Excellent Timed Essay: SAT/ACT Test

What an excellent timed SAT/ACT essay actually looks like

I’ve taught the Timed Essay for the SAT/ACT many times. I’ve read hundreds of essays that answer the prompts we use for that class.

It feels like I’ve heard it all, as far as content is concerned. I like to tell my students that if you can earn a total score of 6-8 on the essay (that means that each of your two graders will give a score of 3 or 4), you’ve done well enough to feel good about the test. I rarely hear of students earning a 10, have only ever heard of one 11, and have yet to know anyone scoring the maximum 12. (If your kid did, let me know!)

As a result, I read these essays with the intention of finding solid, competent writing, with some interesting personal anecdote material interwoven. Every now and then, a student startles me with insight and fresh ideas. The essay below is an example of what I would score a 5-6 (meaning a 10-12 total) if I were a grader.

Read the prompt first:

A little inaccuracy saves a world of explanation.

Is it always essential to tell the truth, or are there circumstances in which it is better to lie? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

Here’s the essay:

I was once told by a friend that, “Lying is never right. In some cases though, it is the lesser of two evils.” Although I have not always followed this principle, I do agree with it.

As a young child, I felt the need to act “mother” with my little sister. I wanted especially to calm her when she was hurt. Unfortunately, she didn’t get hurt nearly as often as I wanted to mother her. To “remedy” this, I regularly bit her. I didn’t bite her hard enough to cause her any physical harm, only just hard enough to make her cry. When my mother would ask me why my sister was crying, I would say, “She bit herself.” This was when I was 4 or 5. My mother didn’t know the truth about these incidents until a year or two ago. Even though by that time the incidents occurred too long ago for me to be punished, my mom was not pleased with me. These lies, and the fact that I hid them for so long, still serve as an embarrassment and a source of guilt to me.

At other times, I have lied to try to hide something someone else did. Once, my little sister smeared her sticky hands all across the mirrors just after they had been cleaned. Being the older sibling, my mother called me in to tell her what happened. I knew my little sister would get in trouble if I told on her, so I lied and said I did it. My mom believed me and I was mildly punished for my sister’s crime. Even though I knew what she’d done was wrong and I knew she deserved the punishment, I didn’t want my little sister to be harmed. I lied out of love. I considered my little sister’s pain more important than my own.

My final example of lying as the lesser of two evils is probably cliched. Anne Frank and her family, and many other Jews in Nazi Germany, hid from the Nazis for several years. During that time, the Franks trusted their friends to not tell the Nazis where they were hidden. They trusted their friends to lie about their hiding place. In such cases, where if the truth is told it means death, lying is most certainly the lesser of two evils.

Lying should never be considered optimal. It should never be considered the first choice, the first escape. We should always try to find another choice first. If there is no other choice, though, or the only other choices have worse consequences than the lie, telling a lie can be considered a valid choice.

Robin, 14

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6 Responses to “Excellent Timed Essay: SAT/ACT Test”

  1. Michelle O says:

    Just curious if age 14 is an average for taking these tests. Somehow I thought they would be taken later.

  2. Julie Bogart says:

    They are taken later. Usually kids take them during the spring of sophomore year or all through junior (and some into the fall of their senior years).

    My classes, though, are geared toward any high schooler wishing to prepare. So sometimes we have 14 year olds who are learning the skills so they can take the test the next year at 15 and 16 etc.

  3. Sandra says:

    Ds (15) just got his SAT reults back. He got an 8 for the essay and was a little disappointed I think. He was hoping for a 9 or 10. Reading your remarks has made him feel a little better about it. I thought he did fine – especially since writing isn’t his forte ( he is the stereotypical math/science guy) and that the prompt in the exam was not one that played to his strengths.

  4. Michelle O says:

    Thank you Julie. You do offer these classes through BW, I’m assuming? So…I’m thinking we do Kids Write Int. next, continue working with WJ and then perhaps prep for these tests? How much practice do they really need prior to taking the tests? I’m inclined to keep writing about exploration, expression and fun until the last possible minute and then teach about the how to of writing for a test. Do you think this is unreasonable? Should we be thinking about this for first year of h.s.? Also, is Help for H.S. recommended if I have WJ?

    Much thanks ,

  5. Julie Bogart says:

    Help for High School is the course that teaches the transition from creative, more personal expression writing to the academic format of open and closed form essays. It is written directly to the student and does not duplicate material from the WJ at all. I recommend it for kids who have been through the WJ or some of our classes and are ready for the next phase of writing.

    SAT timed test writing is best prepared for in the early years through freewriting. Then once your students have learned to write essays, they will be ready to merge those skills to write timed essays. I do teach that class online with BW. 🙂


  6. Michelle O says:

    Thanks Julie. I’ll plan on HFHS this fall after we do KWI. We’ll continue with frewrites, dictation and copywork and do some written narrations ala CM. When I read that I guess I had one of those missed heart beats related to kids growing up and needing to be PREPARED. I knew I should have had 5 kids so I could get really good at this by the end of it all…hee hee.