To use "I" or not to use "I" . . .
I received a great question today from one of our students about the use of personal references in the written essay portion of the SAT. The student was confused because the BTP Online SAT Program says to "Avoid using personal references such as 'I' or 'In my opinion,'" while the College Board site says " . . . feel free to use 'I,' and give examples that are meaningful to you, even ones from your personal life."
While it is true that no points will be deducted for personal references such as "I believe" or "I think," it is also true that many students have a tendency to over use their opinion, confuse opinion with fact, or to use "I" in ways that weaken their argument. A good way to avoid making these common mistakes is to avoid the use of “I” entirely.
The bottom line is that an SAT essay should be a persuasive argument. It should be built on solid examples and facts that support your viewpoint. If those facts happen to be personal experience or observation, no problem. There is nothing wrong with using a personal experience to support your point of view. Just make sure that if you are using “I” it is to introduce a legitimate fact or example, and not just to share your thoughts. Don't use your opinion AS an argument. Instead, dig deeper and present the FACTS on which you opinion is based.
Strong essays are based in fact. Use personal references sparingly and with caution.
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