“Writing is like Math.”
I have said this to many students, and I always get the same look of bewilderment.
Yes, writing is like math. In both the upper case sense and the lower case. Writing, capital W, the classes we find in academia, and here in the Bay Area Tutoring Center for the SAT, is formulaic, like math. When working on grammar, which is the bulk of the Writing section on the SAT, the trick is to learn the rules and then apply them, repeatedly. It is truly the case that learning is a hands-on experience with the SAT Writing section.
Now, in my previous blog post on Critical Reading I mentioned that you could learn the strategies to apply to the test without a tutor, but that learning from mistakes and having someone coach you through the process is where we come in. With the Writing section, tutoring is essential. Most grammar books are dry and boring, unless you are a grammar buff, which, if you are reading this essay looking for tips to improve your Writing score, is probably not the case. Grammar tutors can breathe life into the material, provide you with hands on practice, and coach you through mistakes, helping you train your grammar ear.
What is a grammar ear, you ask? When you get a grammar question correct, it is most likely because of your grammar ear. You “hear” something wrong with part of a sentence, and you may even be able to fix it. What you most likely cannot do is identify that particular problem as “subject-verb agreement,” or “pronoun clarity,” or “parallelism,” etc. What we do in our grammar sessions is strengthen your grammar ear. Yes, we teach you subject-verb agreement and many other grammar rules, but, more importantly, through those rules we train your ear to pick up on many more errors than you are able to pick up on when you first walk through the door. In fact, by the time you take the test, as I tell my students, you will be relieved at how easy the test feels compared to the grammar training you’ve been through with your tutor. We teach you the rules, and you apply them. Like math.
This same formulaic approach applies to writing in the lower case sense. When writing the SAT essay you must adhere to the 5-paragraph essay format every single time. Plan and outline your essay, with a clear thesis and specific examples for each body paragraph, write a strong introduction with reference to those examples and your thesis, write body paragraphs that have clear topic sentences and specific examples that support those topic sentences, and write a conclusion that sums up your points. Every time. You can write a solid essay with that formula and do well on the essay portion of the SAT.
So why do you need tutoring for the essay? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you already write a solid 5 paragraph essay that gets a high score. But here’s the thing about writing: it is really tough to criticize your own work. The more you write, the better you get at writing, but only if you know how to improve on your previous work. Tutors can pinpoint structural errors, clarity issues, and help you develop a more coherent piece. In addition, the work you do with your tutor in Critical Reading and grammar benefits your work on the essay portion of the test. The nice thing is that the more work you do on your essay, the better a writer you become, the better you do on the SAT and, bonus, the better you do on future essays in high school, college, and beyond.
And all of it, the grammar and the essay, is based on simple formulas. Like math.