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SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips
Why You Shouldn’t Copy Skeleton Templates for the SAT/ACT Essay
Creating your own essay skeleton can go a long way towards helping you prepare for the SAT or ACT essay. Having an essay template ready to go before you take the test can reduce feelings of panic, since it allows you to control at least some of the unknowns of a free-response question. It can even be helpful to look at other people’s essay skeletons to get an idea what your own essay template should look like.
But when does using an essay skeleton go from a great idea to a huge mistake? Keep reading to find out.
Disclaimer: Most of the advice in this article is most useful for the current SAT essay (and, to some extent, the ACT essay); it’s too soon to know if it’s also applicable to the new 2016 SAT essay (although «don’t plagiarize» is good advice in pretty much any situation).
What Is An Essay Skeleton?
An essay skeleton, or essay template, is basically An outline for your essay that you prewrite and then memorize for later use/adaptation. Usually, an essay skeleton isn’t just an organizational structure — it also includes writing out entire sentences or even just specific phrases beforehand.
«But how can you do this, and more importantly, what’s the point?» I hear you cry (you sure manage to get out a lot of words in one cry).
Creating an essay template for the current SAT essay is pretty simple, as the SAT prompts tend to fall into one of six categories:
- What should people do?
- Which of two things is better?
- Support or refute counterintuitive statements (Is it possible that [an unlikely thing] is true?)
- Cause and effect (is X the result of Y?)
- Generalize about the state of the world
- Generalize about people
Because the prompts are, at the core, all «yes or no?» questions, you can somewhat customize your introduction and conclusion. Doing this is especially helpful if you tend to choke under pressure or are worried about your English language skills — you can come up with grammatically correct templates beforehand that you can memorize and then use on the actual test (filling in the blanks, depending on the prompt).
Formulating an esssay template for the ACT is a little more tricky, as the new ACT essay asks you to read an excerpt, consider three perspectives, come up with your own perspective, and then discuss all the perspectives in the essay using detailed examples and logical reasoning. It’s possible to come up with a useful template, but I’ve not really come across any students using templates in the 200+ ACT essays I’ve graded.
In addition to figuring out your essay organization beforehand, you can look up synonyms for words that get commonly used in essays (like “example” or “shows”) And prewrite sentences that use these words correctly. For example, for the SAT essay, you could pre-write a way to introduce your examples: “One instance that illustrates [x] can be found in [y]» (where [x] is the point you’re trying to make and [y] is the place from which you’re taking your example).
Finally, on a semi-related note, because you know that you’ll have to use examples to explain your reasoning on the essay, you can also come up with the examples you’ll use beforehand and get good at writing about them. The better you know your examples, the more organized your writing will be on the essay (because you won’t have to waste valuable time trying to think of what exactly happened in The Hunger Games that proves your point). For more on this, see our article on the 6 examples you can use to answer any SAT essay prompt.
So What’s The Issue?
Problems occur when you rely on other people’s skeletons, rather than coming up with your own. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with looking at other people’s essay skeletons to help inform your own — in fact, I’ve even written up a helpful template on this blog for SAT and ACT essays (coming soon). The issue arises when you move beyond using the organizational aspects of someone else’s skeleton to copying words directly from someone else.
A Spooky Tale of Essay Skeleton Plagiarism
Out of the 600+ SAT essays I’ve graded over the last three months, I’ve seen the same essay skeleton come up 7 times. I know that it’s an essay skeleton because the key phrase repeated from essay to essay (“critics are too dogmatic in their provincial ideology”) was so unusual (and kind of grammatically incorrect) that I commented on it specifically the first time it showed up (to point out vocab misuse. because it just wasn’t good writing) and Googled it the second time it showed up.
It turns out that this phrase is from an SAT prep skeleton (we’re not going to name the book or the author), but it also shows up in various essays around the internet that either copied that prep book or copied a College Confidential posting that plagiarized the book, so I don’t know where exactly students were seeing this skeleton.
Here’s the problem: while the idea of using essay skeletons makes a lot of sense, and even the using of some organizational aspects of another essay skeleton is acceptable, word-for-word copying of sentences is considered plagiarism, and plagiarism is not permitted on the SAT. In fact, it’s specifically addressed in the SAT Terms and Conditions.
I sent a message to the CollegeBoard asking about the use of essay skeletons and what, exactly, was considered plagiarism. The language used to describe it in the terms and conditions is pretty vague, and I wanted to know if, for instance, a certain number of words had to appear in a row for something to be considered plagiarism. The response I got back only contained the relevant text from the Terms and Conditions:
“ETS reserves the right to dismiss test-takers, decline to score any test, and/or cancel any test scores when, in its judgment, as applicable, a testing irregularity occurs, there is an apparent discrepancy in a test-taker’s identification, an improper admission to the test center, a test-taker engages in misconduct, or The score is deemed invalid for another reason, including, but not limited to, discrepant handwriting or Plagiarism.” [bolding mine]
Basically, If the CollegeBoard thinks you’re plagiarizing, then they can cancel your SAT score. And because the CollegeBoard does not define plagiarism, they basically have the latitude to do one of those “I know it when I see it” standards with things like essay skeletons. Chances are that you won’t get marked down for the essay (other than for using vocab incorrectly), but since the template is so common, why risk it? Take an hour to Develop your own template. You’ll end up with even better results since you crafted it yourself and will be able to use it with more precision.
