PWN the SAT: Essay Guide is available now in two formats:

Note that you don’t need an actual Kindle device to read the Kindle version—there are Kindle apps for iOS and Android devices, and Kindle books can also be read right on your web browser.

About the Essay Guide

Before I explain what this book is, I’d like to say a bit about what it’s not.

  • It does not contain pre-written templates for you to memorize
  • It does not spend pages and pages summarizing historical events and book plots (Wikipedia does that for free)
  • It does not promise you a perfect essay score if you make up evidence, or fill 2 pages, or use every big word you know, etc.

What I’ve tried to do with this book is help you to develop skills that will make you a better and more reliable producer of SAT essays, and persuasive essays in general. I do this by focusing on the five factors that the official SAT essay scoring rubric focuses on:

  1. Development and support of point of view
  2. Organization and focus
  3. Grammar, usage, and mechanics
  4. Variety of sentence structure
  5. Use of vocabulary

It’s important to think about all five of these factors at once because all five will contribute to your score, so I’ve created the Essay Star to help you think through your own strengths and weaknesses, and identify opportunities for growth.

The Essay Star

One reason I like the Essay Star is that it shows how two very different essays can end up getting the same score. The first star above represents an essay that’s strong on some factors, and not so strong on others. The second one is much more even all the way through. Both get 8s.

I also like that it shows how hard it is to get a top score: if you want a 12, you’ll need ALL FIVE POINTS of your star to be full. If your essay is devoid of a point of view, pumping it full of arcane vocabulary isn’t going to get you a 12.

Anyway, I devote a section of the book to helping you address each point on the star.

Actually writing the essay

Of course, an understanding of what’s expected of you from a scoring perspective will not, on its own, deliver you the essay score of your dreams. You also need to know how to think through a prompt, plan, and write your essay in 25 minutes. Here’s a hint: good planning take a little bit of time, but pays off.

Book owner’s privileges

Being able to write a good essay requires practice and useful feedback. Obviously, you can practice on your own, but you probably aren’t the best judge of your own writing, so the feedback bit is a little trickier.

This is a work in progress and I’m open to your feedback as it evolves, but I’ve created a password-protected Tumblr blog where book owners can have a practice essay graded by me (in the form of an Essay Star, of course) and commented on by other book owners. The password is the 4th word on the top of page 27 in the Essay Guide. (Kindle owners, forward a copy of your Amazon receipt to mike[at] and I will respond with the password.)

Comments (11)

Tumblr’s submit option could work very easily with this. All that’s required is a name and an email, and it takes out the middle-man work of submitting an email to you to post. Otherwise, you could make a WordPress site with members and give members specific permissions (and make sign-up only available to book-buyers).

As far as making it public…CollegeConfidential has a lot of issues with this. They really stress having credible people and only credible people read and critique your essays, because otherwise anyone could steal your ideas, style, etc.

I think it’d be fine to have a private site with book-buyers and yourself. At least I know the book-buyers have some credibility. Otherwise, I’d be afraid of submitting my essay.

I’ll be buying the guide as soon as I can rack up another $17 to get free shipping. I’m looking forward to working through it.

Thanks Radhika,

Yes, I have been considering using Tumblr. One issue, though, might be with people who want to submit essays without associating them with their Tumblr username. I suppose, in that case, email would still have to be involved.

Your comments regarding public vs. private are well received, too. My main concern there is that I’d very much like discussions to happen, but I know a site must have a fairly large number of active users to sustain healthy conversation.

If you log out of Tumblr, the submit option is available by using just Name/Email. Email is private (I think?) and just the chosen name (or pseudonym) is shown.

I believe a committed group (whoever buys the book obviously shows commitment) can work a lot better than a general audience. Even if they can’t afford the book, your books go free a lot, so it’d just be a bit of patience if an eager person would like to join, but can’t afford it.

I have no actual experience, however. Anything you do, I’d be glad to participate in. Thanks for all you do.

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