Writing about Reading: The Standardized Test Essay

Sometimes, responding to a standardized test’s writing prompt feels like rocket science. Before the test, you write these beautiful masterpieces. As soon as the proctor says that it’s time to start, you altogether forget what language you speak and everything comes out jumbled. Sound familiar to any of you test takers or people who prepare test takers? Thus, I am here to provide you with a handy acronym to help you remember key elements of an essay that doesn’t stink. Now, for you teachers, I have an acronym that you might feel more comfortable using. As for you renegades, I have another one that might serve you well.

The redesigned SAT essay asks students to write about a text excerpt, which is very similar to one of the AP Language and Composition essays. Both essays ask students to read an excerpt and consider how the author uses language for a particular purpose. The SAT essay always asks students to consider how the author uses language to build an argument. The AP rhetorical analysis essay always asks students “to read a non-fiction text and analyze how the writer’s language choices contribute to his or her purpose and intended meaning for the text” (Source).

Some important reminders:

  • As you’re reading the text, annotate it! If you are prone to falling asleep during standardized tests because too much reading turns your brain to slush, then annotating helps you stay focused because you are physically doing something as you read.
  • Just because you annotate it doesn’t mean you have to write about it in your essay. Narrow down which annotations are most important and choose which ones you want to highlight in your essay.
  • Consider the author’s context. When did the author write this piece (if you know that information)? When does it seem like they wrote it? What is it really about? Do the answers to these questions help you determine the author’s purpose in writing this piece?
  • Consider the author’s audience. Sometimes, it’s not you even though you are sitting there reading it. You watch a Pampers commercial during the Super Bowl, but you’re not the audience if you don’t happen to have a child who needs to wear Pampers. If you can figure out the audience, it helps you figure out the author’s purpose for writing about this topic.
  • You really need to understand why the author is writing (purpose) in order to analyze how the author writes (rhetoric) about their why. In other words, who cares if you can identify a simile or metaphor if you don’t actually know why the author included it?

All of these reminders lead to a handy dandy graphic, so, without further ado, here are TWO graphics to help you during the writing process. One is the more politically correct graphic, and the other is for those of you who like to live in the fray. I think it will become clear which is which pretty quickly.

Graphic #1


Graphic #2


As always, feel free to use these images for your classroom. However, please remember to give credit where credit is due and do not remove the website link from the image!

Additional Resources:


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