1. Do not use “I”
Let me say it loud and clear: it is okay to use “I” in your essay. So what’s with the big hullabaloo over “I”? Well, at some point you had a well-meaning English teacher who, with stern brow, wrote in all caps on the board that you should never use “I”. And once, you probably tested that out, only to bear the full brunt of the teacher’s wrath.
This teacher was probably from middle school, and she had a point: if you allow middle school students to use “I” in their essays, their intro paragraphs alone will have more glaring “I’s”, so to speak, than a circus of Cyclops.
So over time you should have learned to avoid using “I”. Even now, using “I”, even in the thesis statement, simply isn’t necessary. However, if you feel that “I” fits naturally into your prose go ahead and use it. Just don’t use it more than a few times.
2. You must always write out your examples in your thesis statement
We don’t have to all the way back to middle school to find a teacher who has told you to always include your examples in your intro paragraph. You probably have a teacher today who demands this very convention. However, the SAT grader couldn’t care less.
For you, not including the examples, offers the distinct advantage of saving time. You can get into your examples as you deal with each body paragraph. Just don’t forget to go back to the way your teachers likes it, when you are not writing the SAT essay.
3. You cannot start a sentence with “because” or “and”
This isn’t SAT specific—I just thought I’d include it, because it applies to all writing, even though you’ve probably been taught otherwise. And that doesn’t mean I’m suggesting you begin all, or even any of your sentences, with either words (look, I just started this sentence with “And”). Just know it is 100% okay to do so, as long as you remember the following: what follows “and” or “because” must be a complete sentence. “Because I’m tired” is not a sentence. It is a subordinate clause—more commonly known as a “fragment”. Just add a sentence to it: “Because I am tired, I will go to sleep.”
4. All I have to do is follow the five-paragraph format
The SAT essay can definitely pretty formulaic. That fact has, unfortunately, led many to believe that they just have to knock out a few example-heavy body paragraphs, and sandwich that between a short intro and an even shorter conclusion, and voila! They have at least a “10”.
The graders will not be lulled into acceptance by your cookie-cutter essay. Your essay must be well-reasoned; your examples must be well-chosen (and developed!); and your writing style must be varied for you to get a high-score. Think of the structure as a way to keep you focused and on-topic.