1. Follow the rules.
Don’t score a zero for failing to follow instructions. Use the essay paper that is provided. Do not write in your booklet. Do not change the question. Do not use a pen.
2. Divide your time.
You will have twenty-five minutes to write your essay. As soon as you begin, make a note of the time and give yourself benchmarks and limits. For example, give yourself five minutes to brainstorm for main points (which will become topic sentences), one minute to come up with a great introduction, two minutes to organize your examples into paragraphs, etc.
3. Take a stance.
You will be writing about an issue. Readers judge essays on the depth and complexity of the argument you make (and you will be taking a side), so be sure to show that you understand both sides of the issue you’re writing about. However, you can’t be wishy washy!
You will pick one side and explain why it is right. Demonstrate that you understand both sides, but pick one and explain why it is correct.
4. Don’t get hung up if you don’t actually have strong feelings one way or the other on a subject.
You don’t have to feel guilty about saying things you don’t really believe. Your task is to show that you can craft a complex argument essay. That means you will have to make specific statements about your position and expound upon your individual points. Just take a side and argue it!
5. Don’t try to change the subject.
It may be tempting to change the question to something that is more to your liking. Don’t do that! Readers are instructed to assign a zero score to an essay that doesn’t answer the question provided. If you try to change your question, even slightly, you are taking a risk that the reader will not like your answer.
6. Work with an outline!
Use the first few minutes to brainstorm as many thoughts as possible; organize those thoughts into a logical pattern or outline; then write as quickly and neatly as you can.
7. Talk to your reader.
Remember that the person scoring your essay is a person and not a machine. As a matter of fact, the reader is a trained educator—and most likely a high school teacher. As you write your essay, imagine that you are talking to your favorite high school teacher.
We all have one special teacher who always talks with us and treats us like adults and actually listens to what we have to say. Imagine that you are talking to this teacher as you write your essay.
8. Start with a fabulous or surprising introductory sentence to make a great first impression.
Issue: Should cell phones be banned from school property?
First sentence: Ring, ring!
Note: You would follow up on this with well-crafted, fact-filled statements. Don’t try too much cute stuff!
Issue: Should the school day be extended?
First sentence: No matter where you live, the longest period of any school day is the last one.
9. Vary your sentences to show that you have a command of sentence structure.
Use complex sentences sometimes, mid-sized sentences sometimes, and two-word sentences a few times to make your writing more interesting. Also--don’t keep repeating the same point by rewording it several ways. Readers will see right through that.
10. Write neatly.
Neatness counts to some degree, in that the reader must be able to read what you’ve written. If your writing is notoriously difficult to read, you should print your essay. Don’t get too hung up on neatness, though. You can still cross out mistakes that you catch as you proofread your work.
The essay represents a first draft. Readers will like to see that you did, in fact, proof your work and that you recognized your mistakes.