schools and day schools.
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