So what is plagiarism? There’s the Google definition, which says plagiarism is taking the work or idea(s) of someone else and not crediting them/presenting it as your own work or idea(s). Plagiarism is generally considered ethically wrong, and in many cases (including with the SAT), it can have real world consequences.
You might have read that the writer of the essay template gave permission to reuse the template, and that makes it OK. This is 100% false. Consider this scenario: you’re in high school and you’re taking AP English. Your brother had the same teacher the year before, and he got As on all his essays. For whatever reason, he gives you permission to reuse his essays in your class. Does that count as plagiarism? 100%. There’s no question about it. Your teacher and school don’t care whether the writer gave you permission or not. You copied the essay, and that is an ethical lapse that is entirely on you. You’d probably fail the class and/or face whatever other punishment your school has as policy.
What Does This Mean For My SAT/ACT Essay?
Obviously, using the same word, or even the same couple of words in a row, as someone else isn’t plagiarism (otherwise there would be lots of controversies over people using the two words “of the” together all the time and not citing their sources). A good general rule to follow is to Avoid copying more than four words in a row.
I’ve seen several essays since that begin with the phrase “The presupposition that,” which is fine, because it’s a phrase anyone could come up with to describe an assumption, and is relatively short (3 words). The phrase “these romantic critics are too dogmatic in their provincial ideology,” on the other hand, is problematic because
When it comes to preparing for the SAT or ACT essay, it’s much better to Rephrase in your own words and create your own skeleton. You can (and even should) look at other people’s skeletons/essays for tips, but you should never copy someone else’s work word-for-word without making it clear that it’s someone else’s work.
Can’t get enough of those SAT essays? Check out our 15 tips and strategies for writing the SAT essay, as well as a complete list of SAT essay prompts. On the ACT side, we have a corresponding article with tips to raise your ACT essay score, as well as a complete guide to the new ACT Writing Test (for September 2015 and onward).
Want more in-depth essay articles? You’re in luck! We’ve got step-by-step examples of how to write both the SAT and ACT essays, as well as detailed advice for how you can get a perfect 12 on the SAT essay.
Reading articles is all very well and good, but how can you get feedback on your practice essays? One way is through trying out the PrepScholar test prep platform, where intrepid essay graders (like myself) give you custom feedback on each practice essay you complete as part of our program.
Want to improve your SAT score by 240 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We’ve written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
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SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips
How Long Does It Take to Get SAT Scores Back?
Don’t you wish you could find out how you scored on the SAT right after you finish? Or maybe you’d like to forget all about it and pretend it never happened (better luck next time)!
Either way, your wait time for your SAT scores will be the same: somewhere Between three and six weeks. This article fills you in on all the details of SAT score reporting and offers some advice for what to do once you get your scores.
When Do You Get Your SAT Scores?
How long does it take to get SAT scores back? It’s a good question, and one that’s on everybody’s minds after the exam.
SAT multiple-choice scores are released 13 days after you take the SAT. (One exception is the June 2018 test date which has a score release date about five weeks after the test.) I f you took the SAT with essay, You’ll receive your essay score two days after you receive your multiple-choice scores (15 days after you took the SAT).
After about a year of having longer waits (between three and six weeks) to receive SAT scores, the College Board has revamped its schedule to give you your scores sooner. Yay!
Now, the actual Time of SAT score release varies. Sometimes it’s as early as 5:00am Eastern Time or 2:00am Pacific Time. I wouldn’t advise refreshing your account over and over at 4:59 (or 1:59 for you West Coasters) since the release time isn’t always exact.
Your colleges will get your scores within ten days of your receiving them (if you’ve indicated them as score recipients). Check out the chart below for exact score release dates by test date.
SAT Score Release by Test Dates
The chart below shows when you’ll be able to see your SAT scores for each test date of the 2018/2019 testing year.
2018-19 SAT Score Release Dates
These score release dates have all been confirmed by the College Board. As you can see in the chart, for each of these test dates (except June 1st), You’ll receive your multiple-choice results 13 days after you take the SAT, and your essay score (if you took it) two days after that. Your SAT results will be sent to the colleges you indicated within ten days of you getting your scores. However, for the June test day, you’ll wait about five weeks before receiving your multiple-choice results.
These dates are when most students will get their SAT scores, but an unlucky few might have to Wait longer. They might sign into their College Board accounts and find that their scores still aren’t ready. What are some possible reasons why your scores wouldn’t show up on score-release day?
Where in the world are your SAT scores?
What If Your SAT Scores Haven’t Been Released?
There are A few possible explanations if your SAT scores aren’t released on test day. None are especially common, so I wouldn’t worry too much about any of them happening to you! Read on for the four main causes of score delays.
Cause 1: Random Test Audit
The most random reason would be if the College Board decided to do a Random audit of tests to ensure scoring accuracy and your test got chosen. If that were the case, you’d have to wait longer for your scores, but they’d eventually get sent to you.
