Tag Archives: SAT

Taking the Sting out of the SAT Essay: Tips for English Teachers


In my experience as a tenth-grade English teacher, most students have been terrified of writing the SAT essay. There are so many stressful (and usually unfamiliar) aspects to this kind of essay test that students aren’t applying themselves to the task as well as they might without the burden of anxiety and fear. I’ve heard complaints ranging from apprehensions about the time constraints to not being able to come up with anything to “say” in response to the prompt.

It’s not our responsibility as English teachers to prepare students for success on the SAT – and we’re not allowed to provide specific SAT instruction to the students who take our English classes. But the SAT essay requires students to use good writing skills that will be useful throughout their lives. The College Board is simply assessing these skills, and I feel that we should respect the fact that students need to be able to write this kind of basic response. Being able to communicate a strong opinion supported by substantial “evidence” within 25 minutes can be an invaluable skill in the real world. And that’s why I teach students to master the skills they’ll need to write their SAT essays successfully. Here are a few of the ways I’ve been doing that, and I hope they’ll assist you in your efforts to prepare high school students for higher education and the workplace.

Developing & Substantiating Opinions

Just about everyone has an opinion if you ask the right question. Some questions elicit strong gut reactions from some people, while others are hard-pressed to take a side. But in the real world, if you don’t have an immediate opinion, you’re not going to be an influential force in whatever issue is being debated. It’s impossible to have an opinion about everything, so it’s important to learn how to form a solid one quickly and judiciously.

To help students learn this valuable process, I assign two take-home essays each semester. These essay prompts require students to develop an opinion on the issue described, gather extensive examples to support it, and write an argumentative or persuasive essay that “sells” their perspective to the reader. This kind of basic writing is integral to the process of learning how to communicate clearly and professionally.

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Filed under Classroom Reflections, Lesson Plans

Getting Kids Into College: A Sisyphean Challenge


Teachers in the house—raise your hand if you’ve ever imagined yourself as some kind of Sisyphus, eternally pushing that rock up the hill and watching it roll right back down again.


Maybe you can relate to this guy?

The myth itself seems suspiciously like the brainchild of some burned out ancient prof on his way home from the Lyceum. Year after year of puppy-faced ephebes—it must’ve seemed a kind of damnation for the tired old fellow.

In my sixth year of teaching now, each year has been different enough to avoid simple comparison to Sisyphus and his plight. Call my teaching memoir 101 Ways to Get Your Ass Metaphorically Kicked by Teenagers. The journey has been anything but monotonous.

But then there’s the business of getting my seniors into college. They come to me each September with only the barest sense of how one goes about this “college-going.” SAT? Is that, like, a kind of STD? (I’m exaggerating their ignorance here, but not by much.)

Let me explain. Most of my students don’t have anyone at home who can help them through the application process in any explicit sort of way. This isn’t because their parents don’t care or are negligent—they just don’t have the time or the tools (e.g., bureaucratic know-how, reading/writing skills) to be much help. These students will be the first in their families to go to college, if they do go. Take into consideration the criminally low percentage of students of color enrolled in four-year colleges, and you begin to understand the urgency of this colossal task.

It is a task, by the way, that is not spelled out in any teacher contract. Granted, it is the stated mission of just about every failing school to “establish a college-going culture,” but nowhere in my contract does it specifically address the time I will spend reminding kids to register for the SAT, editing personal statements, writing letters of recommendation, doing one-on-one mentoring, etc. Nor do I receive any extra compensation to make up for all of the lost lunches (which is, necessarily, when a lot of this work happens).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking for more money or more prep time. I’m just saying, This is the job.

Now for the anecdotal part of my post. What follows are the absurd lengths I went to in order to get one—emphasis on one—of my students registered for the SAT.  Real talk.

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Filed under Classroom Reflections, Essays