"The student and I focused mainly on the writing sample and the reasoning skills it offers the opportunity to demonstrate (and to apply to other test sections, such as critical reading). First, we looked at the sample essay he had written for this session. His grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary skills were quite strong, a reflection of the hard work he's put in on the verbal section both in our sessions and on his own. His choice of arguments and supporting statements, and the logic he applied to them, showed room for progress, however. We began by correcting factual inaccuracies and talking about the importance of choosing examples that he knows well enough not to feel forced to make assumptions, and used that discussion as a springboard to work on his process for choosing examples and arguments. It was especially apparent from this sample essay (as well as our work in previous sessions) that he analyzes much more clearly when talking about real-life examples as opposed to hypothetical situations. He finds speculation very tempting; it has often formed the basis of his initial responses to writing prompts and to the search for examples to illustrate new vocabulary words. When pressed to think of situations that have actually happened, however, his argumentation becomes much clearer, his premises more plausible, and his logic much more sound. We talked about how he might more fully develop the references he included in arguments based in his own or family members' experiences, and examined which of his arguments were weaker and which were stronger (and on what grounds). Finally, I suggested adjustments to his brainstorming and planning process to encourage him to use more concrete, less speculative examples since those are where his writing shines. He was a real trooper through this process, which can be as uncomfortable as it is vital to helping a student consider how to choose and support an argument. I was proud of him for his willingness to listen, to answer questions, and to work with me on how he could better show off his persuasive writing and critical thinking skills both in the SSAT writing task and in his future papers for classes.
Having gone over his sample essay in detail, we spent time practicing the modified argument-planning strategy we'd discussed by looking briefly at a variety of other sample writing prompts. For each one, we quickly ran through the brainstorming and logic-checking questions we'd settled on to see what ideas he could come up with for thesis statements and concrete supporting examples in 3 minutes or less. He did quite well at this exercise, and both his statements of fact and the logic he applied to them flourished once he became more used to avoiding "Maybe if ... " statements in favor of situations from his own life and from history."