50 minutes might sound like a lot when it comes to writing the SAT’s optional essay, but it’s only enough if you plan your time well. It’s easy to squander minutes over-brainstorming, or trying to write without a solid plan of attack. Clear timing guidelines and thorough rehearsal can make the difference between “wow” and average.
Step one, 10 minutes: get what you need from the passage. Notice I didn’t say, “read.” In this stage, you have a goal. Find evidence that supports the author’s claims, analyze the development of reasoning throughout, and note stylistic/persuasive elements that add to the ideas. Annotate and jot margin notes as you work through the passage. Keep one eye on this task, and your other toward “step two, organize your essay,” so your work in step one will be of maximum benefit when you prepare to write.
Step two, 10 minutes: organize your essay, prepare to write. If you succeed at step one, this should flow naturally. You’ll have key points underlined, and notes down. Take the time to organize them into your ideas, getting your intro, topic sentences and conclusion primed. Think about putting the puzzle pieces together, with strong evidence.
Step three, 25 minutes: write! At this point, your essay structure should exist in your mind, with the barebones in front of you. Hold to this structure, writing with all your skill and grace. Allow your ideas to come into their own, as you focus on the “how.” Avoid summarizing, it won’t get you many points.
Finish up with step four, 5 minutes: proofread. Look for small grammar and spelling errors, and add your personal touch where you can.
Make this process as fluid as possible with practice, and see how well you can do!