If you didn’t get an email or letter from the College Board (they’re a fan of sending information out by mail, for some reason), you could give your regional College Board office a call. Be prepared to be transferred and put on hold for a while, though. If you can’t tell, I haven’t had the best customer service when it comes to the College Board.
Cause 2: Red Flags on Your Test
Another possible reason is that your test was flagged because you improved by an unusually large number of points, like 400 or 500. If students’ SAT scores go up hundreds of points between test administrations, the College Board might hold your test to check for Scoring accuracy or signs of cheating.
I worked with an ESL student whose scores were withheld after he improved a few hundred points. We sent in letters on his behalf about all the prep he’d done between tests, but the College Board still canceled his scores in the end.
In addition to helping you solve problems while you’re taking the SAT, it’s a good idea to Show your work in your test booklet in the event that this happens to you. This way you can more easily prove that you didn’t cheat.
In these circumstances, or if a teacher reported cheating, the College Board might compare your answers with the answers of those sitting next to you to try to rule out any foul play.
Cause 3: Irregularities at Your Testing Site
Another possible reason for score delay would be Irregularities at the testing site. One example is the June 6, 2015 SAT, when some students got an extra five minutes on what should have been a 20-minute section.
Cause 4: They’re Just Being Slow
Finally, the reason might simply be that the College Board is running behind. They have a ton of tests to grade from students all over the U. S. and world.
If you know other students from your testing center or even testing room who’ve gotten back their scores, you should take action: call the College Board to try to get to the bottom of it.
Speaking of which, how do you know whether others have received their SAT scores?
Guys, what’s the news?
Where to Check If Others Have Received Their SAT Scores
On plenty of discussion forums, students get up early (or stay up late, depending on the time zone) and count down to the exact moment when their SAT scores are released.
The best ones can be found on College Confidential, where you can create an account and play your part in the waiting game. Again, Release times vary, so there’s really no use getting stressed and losing sleep over it. Your scores will be there when you wake up in the morning!
For students who test at their schools with their peers, you’ll likely hear through general word of mouth who got their scores (and whether they were psyched or disappointed).
Make sure to Have your College Board username and password on hand so you can easily sign into your account and view your scores. Y ou can also see whether colleges got your scores. Just go to the «My Scores Sent To» page. If they were sent, the page will say «received» for each college. If not, it will say «pending.»
Once you get your SAT scores, you can decide whether you’re Satisfied with the outcome or want (and have time) to retake the test.
Do your SAT scores give you a happy face or a sad face?
What to Do Once You Receive Your SAT Scores
While you shouldn’t stay up all night wondering, «When will I get my SAT scores?» and trying to will your scores to appear on-screen, you’ll benefit from checking the same day they’re released. Why? The sooner you check, the sooner you can figure out Whether you’re satisfied with your scores or see room for improvement.
Here are two options for what to do once you get your scores:
Option 1: Send Additional Score Reports to Colleges
If you’re satisfied with your scores and have more than four schools to send them to, start sending additional score reports to colleges. Make sure to send these colleges your SAT scores as soon as you can so that your colleges will receive them before the application deadline.
Additional score reports are not free and cost $12 per report (if you were eligible for a registration fee waiver, however, you can get these reports free as well).
If you need your scores to get to your colleges sooner, you can opt for rush reporting, which costs An extra $31 (on top of the $12 per report). This service sends score reports to schools within two to four business days.
Option 2: Retake the SAT
Not satisfied with your scores? If you have time before your college application deadlines and will put in the effort to prep, it’s a good idea to retake the SAT.
You can base your decision to retest on several factors. Ask yourself these questions in order to determine whether you would benefit from taking the SAT again:
- What’s your Target score?
- How much prep have you already put in?
- How much more time do you have to prepare before your next test?
- How many times have you already taken the SAT, and what improvement have you seen?
On a related note, because a lot of colleges superscore the SAT, You won’t have to Worry About accidentally scoring worse on one or more sections. (If you’re prepping effectively, however, this is unlikely anyway!)
Make sure to send your official score reports to all your colleges.
Recap: When Do You Get Your SAT Scores?
In closing, let’s go over the most important points to remember about receiving your SAT scores.
After you finish taking the SAT, you’ll have to wait About two weeks to get your scores back (five weeks if taking the June 2018 SAT). If you took the SAT with Essay, expect to get your Essay score A few days after you get your multiple-choice scores online.
You can check to see whether others have gotten their SAT scores by browsing online forums such as College Confidential or by talking with peers at school.
Once you get your scores, your two main options are to either Send additional score reports to schools (if satisfied with your scores) or Sign up for a retake (if dissatisfied with your scores).
Don’t forget to factor any extra time you need into your plans so you can ensure your scores will be able to get to your schools in time!
After you get your SAT scores, you can decide if you’re satisfied or if you want to test again. But what exactly are you aiming to score? This article goes over what low scores, good scores, and excellent scores are. Check it out so you can determine your own target SAT score.
Are you looking to improve your score on a specific section of the SAT? Read our advice and strategies for improving your scores on the SAT Reading, Writing, and Math sections.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We’ve written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now: