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You Were A Number. Make Yourself A Living Portrait.

(INSTRUCTION: BEFORE READING, PLEASE TAKE A DEEP BREATH)

“Coherent Organization…”

“Effective Presentation of Content…”

“Free of Mechanical Errors…”

GIVE ME A BREAK.

First off, paramount figures of modern literature, including Scott Fitzgerald (author of ‘The Great Gatsby’), Edgar Allen Poe (author of ‘Fall of the House of Ushers’ amongst other creepy poems), and Kurt Vonnegut (author of ‘Cat’s Cradle’) came to be Great by refusing to submit to literary conventions, namely the notorious ‘chronological organization.’ Through distorting the narrative time frame, these writers have not only given birth to some of the most marvelous works of humanity, but also sparked major linguistic innovations.

Next: effective presentation of Content. Okay. But how? This informative article is dedicated to prospective magnet program beneficiaries who demonstrate noteworthy intellectual curiosity in their academic and extracurricular endeavors (do you find this ‘effective?’) or… I’m killing my brain cells right now for all you desperate little overachieving eight graders hoping to please your parents with that acceptance letter (well… ignore the ‘little part’)?

Third. I’m sorry grammarians, but you and your dogma really ain’t that important anymore. In fact, great writers like Joyce, Faulkner, and Allison Walker completely BUTCHER grammar to make their works BEAUTIFUL.

Now let’s get to work.

There is only one reason you’re reading this right now (well, if you are sane): you want to get into Blair or RM or Poolesville or both or all and time is running out. In fact, you have to hand-in those three excruciating pages of paper TOMORROW BEFORE 6:00 PM to the mailman!! As a student in the IB program, I know exactly how many of you feel right now. You’re scared yet over-confident, nervous yet arrogant. Frankly, I still remember 1st semester eighth grade as the Dark Ages, a period of ceaseless self-torment and fret. But look, the Dark Ages led to Renaissance (aka Rebirth), right?

Now, the application deadline is tomorrow, November 9th, 2012, at 6:00pm (post-marked). Don’t let anyone, especially your parents, tell you that you can’t do anything in this short period of time. If you put your heart and soul into it for the next few hours, your essay can still be BRILLIANT, and I’m not saying this because I am a procrastinator myself (and yes… I did write one of the application essays in two hours).

Anyways, let’s first examine the prompt:

“Please describe yourself as you study, work, and interact in your favorite class or activity related to the focus on the __________ program.”

What does this even mean? Evidently the prompt wasn’t specific at all; it gave no instructions whatsoever. Well, the prompt isn’t meant to be specific or set any constraints. Thus, do not limit yourself with any constraints. Simply put, the essay question is: what’s something (or some things) productive that you do and how do you do it. Though very open-ended, remember that this essay is NOT a complete autobiography of a 14 year old or a list of jaw-dropping achievements/awards (that goes in the EC/resume column).

The other general thing about this essay is word count. It has to fit on one page. To make your graders happy, do not use less than 10-pt font. Thus, your essay should be about 750-900 words long.

Now let’s get to the actual writing. The following is a protocol for your reference:

1) Choosing your topic. Let’s begin by adjusting our mentality. You are not writing to impress, by to befriend. Students fall into two major traps a). following the prompt too much, b). Listing accomplishments rather than showing character. To produce any powerful writing, you absolutely have to have a PASSION for the topic you’re writing about. Take ten minutes, think about five to seven things that are important to you. Jot them down. My list came out to be… Violin, Helping at Senior Home, Neopets (yes, don’t laugh), gazing absentmindedly at the night sky/stars, and literature.

Be honest with yourself, do not make up hobbies or interests for the sake of showing off your academic aptitude. People in past years have written about tennis, service trips to developing countries, knitting, and even walking dogs.

Once you’ve got your list, circle one to three items that are the MOST important to you. It doesn’t matter if these topics sound ‘dumb,’ so long as you’ve learned something about life while working with them. I strongly advise against writing about more than three, because you simply don’t have enough space.

2) Crafting your portrait

#1 fact: do not begin your essay with I demonstrate ____ skills in ___  class. Very SAT-style vocab here. But it’s dry and rotten. You can either start your essay with a meaningful anecdote about yourself, or with a short, pithy statement (i.e. The freedom of the English language offers a sanctuary for the voices suppressed by social conventions. It is for this reason that I fell in love with writing.)

Now, we need to think of some way to organize our essays. Here are a couple of possible structures I recommend:

  • The sequence of when these passions came to you.
  • The order of importance
  • In a way that it illustrates some catchy part of your personality, for example, your belief in promoting equality for immigrants or love for parabolic equations. In this sense you are making yourself symbolic of a certain value(s)
  • (If you chose one activity/class), two~ three insights you’ve had about life while engaged in these activities. How did you reach these insights? What about these activities attract you the most?
  • Develop an ideal. For example, one student, in order to establish herself as an inquirer, wrote about how she created short films parodying some social themes in Sesame Street. With this structure, you want to have three examples (either different classes or activities or projects) that demonstrate a certain trait essential to the focus of the program you’re applying to (I actually chose this structure)

3) Polish up your language

With this particular essay, one thing that graders look for is really whether you know how to write an organized, 750 words narrative. Thus, make your paper as error-free as possible. The three major grammar mistakes that young writers make are:

  1. Subject-verb agreement; remember that the verb does NOT agree with the preposition, but rather the subject, (INCORRECT: the teacher, along with other students, plan to visit Lake Needwood. CORRECT: the teacher, along with other students, plans to visit Lake Needwood)
  2. Parallel Structure; either you have all nouns or all verbs, if you are using all verbs, make sure they are all in the same tense (INCORRECT: In science class, we studied about astronomy, performed frog dissections, and discussions about genetics were held. CORRECT: In science class, we studied about astronomy, performed frog dissections, and discussed about genetics).
  3. Run-on sentences; generally, if you see one of sentences is over 4 lines typed out, chances are something wrong with it. Short sentences are the most attention-getting. Once you see a subject, a verb, and an object, end it right away.

With these things in mind, open up Microsoft Word and start writing now! Most importantly, if you are in a state of complete distress because of your essay, STOP panicking. Remember that there is still the test on December 1st, where you’ll have another chance at demonstrating your writing skills. If you can show improvement in that essay, that’d be even better!

Remember, be natural and be yourself!

Good luck!

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