SAT Prep – Is "Alright" All Right?

On the SAT essay, is it acceptable to use the word alright?

The short answer is: No. Alright is all wrong. Use the two-word form, all right.

However, this requires a bit of explanation. Alright is now widely used, particularly in informal settings such as blogs, emails, text messages, instant messages, tweets, and even some classrooms. Many well-known writers, including James Joyce and Langston Hughes, have used it in literature. It is ubiquitous in written dialog and, sadly, in student papers.

In fact, according to Merriam-Webster Online, the single word alright has been in use since 1887.

The two-word phrase all right was used more than five hundred years ago, spelled al right by Chaucer around the year 1385. The word fell out of favor, then returned to common usage later, when Percy Bysshe Shelley employed it in Scenes from Goethe’s Faust.

In any case, all right is the much older form. It remains the standard for use in formal writing today. Alright should be used, if at all, only in informal writing.

Whenever you write, it is important to keep your audience in mind. When you compose your SAT essay, you are writing for a group of scorers who are, for the most part, English teachers and grammarians. I myself look askance at alright in formal – and even informal – writing. Your SAT scorer is likely to do the same. Students who don’t understand the difference between formal and informal writing risk losing crucial points once that number two pencil hits the paper.

Why take chances? Stick to formal writing on the SAT. All right?

For more information on studying for the SAT, read How to Succeed with SAT Test Preparation

The SAT – What to Expect

The SAT Reasoning Test is a standardized test used for college admissions. It was formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test or the SAT I. Published by the College Board, a non-profit organization, the SAT is administered seven times a year. Currently, SAT scores range from 600 to 2400, and the test is divided into three equally weighted sections: critical reading, mathematics, and writing. Understanding the material that will be on the test and how it is laid out is critical to your success. You may want to consider taking a SAT practice test or a SAT prep class to make sure you do well.

In the critical reading section, formerly known as the verbal section, you will be expected to answer multiple-choice questions designed to test your vocabulary and reading comprehension. There are two types of questions: sentence completion and those based on reading passages. Sentence completion questions ask the test-taker to select an appropriate word to complete a sentence. The reading passages are varied in nature; they range from narratives to passages from the social sciences. Questions about the passages test the student’s ability to identify the important aspects of the passage. There is another form of this type of question where the student is asked to compare two shorter passages and answer questions about them.

The math section includes both multiple-choice questions and grid-in, or fill-in-the-blank, questions. Calculators are permitted, but not all calculators are allowed. This section tests on a variety of topics, including, but not only, basic number theory, geometry, and algebra. There are ten grid-in questions which require you to write and bubble in your answer.

Finally, the writing section is comprised of an essay and multiple-choice questions. The essay, which makes up 28% of the writing score, is scored by two graders on a scale of 2 to 12. You are given a prompt, or a subject, to write the essay. Multiple-choice questions in the writing section test your ability to identify sentence errors and edit writing.

Another important aspect of the SAT is time limits. Overall, you have 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete the SAT. The SAT format is as follows. There are two 25-minute and one 20-minute critical reading sections; all critical reading sections are multiple-choice. The writing section consists of one 25-minute essay and two multiple-choice sections, one 25 minutes long, the other 10 minutes long. The mathematics portion is comprised of two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section. There is also a 25-minute “variable section” which is used to normalize scores. Being aware of the time limits is critical to succeeding on the SAT.

Taken together, all of these factors make the SAT stressful and intimidating. Often, SAT prep courses are a good way to help you prepare for the rigors of the exam. There are many options available–online and in person. Online SAT prep courses offer flexibility and the ability to retake sections you have difficulty with. In-person SAT prep classes or tutoring offer structure and a classroom environment, which some people prefer. No matter what you choose, make sure your course offers a score increase guarantee and uses official College Board SAT practice exams so you can make the most of your investment.

The SAT is Six Weeks Away – Commence Hyperventilation

Take a huge, deep breath, and then exhale as quickly as possible. Then, repeat the process until you feel lightheaded and fall over. Then, you’ll hit your head and form a blood clot in your brain. Then, you’ll miraculously transform into a megasavant, like the Rain Man. Then, you’ll get a 10,000 on your SAT. Then you’ll die. And then, in a few years, a Jonas brother will win an Oscar for starring in a movie about your life.

Actually, that’s probably not going to happen, so, you know, don’t do that. Instead, read these tips!

TIP #1: Self-diagnosis
Take a practice test from the College Board’s website and make some self-evaluations. Make sure the test is timed, and try to reasonably emulate test day conditions by taking the test in a quiet room with no distractions. The goal here is to get an idea of where you stand and which sections need the most work.

