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The Directions
Please Note:
The last administration of the SAT II Writing was on 1/22/05. Beginning 3/12/05, parts of the SAT II Writing test will be included in the New SAT. You should be studying the New SAT book. Go there!
The Directions
The directions for the essay section have two parts: The Topic, which is the essay subject given to you by the test, and the Standard Directions, which are the standard “how-to” directions for the section. The Topic is different on every test. The Standard Directions never change.
The Standard Directions
Get a firm grasp on the Standard Directions. Don’t waste time reading these directions on the day of the test. Twenty minutes is not a very long time in which to write an essay, and there is no reason to waste time reading directions that never change.
You have twenty minutes to plan and write an essay on the topic assigned below. DO NOT WRITE ON ANOTHER TOPIC. AN ESSAY ON ANOTHER TOPIC IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.
      The essay is assigned to give you an opportunity to show how well you can write. You should, therefore, take care to express your thoughts on the topic clearly and effectively. How well you write is much more important than how much you write, but to cover the topic adequately you will probably need to write more than one paragraph. Be specific.
      Your essay must be written on the following two pages. You will find that you have enough space if you write on every line, avoid wide margins, and keep your handwriting to a reasonable size. It is important to remember that what you write will be read by someone who is not familiar with your handwriting. Try to write or print so that what you are writing is legible to the reader.
These directions bring us to the crucial issue of . . .
Heavens, but these people are concerned with handwriting. Cast your mind back to that final paragraph of the directions—handwriting is mentioned no less than three times. This compulsive obsession with handwriting may sound superficial, but have some pity for the poor essay readers, cramped in their horrible essay-reading rooms, surrounded by thousands and thousands of test booklets. When they see an essay that looks like it was written by a drugged cockatoo, they will not bother to pore over each scribble. They will read as much as they can easily decipher and slap on a grade—a grade that probably does not fairly reflect the content of the essay.
So write neatly.
They mean it. When they say, “DO NOT WRITE ON ANOTHER TOPIC. AN ESSAY ON ANOTHER TOPIC IS NOT ACCEPTABLE,” they want you to sit up and take notice. So (obvious point alert) don’t write on another topic. Also, be sure you’re writing an essay. Do not try to charm the readers by writing something unique. No short stories. No epic poems. No masques in the style of Milton. Your creativity must find its outlet within the confines of the SAT II essay format.
A Note on Length
The directions would have you believe that length matters not a whit in comparison to content. Don’t believe the directions. Length is important. You need to prove to the readers that you didn’t spend fifteen minutes picking your cuticles and writing an invitation list for your toga party, and five minutes writing two skimpy paragraphs.
So how long does the essay have to be? Four paragraphs. Five paragraphs if you have the time. You need an introductory paragraph, two or three paragraphs that use examples to prove your point (more on examples later in the chapter), and a concluding paragraph.
The Topic
The essay directions will present you with a broad statement about morality or values and ask you to take a stance on the topic and back up that stance with examples. The statement will be something like “good people are those who help the weak” or “in times of war, conventional morals should no longer apply.”
You don’t get to choose between different topics. ETS gives you one topic, and that’s the one you must write on. The Topic will be presented in one of three different ways:
1. The Two-Statement Topic
Consider carefully the following statements. Then plan and write your essay as directed.
“The government should never limit personal freedoms.”
“In some cases, it is necessary for the government to limit personal freedoms.”
Assignment: In an essay, discuss one of the two statements above, supporting your views with an example or examples from science, art, history, literature, current events, or your own experience or observation.
2. The Single-Statement Topic
Consider the following statement and assignment. Then write an essay as directed.
“True love can overcome all obstacles.”
Assignment: Choose one example from personal experience, current events, or history, literature, or any other discipline and use this example to write an essay in which you agree or disagree with the statement above. Your essay should be specific.
3. The Fill-in-the-Blank Topic
Consider the following statement and assignment. Then write an essay as directed.
“‘Failure often teaches more than success can.’ For me, an experience that proves this quote true happened when ___.”
Assignment: Write an essay that completes the statement above. Explain the reasons behind your choice.
You should approach each of the three Topic formats in a slightly different way. However, a few basic rules apply to all three formats. We’ll talk about the basic scheme first, and then get into the more Topic-specific tips.
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