While many of us have come to favor mechanical pencils over traditional wooden ones, we can’t abandon those classic yellow Ticonderogas just yet. Both the College Board and ACT, Inc. require that test takers use the standard No. 2:
SAT: Use a No. 2 pencil and a soft eraser. Do not use a pen or mechanical pencil.
ACT: Use a soft lead No. 2 pencil with a good eraser. Do not use a mechanical pencil or ink pen; if you do, your answer document cannot be scored accurately.
The issue with mechanical pencils has nothing to do with the influence of the lumber lobby and everything to do with quality control. Basically, the test makers want to ensure that your multiple-choice responses will be read accurately by their optical mark recognition scanners. Since the scanners are calibrated for marks made by No. 2 pencils, the variability introduced by different graphite weights can cause problems.
On the bright side, wooden pencils work better than mechanical pencils when filling in answer choices, which is itself a valuable test day skill. Those precise .7mm mechanical pencil points take forever to bubble responses. Your best strategy is to use a dull pencil, which could save you a second or more every time you mark your responses.
What if I use a mechanical pencil on the test? Will my test be scored?
Proctors mention the prohibition against mechanical pencils before each test begins and are instructed to intervene when they observes students using forbidden writing implements. But many maverick students report “getting away” with using mechanical pencils on the ACT, SAT, or SAT Subject Tests. This suggests that mechanical pencils aren’t really much of a problem for the test-makers’ OMR scanners. Anecdotal reports suggest that, if anything, your score may be delayed while your test grid is hand-scored.
Still, why take chances? Pack a fistful of dull No. 2s and a good eraser with the rest of your test day supplies to ensure you have one less thing to worry about!
If you are taking the SAT with Essay, on the exam you will be asked to read a text (typically a speech or editorial of some sort) and discuss how the author effectively builds an argument. This might be a familiar task if you’ve done it in school, but if not, don’t worry. The format is straightforward, and with some practice, you can learn how to write a great SAT essay.
The SAT essay is optional, but we recommend you complete it. Some college and universities require that you complete the essay portion if you submit SAT scores instead of ACT scores, and some schools do not require it. Completing the essay portion of the SAT will help you be ready to apply to any college. Your essay score will appear on every score report you send to colleges, regardless of whether or not the school requires an essay. Every school to which you apply will see that you took the initiative to write the essay, which is a good thing.
1. Stay Objective
The thing to remember here is that ETS (the company that writes the test) is not asking you for your opinion on a topic or a text. So be sure to maintain formal style and an objective tone. Tip: Avoid “I” and “you.
2. Keep It Tidy
Handwriting is becoming a lost art. Unfortunately, this is one occasion where your skill with a pencil matters. Graders read tons of essays each day. If they cannot decipher your script, they will lower your score. Do yourself a favor and write legibly.
3. (Indented) Paragraphs Are Your Friend
Remember the basic essay structure you learned in school: introductory paragraph, body paragraphs and a conclusion? The graders love it! Your introduction should describe the text and paraphrase the argument being made, as well as introduce the specific elements of the passage and argument that you will discuss in the essay. Your conclusion should restate the goal of the passage/argument and sum up the points you made.
4. For Example…
Use your body paragraphs to back up your thesis statement by citing specific examples. Use short, relevant quotes from the text to support your points.
5. Don't Worry About the Exact Terms for Things
When describing how the author builds his or her argument, “appeal to the emotions” is fine instead of specifically referencing “pathos.” And “comparison of two things” can be used instead of referring to a metaphor. If you do know the official terms, though, feel free to use them!
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