TIP #2: The Write Stuff. Haha!
But seriously, the essay portion counts for almost a third of your total writing score, so yeah, it’s, like, pretty important and stuff. Remember, the essay on the SAT is all about taking a position and supporting it with a strong thesis and clear body paragraphs. Make your point and prop it up with examples and evidence. Be decisive! Just pick a side and go with it. You’re not a politician yet, so don’t be a flip-flopper. Changing your mind halfway through your essay is a terrible idea that will cost you not only in time but in score as well. Practice writing essays with a timer to get a good feel for how quickly you need to write. Obviously, 25 minutes isn’t enough time to craft together your own War and Peace, but if it’s not at least better than Twilight…well, maybe you can raise your score some other way.

TIP #3: Practice Makes Prepared
If you ever get a fortune cookie that says, “Practice makes perfect,” throw it away. First of all, that was a proverb cookie, and they’re nowhere as good. Second, “practice makes perfect” is misleading. Raise your hand if you’ve ever spent weeks practicing perfectly for a piano recital but then get so nervous onstage that you pee yourself and then have a nervous breakdown, ripping out all your hair and cursing at the 8 year-olds in the front row. Well, while I put my hand down, think about this: if you want to practice until you’re perfect, why not just do the same SAT section over and over again until you get it perfect every time? Because that would be pointless. Practicing with the mindset of “practice makes perfect” isn’t necessarily wrong, but it could blind you to the real benefit of practice — being prepared. What you want is to expose yourself to as many different question types as possible so that come test day, nothing on the SAT will surprise you. What you want is to inoculate yourself against the pressures of a timed exam by taking timed practice tests. What you want is to be prepared for anything the SAT might throw at you so you can catch it, set it on fire, and throw it back in its face, cackling like a wild hyena being tickled by an feathered octopus…or whatever.

TIP #4: Take a Class…Somewhere
Everything you need to know for the SAT you learned in school. But everything you learned in school is a lot. The great big secret behind SAT prep isn’t necessarily teaching you even more stuff — it’s showing you which stuff you already know is the important stuff. Imagine for a moment that the SAT is an open-book test. How would you know what to bring? If you really wanted to cover all your bases, you’d want to bring every single textbook you’ve ever used in school, right? But that’s, like, a lot of stuff. A proper SAT prep program (wink, nudge) will help you toss out the books you don’t need and put sticky tabs on the important chapters so that you can quickly and easily refer to them for the test. Don’t drown yourself in a sea of irrelevant knowledge. That will only confuse you and slow you down on test day. You’ve got six weeks before your test. If you take a class now, you’ll finish a week before your test. On the big day, everything will be fresh in your mind, and you can face down that beast like a boss. Yeah, like a boss. Alternatively, if you don’t want to take a class or get a tutor, don’t forget that your favorite test prep center sells a solutions manual to College Board’s The Official SAT Study Guide (2nd Edition) to help you better understand every question!

TIP #5: Research
Do some research on the colleges to which you plan on applying, and find out what their policies are regarding score reports. Many schools like to help students out by using a “superscore,” which is the combination of all your highest scores on each section. If you know that your schools help you out like this, it can take some of the pressure off. On the other hand, if your school doesn’t take a superscore, keep in mind that the College Board now offers “Score Choice,” which allows you to choose which scores you want to send to colleges. Again, knowing this can take the pressure off a bit. You’re welcome.

SAT Essays – How to Take a Stand

On the SAT, you may be asked to choose sides in an argument and defend your position.

Frequently, the essay prompt asks students whether they agree or disagree with a given quote or idea. For example, here’s a real question from a previous SAT test:

“Nothing requires more discipline than freedom.”

Assignment: In your essay, discuss your view of the statement above. Be sure to use examples to explain your view. Examples can be from literature, the arts, politics, history, science, experience, observation, or current events.

For the purposes of the essay, you should either agree or disagree with the given statement.

Many students are wishy-washy, perhaps because they are afraid of giving the wrong answer. For example, an indecisive student might write:

Sometimes freedom requires great discipline, but sometimes it doesn’t.

This position statement is bad, because it does not take a clear and decisive stand. These kinds of openings tend to lead to essays that wander and are unfocused. They also tend to get low scores.

If you agree with the statement in the essay prompt, you might begin with a simple but effective affirmation of the idea, like this:

Freedom requires great discipline.

If you disagree with the statement, you might begin by turning the idea on its head:

Freedom is the absence of discipline.

Both of these statements make a clear point, and would lead to completely different essays, in part because they interpret the word freedom in radically different ways. The first approach might go on to discuss political freedom, while the second approach is likely to focus on personal freedom. Either argument could work as the launching point for a strong essay.

On the SAT essay, there is no “wrong” answer in the normal sense. If the essay is about the statement “crime doesn’t pay,” you may decide to argue that crime does pay. The judges aren’t going to grade your opinions. Instead, they are looking at how well you can defend them.

In cases like this, you should either agree with the statement and defend your position, or disagree with the statement and defend your position.

Never try to argue both sides.