Prep for the SAT Essay

Don’t call them “dramas”

Summary: Don’t call them dramas. Call them television programs.

Quick tip: If you’re writing about serialized Chinese television programs, don’t call them “dramas” in your essays. Instead, refer to them as Chinese television dramas (or Korean if they’re Korean, Mexican if they’re Mexican, etc.).

Why? Well, “drama” is a broad term that refers to many different types of performances, so “dramas” by itself is too vague. And whoever reads and scores your SAT essay may very likely not know what you mean if you simply write “dramas.”

Note: There is a large Chinese population in San Francisco, and many young “ABCs” (American-born Chinese) refer to these nighttime “soap operas” as dramas. Other people may refer to similar programs from their cultures with different terms. For example, some Spanish speakers may refer to them as “novelas.” If you’re using a word or term that many people have not heard, it’s always a good idea to explain that term in your writing so that the reader will not be confused.

For example, the following writing might be confusing for some readers:

*For example, in a drama I was watching, there was a poor but pretty girl who fell in love with a handsome and rich boy.

This would be better:

For example, in a Chinese television program I watched, there was a poor but pretty girl who fell in love with a handsome, rich boy.

One related point–avoid using television programs as examples. Literary works tend to get higher scores. But if you can’t think of anything else, a writing about a television program is better than not writing anything.


A new version of the Common App is coming. Thank goodness.

There’s a new version of the Common App coming on August 1, 2013, and they’re calling it CA4.

So, what’s wrong with the current version of the Common App? Well, a lot of things. It’s a noble effort, and it saves a lot of time for applicants and admissions committees alike. But it does have a few shortcomings. For example:

  • If you want to make a correction to your application, it’s difficult to do so. There’s a way to edit previous versions of your Common App, but it’s a bit tricky.
  • It does not have a rich-text editor. What’s that? In plain English, that just means that you can’t format your writing with bold, italicsunderlines, etc. Why does that matter? Actually, it matters a lot. In many situations, applicants need to write about books, movies, music pieces, etc., and it’s not only difficult or tedious to use quotation marks, underscores, or asterisks for formatting, doing so typically counts against your total character count, meaning you can’t write as much as you’d like.
  • The editor is tricky to compose in–it doesn’t save automatically, and if you compose in Google Docs or OpenOffice, slight formatting changes occur, which could make your application look sloppy.

I haven’t seen any news or previews of the new platform, but I hope it will address some or all of these issues. Of course, I’ll keep you updated with news when I learn more.

More information:


Sample email: I made a mistake on my application

So you made a mistake on your Common App? And the college you applied to has instructed you to contact the admissions office directly to make the correction? (Stanford does this, for example.)

As always, you must be professional. Whatever you write very well may become part of your application.

First, here’s an example of how NOT to write (and yes, I may exaggerate for effect):

First email at 12:14 PM:

*oh hai i made a mistake on my application, so can you fix it for me? my sat is actually 1920, not 1290. okay thanx.

Second email at 2:17 PM:

*oh hai, i forgot, my name is my full name. kthxbye!!!111

I hope that that communication is obviously wrong. If it’s not, please, let’s have a talk! Or talk to someone who has experience with writing for help (such as an English teacher or someone who has a professional job).

This is a better version of the email:

Dear Admissions Officer,

Unfortunately, I recorded some information incorrectly on my Common App. I tried to update it myself, but it’s locked, and I can’t make the change myself. I checked your site’s FAQ, and it said I should email you with corrections. My SAT score is 1920. The score of 1290 is incorrect.

Thanks in advance for your assistance .

Best regards,

My Full Name

Obviously, if you’re going to use this email, please use this as a template only. In other words, don’t just copy and paste this email–edit it to make it your own.


Think twice before you write that clever status message

Quick advice, everybody:

Anytime you make a post on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, your school website, some random essay website, or whatever, you’ve got to believe and understand that whatever you write could be seen by pretty much anyone in the future.

For example, this is BAD:

*half a grade off for one day late? (WTHeck) mr foshizzle????!!!!!! (hecka) (angry)!

This is better:

Note to self: Always plan for the unexpected.

Why? In the future, some admissions officer or job interviewer may come across your post and decide to reject you for it. No kidding. It happens.