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Flashcards in Planning the Essay Deck (55):

What should you try to accomplish in planning your SAT essay?

  1. Understand the assignment prompt.
  2. Take a position to answer it.
  3. Write the main sentence of the essay that directly answers the assigned prompt.
  4. Generate appropriate and supportable examples.
  5. Consider an introduction sentence or hook.


For how much time should you plan your essay?

5-7 minutes

Practice planning! The closer to 5 minutes, the more time you can devote to composition and editing.


What parts of the SAT essay page should you skip reading when you're taking the test?

You should skip the top entirely.

It defines the goals of the essay, and has to be there since there are students who take the test with no preparation at all.


What are the two parts of the essay page upon which you need to focus?

The "assignment" prompt and maybe the quote

Look below quote for prompt.  Look inside text box for quote.  Always read the prompt first, but only up to the question mark.  The sentences that follow tell you to:

"Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on an issue.  Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experiences, or observations."

Read and understand them here, but never waste time reading them during the test.


Is it necessary to read the quote in the text box over this prompt?

Is lying or deception ever a right course of action?

No, you can plan immediately.  No need to look at the quote.

If "deception" is not well understood, "lying" gives you enough to begin.

Many students do not often find the quote overall to be helpful to read.  So, at best, it might take time away, but, at worst, it might entice you to focus on the keywords in the quote that are not in the assignment.


Is it necessary to read the quote to support the following prompt?

Do you agree that the needs of the individual must be at odds with the needs of the community?

Yes, you may benefit from reading the quote for this prompt.

The quote takes less than half a minute to read, so feel free to use it.  Remember though, you answer the wording of the assignment prompt, not the wording of the quote.
Choosing words from the quote instead of the assignment prompt might be called "topic drift".  Doing this damages the score.


Is it necessary to read the quotes to support the following prompts?

(a) Is ambition a step towards nobility or a vulgar impediment to it?

(b) Do you agree with Benjamin Disraeli here?

(a) Yes, it may help to read the quote related to this prompt.

"Ambition", "nobility", "vulgar", and "impediment" are four fairly tough words. Get all the help you can to get the ball rolling for this one.

(b) Obviously, you have to read this quote.


What are the keywords in the following prompt?

Is accepting a limitation of life a first step toward a better existence, or giving up a better existence?

"Accepting limitation", "first step" or  "giving up"

These words should appear in the main sentence of your first paragraph.


What should you do once you've identified the keywords in the prompt?

Restate each using your own words.

This technique is called "active reading" and it demonstrates that the prompt has been comprehended.

(We'll use "active reading" again in the critical reading section.)


Read the following prompt (and the quote, if necessary) and put its keywords into your own words.

Assigment: Is the durability of friendship different within the sexes?

"Men kick friendship like a football, but it doesn't seem to crack, women treat it like glass, and it goes all to pieces." -- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Does the friendship of men to men and women to women have a different level of resilience?

"Durability of friendship" refers to how well friendship stands against rough or careless treatment.

"Different within the sexes" refers to how men treat friendships among men and how women treat them among women.


What are the keywords in the following prompt?

Does thinking back on life's accomplishments and failures do more harm than good?

"Thinking back", "failure and accomplishment", "harm or good"

Keywords are often nouns, verbs and adjectives.


What are the keywords in the following prompt?

Is acceptance a sign of a weak set of standards or an indication of a highly evolved person?

"Acceptance", "sign of weak standards", "evolved person"

"Acceptance" is an abstraction here.  You may need to read the quote before forming your main sentence.


What is the first step in composing your main sentence of the opening paragraph?

Take a definite stand.

In most cases, either side of an argument can be well supported.  So pick your side and get on with planning!


How do you pick which side of the issue to support?

Pick the side for which you can quickly produce the better examples that you think will please your essay's graders.

The best examples from literature or history are those that demonstrates you can apply the knowledge that you acquired to real life.


What makes a good main sentence to an SAT essay?

A good main sentence takes clear position, uses keywords from the prompt (not from the quote), and some explanation why you hold this position.

Example: The needs of the individual should always take precedence over the needs of the group, because creativity and innovation are in the domain of the individual.


How can you maximize the effectiveness of your main sentence?

Write the sentence fully in your planning space, then review it and rewrite it on your essay.

The main sentence is so important that it's worth the time to rewrite.


Which is a better answer to...

"Do the powerful have complete freedom to do as they wish?"

(a) To an extent, power grants certain licentious freedoms, but power still comes from supporters who must be satisfied.

(b) The more power a person has, the more his or her freedom dominates.

(a) is the better main sentence.

Main sentence (a) takes a qualified stand with strong word choices and provides a basis for why freedom is limited even for the powerful.

Main sentence (b) restates the question but provides no hint as to why.


Which is better for...

"Do you agree that the more difficult something is to achieve the more we value it?"

(a)  When we struggle to earn something by our own worth, we value it much more than we would if someone just handed it to us.

(b)  While we value things that serve our needs, we cherish those things that were difficult to attain, because they reflect our own qualities and worth.

(b) is the better sentence.

While both are strong enough to be used in an essay, "b" has better wording ("cherish", "reflect") and doesn't suffer from unoriginal phrasing ("just handed it to us").

These types of improvements often come on a second writing of the main sentence.


Which is a better for...

"Does persistence bring success to a greater degree than education, talent, or genius?"

(a)  Persistence provides the most consistent opportunity for success, more so than talent, genius or education, because success requires action, not just potential.

(b)  Persistence pays off when it comes to success more than education, talent, or genius, because it is rarefied.

(a) is the better sentence.

Sentence "a" is clear, on point, and  reasonable with good word choices ("consistent", "potential").

Sentence "b" gets a little loose with the language ("pays off"), misuses a word ("rarefied"), and is illogical.


Where do you find examples to support your main sentence?

Prior knowledge and experience

History and literature are best, but personal experience and even popular culture are sometimes the right way to go.


How many examples should you try to generate during planning?

5 to 6

Though you'll only need 2-3, and your gut should tell you if you've come up with a really strong example.  However, options in writing never hurt.



When should you stop trying to come up with examples?

When you feel that two or three examples in the planning space are strong and about five minutes have passed.

At the five minute point, you are beginning to lose time in composition, so be shrewd about adding examples as options here.  If the ones you have are strong enough, go with them.


What should you do if you suffer from mental block about examples?

Don't panic.  Reread your keywords in your main sentence, and think about personal experience.


What should you do if you consistently have mental blocks trying to find examples?

Research.  Sometimes you haven't retained as much prior knowledge in literature or history as you think.

Reading summaries of great books will give enough information for an SAT example.


How should examples be listed in the planning space?

In the shortest form that you can recognize when you look back at it.

Examples:  "MLK" for Martin Luther King, "Sp. Arm" for Spanish Armada, etc.

Writing whole sentences here wastes precious time.


Which examples best support this main sentence?

We cherish those things that are difficult to attain, because they reflect our qualities and worth.

a)  man on moon  b)  national independence  c)  trophies d)  Katherine/Henry V e)  Twain/Steamboat Cpt.

Any 2 or 3 from the list will do.

They all could support the sentence.

  • The American society does highly value the moon launch and national independence. 
  • One can make an argument that an MVP or Heismann is cherished because of it's difficulty.
  • Henry does seem to cherish Katherine in Act V of Henry V
  • Life on the Mississippi by Twain discusses being a Steamboat Capt.

It's the way a student details and relates that matters most.


Which examples best supports this sentence?

Deception and lying can be the right course of action, when a higher purpose is served.

(a) Anne Frank  (b) Gf cheating  (c) Gen. Montgomery  (d)  looks fat in dress  (e)  D-Day Invasion

Choices "(a), (c), & (e)"

  • (a) Resisting Nazi genocide by deception supports justice over honesty
  • (b)  Deception on the battlefield was key to his victories in North Africa
  • (e)  Allies led Hitler to believe the Normandy Assault was a decoy

Prior knowledge is key to a strong essay.


Which examples best support this main sentence?

Although complaining can bring attention to a problem, it indicates a weak mind, because a stonger mind assesses and solves problems, not just whines about them.

(a) Mary (Eliot) Musgrove - Persuasion (b) My football team  (c) Holden Caulfield  (d) Narrator from Notes from the Underground - Dostoyevsky  (e)  Martin Luther 95 Thesis

"(a)" - "(d)" can all support this main sentence.

(e) is on the wrong side of the point.  Still, Martin L. could be used concisely in the hook.

If you don't know Persuasion, Notes from the UG, or The Catcher in the Rye.  Go do some research.  Ideas don't come from nowhere.


What other planning may follow the selection of examples?

Developing a hook, or introduction sentence


When you are finished with generating and choosing examples, what should you do before you plan a hook sentence?

Check the time.

If you're four minutes into the essay time, go for a hook.  Otherwise, leave room for a hook, which ideally you'll add as your first sentence, and start composing.


Should you plan a hook for all essays?

No, the main sentence may serve as a first sentence.


When should you skip working on a hook for the first paragraph?

When planning the prompt, main response sentence, and examples have exceeded 5 minutes.

Leave space when you write for the hook. You may be able to add it later.


What is the most important consideration in planning a hook for the SAT?


Remember that this essay is read by, at most, three people.  You must tailor your hook to impress them.


What types of sentences make a good introduction to an SAT essay?

  • interesting fact
  • intriguing point
  • quotes
  • humor


Give an example of an interesting fact that could be used as an introduction sentence.

The celebrated Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the world's best known mistakes.

Did your example stack up to this one?

From this interesting fact that the tower was not intended to lean, a student can work toward his or her main sentence about how even failure can sometimes be a good thing.


Can you give another example of an intriguing fact?

There is a law in France prohibiting a citizen from naming a pig "Napoleon".

How did you do this time?  Do you think yours is better?

This fact works really well for a subject like treating things as sacred.


Can you give an interesting fact you could relate to an SAT essay main sentence?

The computer mouse was first demonstrated in 1968, but didn't find practical application for almost 15 years.

Interest fact, huh?  How does yours compare?

This might support a main sentence related to genius vs. cleverness.


Give an example of a strong point that could be used as an introduction sentence.

When you have a blind spot in your perspective, you are not even aware it is there.

This strong point comes from John Updike's "The Slump", how does it compare with yours?

This point could introduce a paragraph on the importance of accepting other points of view.


Can you give example of a strong point used as a hook sentence?

The greatest tragedy of humanity may be that the vast majority dream of doing things they never even attempt.

I don't know where this one comes from.  How does it compare with yours?

This strong point introduces the importance of seizing opportunity for success.


Give a strong point you could use to relate to an SAT essay main sentence?

Everyone has been lied to, but few of us ever appreciate when it's meant as an act of kindness.

Maybe more intriguing than strong.  How did yours compare?

This strong point might introduce a statement regarding the limits of honesty as a virtue.


Give an example of a quote that could be used as an introduction sentence.

"Nobody's perfect" is said to make someone feel better for a mistake, but could also be a reminder to limit our admiration of others.

Did you find a good quote?

The quote need not be grand or long to be effective as a introduction.


Give an example of a quote that could be used as an introduction sentence.

"Let them eat cake," declared Marie Antoinette in a famous retort that showed the insensitivity of the French monarch.

See how it works?  A little quote that anyone could remember can be worked into a hook?

How did you do?



Give an example of a quote that could be used as an introduction sentence.


Abraham Lincoln once said, "I laugh, because I must not weep."

How did your quote compare to Abraham Lincoln's?

Sometimes you borrow the gratitas of the person you're quoting.

Getting the attention of the evaluators is the key, but the quote you use needs to be connected to the main sentence.


Give an example of an introduction sentence that contains humor? 

A man was hanging from a tree limb, until someone waved "hello" to him and he waved back.

A bit looney, but catches the eye.  How is your joke?

You could relate this to the importance of focusing on the moment.


Give another example of an introduction sentence that contains humor.

A man was too poor to put cheese in his mousetrap, so he substituted a picture of cheese from a newspaper.  In the morning, he found a picture of a mouse in the trap.

How did your example do?  Does it catch the eye? 

The test evaluators have long dismal days of reading essays.  You putting smiles on their faces won't hurt.

You could relate this to underestimating an opponent.


Give an introduction with a humorous approach.

How do you know a politician is lying?--His lips move.

How's your joke compare?

The trick here is in how you relate the humor back to topic. This could relate to the need to be skeptical about authority.


How can you increase your versatility in coming up with ideas for good hook sentences on the SAT?

Look up quotes, fun facts, and jokes on websites and try to relate them to topics frequently tested on SAT.

Hooks are not essential, so don't spend too much time on this unless the rest of your skills are totally in place for the test. 


What do you do on the test if you have a prompt that you just can't relate to history or literature?

You have to use personal experience.

While you are generating examples, list out personal experience too.  If that's what you got, go with it.  However, doing well on this type of topic requires style, even flair to the writing.  Oh, and remember you can make stuff up as "personal" experience.  So, if something cool happened to a friend or cousin, appropriate it.


Are there questions on the SAT for which it is not appropriate to use history or literature as examples?

Prompts related to "media influence" or "popular culture" are very difficult to find historical or literary references to support.

So, bust out what you know about Katy Perry.


How do you avoid having your planning take too much time during the SAT essay?

Check the time at points in the plan.

  • After analyzing prompt
  • After developing main sentence
  • After finding examples (decide to go for a hook, or not)


How do you have to fight against your training in writing to plan efficiently for the SAT test?

If you are like many student, you are either not taught effective planning--or you are taught meticulous planning and outlining to a degree that wastes precious time.


How should you practice efficiency during planning?

Use initials and abbreviations.

Remember only you see the plan, and you use it within 20 minutes of writing it.  So, fully write the main sentence and sketch your hook sentence, but abbreviate EVERYTHING else. 


How should you approach practicing for the SAT essay?

Overload practice planning.

This is typically the weakest area and has the greatest effect on score.  Write 3-6 plans on separate prompts (carefully timed) for every one essay you fully produce.


Where should you look to find authentic SAT prompts for practice?

Start with College Board website. 

Once you've exhausted their resources, search "SAT Writing Prompts" on the internet.  There are many sources.  Typically a student will need to practice 24-30 prompts.  Not all of them are very authentic though.

(Brainscape is going to develop a comprehensive deck for this soon.)


Once your essay plan is completed, how should you use it to help during composition?

You will refer to the paper--your plan--as you write. 

You should have two fully written sentences in your completed plan. Don't just copy them, try to improve them as you compose.