Tuesday, January 29, 2008

SAT Essay - 8 Ways To Write A Great Introduction

You can't afford to have writer's block since you only have 25 minutes to write your SAT Essay. So to help my students put pen to paper faster I created these 8 techniques for creating a compelling introduction quickly. Try them and they'll help you too.

1. Understand the prompt first

The number one thing you must do to write a great introduction is to make sure you know what you are writing about first. The biggest mistake I've seen in scoring SAT Essays is that many students misread the prompt. To avoid this I have my students underline or circle important words and phrases to make sure they have truly digested the prompt. I suggest you do the same.

2. Use an analogy or metaphor

Analogies require creativity. A trait that SAT Essay graders love to reward. For an essay in which the prompt was "Is it true that to make progress people must make sacrifices?" A student created the following analogy,

"To climb a mountain a person must struggle and strain. And this is the case with any worthwhile goal..."

3. Tell a brief anecdote

You can create an engaging introduction by telling a brief (1-2 sentence anecdote) such as the following.

When I trained for my first marathon it was difficult and often painful. But I wanted to have the accomplishment of running 26.2 miles so I did it anyway. To make progress in life requires sacrifice.

4. Use a quote that was not used in the prompt

It is useful to memorize quotes that you love. You never know when they can come in handy on the test. For example for the essay topic "Do mistakes lead to growth?" one of my students wrote

Someone once asked Edison, "how can you feel good about your work, having failed nine-hundred and ninety-nine times to make a light bulb?" To this Edison replied, "I have not failed so many times, I have merely learned nine-hundred and ninety-nine ways not to make a light bulb. Why did Edison react this way? Because he knew that mistakes are always experiences that lead to learning and growth."

This was a great quote to begin his essay with and would definitely impress SAT Essay graders.

5. Mention a topic in the news

SAT Essay Experts will often say to stay away from news in the body of your essay. And they are right. However, in the introduction it can be very useful IF you have the facts straight AND it's even better if it is a news story that isn't well covered. If you use this idea make sure it clearly fits the topic.

6. Make up an anecdote using very specific details

I don't recommend this as you don't need a creative introduction badly enough to take the trouble to make one up. I had a student insist on trying this and his were so bad at first anyone could guess they were fictional. Finally, however he started to put details that were so specific that I couldn't tell if it was real or not. So you can fool graders if you want to but I don't recommend it.

7. Use a cliche in an inventive way

Most books and articles on writing say to stay away from cliches however, it's a secret of professional writers that if you change a cliche it captures people's attention.

One student used the following cliche to make a great introduction for the topic "Which is a better indicator of a person's true character, their actions or their words?"

"A picture tells a thousand words" is a saying that applies to the newspaper industry but which also applies to people. The picture created by a person's actions tells us a thousand words about him or her and goes much farther than words do in telling us about a person's true thoughts and feelings. Several examples from literature and history demonstrate this point.

Using the cliche "A picture tells a thousand words" to make the point that actions speak louder than words is very unique and very powerful.

8. When all else fails just do a quick summary of what you will cover in your essay

Make sure you clearly state your thesis and state which categories of information your examples are from

For example, "Examples from history, literature and science will prove that people care far too much about what others think of them."

Most of all remember, you do not need to write an impressive introduction so badly that you sacrifice the rest of your essay. In fact I taught my students to write great body paragraphs first as these are just as important. Then when they could write them quickly I taught them how to write great introductions and powerful conclusions.

Rodney Daut is a former public school teacher, SAT instructor and author. Did you find these tips writing the SAT Essay useful? You can learn a lot more about how to write well for the SAT Essay by visiting SAT Essay.

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