You’ve got a lot of latitude in selecting your examples, but you should try to use at least one (ideally two) example that will impress your reader. That means Literature (with a capital ‘L’ like a book you read in school and can discuss in depth), a historical event or figure, or a personal event that will resonate with an ADULT reader.
It’s a good idea, while we’re thinking about examples, to have a few on reserve at all times. In fact, take a minute right now and jot some down that you think you can use for a variety of different prompts. Go ahead…I’ll wait.
Nobody’s fact-checking you. This means you can make stuff up if you need to. Please know, however, that although they’re going to try to ignore it, if your falsities are too blatant, you’ll distract your reader and that’s probably not going to help your score.
You should absolutely take 2-3 minutes before you start writing to outline your essay. EVEN IF you don’t usually do that when you write an assignment for school. Remember that you can’t easily go back to your intro once you’ve started writing paragraph 3 and add a sentence without making a huge mess of your page. Erasing is not going to be pretty, and will add stress to a section that is already stressful and short on time. A little planning in advance goes a really long way.
The more you write, in general, the better your score. Get into the habit of filling the two pages, if you possibly can.
Stay away from controversial topics if you can. Remember that you have no idea who your readers are, and although they are instructed to remain neutral to your opinions and grade you on your arguments, you don’t want to push them. Try to avoid:
Hotly contested social issues:
Bush vs. Gore.
Anything, basically, that your reader might remember from her lifetime and have a strong opinion about.
Seriously, just don’t go there. People get very emotional about religion.
Grammar (especially the kind of mistakes they test you on in the multiple choice parts of the test) is pretty important here. Don’t write run-ons, and don’t make pronoun agreement mistakes. One little mistake won’t kill you, but if your essay is full of them, it’ll cost you.
It’s OK to be a little informal here. You can use personal pronouns. In fact, it’s really difficult to write super-impersonally on a lot of the topics you might be assigned, so avoid the temptation to start saying things like “one should always plan ahead,” because once you go that way, you’re going to have to stay parallel and say “one this” and “one that” all over the place. It gets tiring, believe me. Don’t go overboard though…make sure all the words you use are real words. No “gonna” or “shoulda” or “lol.” “A lot” is two words. Remember that.
Avoid cliches, and avoid the temptation to try to open your essay with some broad statement about life and the universe. Just answer the question. For example: “In life,” “In this world,” and “As humans,” are all bad ways to start an essay.
Good vocab is a good idea, but only if you really know how to use it. Rule of thumb: don’t try a word out for the first time on your essay. Only use words you’ve used in conversation before and feel comfortable with. Trying to get fancy and using a word incorrectly will be deleterious to your score.