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SAT® Writing Preparation

Preparing for the Writing Section of the SAT®

The only way to become a better writer is to practice—to write often and to solicit feedback about one’s writing from experienced writers. A workshop is merely a starting point, a foundation upon which a student can sharpen skills through practice. With that limited goal in mind, this workshop encourages students

  • to reflect on the SAT essay evaluation criteria,
  • to analyze successful, high-scoring SAT essays,
  • to practice organizing and developing their ideas, and
  • to review sentence- and word-level skills essential for good writing.

Course Content

  • Understanding the structure of successful SAT essays: The standard five-paragraph essay template that many students are taught to use in high school may not always be the best strategy for the SAT essay. Using samples published by the College Board, we will analyze the structure of successful essays.

  • Exhibiting strong critical thinking skills: The scoring rubrics and descriptions of strong essays stress the importance of critical thinking skills. These include logic and complexity of thought. As we dissect both strong and weak SAT essays, we will examine ways in which successful writing takes the reader beyond superficial treatment of a topic.

  • Generating ideas: With only twenty-five minutes to write the SAT essay, students must brainstorm efficiently in order to leave time for writing and editing. We will discuss strategies for generating supporting evidence for the main ideas in their essays, and they will practice using these strategies by engaging in several timed exercises.

  • Varying sentence structure: Conversations about syntax will help students prepare for both the essay and the multiple-choice writing section. Despite the fact that very few students have a strong background in syntax (due to a misguided de-emphasis of English grammar during the past thirty years), the College Board values sophisticated and varied sentence patterns. We will discuss how sentences are constructed and review a variety of sentence patterns.

  • Avoiding common mistakes in English grammar, mechanics, and usage: Part of the course will focus on word- and sentence-level issues that will be important both in writing the essay and in answering the multiple-choice questions. Prior to registering for this course, students are asked to complete two practice SAT multiple choice writing tests. We will use the results of these practice tests to determine the topics of our discussion during our third session. These topics are likely to include common errors such as word confusion (e.g., lay/lie, who/whom, which/that), punctuation issues (e.g., semicolons, colons, and commas), mechanics (e.g., apostrophes, quotation marks), parallelism, dangling and misplaced modifiers, faulty comparisons, and verb endings.

Students will write practice essays—one, two, or three, depending upon the category for which they register: Students who register for categories 2 and 3 will write one at home, prior to registering for the course. All students will write a practice essay during the final twenty-five minutes of the first class meeting. Students in category 3 will write a third practice essay during the last 25 minutes of the second class meeting. All essays will receive detailed, written feedback.

In addition, we will use the students' essays as models for class discussions about both strengths and weaknesses. (Note: Although we will not reveal the authors of the essays we discuss in class, students need to be comfortable having their work critiqued openly, honestly, and respectfully.)

Students in category 3 have the option of writing a fourth timed essay and sending it to the instructor for additional feedback. They may opt to write this essay either immediately after the course ends or right before they take the SAT.

For Whom Is the Course Appropriate?

Any high school student who comes to the course with a positive attitude and with a commitment to engaging meaningfully in the activities can gain valuable skills. (Translation: the student will get as much—or as little—out of the course as he or she puts into it.)

Please keep in mind that the course is not appropriate for extremely weak writers, who need more instruction and practice than this short course provides.

The Instructor: Nancy Tuten

  • Click here to read about the instructor's credentials and experience.
  • Click here to see a list of the instructor's current and former clients.

Dates, Time, and Location

  • E-mail Nancy Tuten at for information about summer 2011 courses.

SAT Administration Dates

  • Click here to see a list of SAT administration dates.


  • Fees range from $100 to $245, depending upon the student's level of participation and length of the course. Please contact Nancy Tuten at for more information.

What to Bring to Class

  • Click here for a list of items to bring to class.

Contact Information

    Dr. Nancy Tuten
    ntuten (at)
    803-776-7458 (home)
    803-466-5171 (cell)

®SAT is a registered trademark of the College Board, which was not involved in the production of this course and has not endorsed it.

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