•Brainstorm, but quickly. You don't have a lot of time. Stick to simple outlines, lists or webs. Nothing too fancy.
•Do not summarize. The test writers are quite familiar with the works they are asking you about. Instead, assume your audience is familiar with the piece, and focus on analysis.
•Keep your intros brief and free of BS. Do not DO NOT waste time praising the author or the piece. This is irrelevant to your purpose. Instead, begin your essay by directly addressing the work, provide a clear thesis, and move quickly into your analysis. Avoid announcing your intentions ("This essay will..."); instead, just do it!
Standard Example (Paper score=8)
In his epic poem, Paradise Lost, John Milton retells the biblical story of Eve's succumbing to the appealing arguments of Satan. As the story is slowly recounted, the speech of both Eve and Satan reveal their underlying characters through a variety of literary techniques. Through diction, imagery, and tense shift, Eve is exposed as a morally weak individual and Satan is exposed as a manipulator "replete with guile."
Creative Example (Paper score=8)
Fidelity. A word one will never hear on the modern-day Jerry Springer show for both its ludicrous definition and polysyllabic nature. Certain less-than-reputable areas of the media will have people believe that faithfullness and monogamy mean nothing, and everyone falls "victim" to cheating on his or her loved "one." John Donne, however, was apparently centuries ahead of his time then, endorsing such practices in "The Indifferent." The narrator rallies for multiple partners for all, while expressing his views on women — that one is no different than any other (with the exception of the naive faithful and the realistic unfaithful) and men should therefore love indiscriminately. Donne develops his arguments using clever wit, a wide range of knowledge and figurative language.
Extra Important Notes:
Remember your audience. Your audience here is specific: high school teachers and college professors. Your awareness of this should guide your writing. Avoid conversational language, abbreviations, doodles, etc. Keep it academic and professional.
Write in an active voice. For example:
Passive: The dog was run over by the car.
Active: The car ran over the dog.
Work to ensure your paragraphs are connected and smoothly transition into each other. Here are a few good transitional words to consider (after, also, although, as a result, before, but, consequently, doubtless, eventually, finally, furthermore, hence, however, next, on the other hand, perhaps, similarly, therefore, yet)
•— Avoid Point of View Shifts (don't use you your, we, us, our)
•— Avoid Logical Absolutes (don't say "everybody knows," etc.)
•— Do not use a word if you are unsure of its meaning.
•— Use strong verbs. Instead of "The author shows how..." try "The author demonstrates how..." or "The author illustrates how..."