How to Hack Your College Essays

If you are a great writer, college essays might not be much of a problem. However, if you’re more of a “math or science person,” the countless essays required by your college can turn into a nightmare. Fortunately, there’s an easy way to write an A-quality essay in 1/3rd the time, even if you don’t consider yourself a talented writer. I spent years developing this process during my English Major at Columbia, and I have spent the last decade teaching it to hundreds of my students. Just follow the steps below and you’ll never worry about your college essays again.

4-22 College Essays

1. Treat each class session like a spy.

Whenever you sit in class, you should have one goal: make a note of every single quote, fact, and article that your teacher mentions during class. Make a huge collection of these – they’ll come in very handy later on.

2. Evidence first, thesis later.

Most students come up with their thesis, then try to find the evidence to support it. As a result, they spend a ridiculous amount of time doing research for their papers. Often, even after hours of searching, the evidence they find only slightly supports their thesis. If you want to save enormous amounts of time, try the following instead:

A. Lay out all of your notes and citations that you have collected from your teacher.

If you have been collecting them during class, you should have a nice pile.

B. Read all of them, and find out something that most of them have in common.

Whatever theme they all share, that’s what you should be writing about.

C. Craft a thesis that most of them loosely prove.

If a bunch of the evidence you have collected proves a certain point, then that point should be your thesis!

If you already have a bunch of evidence that your teacher has given you, and if you can come up with some sort of point that most of it proves, then you have already done your research! You can just use the evidence in front of you to reverse engineer a thesis that has already been proven! No further work is necessary.

3. Write your paper with one piece of evidence per paragraph, two paragraphs per page, and reverse engineer your topic sentences based on the evidence you’re already using.

If you need to write 8 pages, you need about 16 paragraphs – one opening, one closing, and 14 body paragraphs. This means you’ll need 14 pieces of evidence.

Fortunately, writing these paragraphs will be insanely easy because you already have the evidence to prove them. So if you have a Bill Clinton quote that says, “candy is delicious” – then your topic sentence can just be, “Many eminent politicians believe that sweets taste good.” Warm up a bit, provide some filler, and then use the Bill Clinton quote to support your topic sentence and drive it home!

If you “reverse engineer” your essays this way, the entire process becomes incredibly easy. You don’t need to figure out what to say, and you don’t need to find the evidence to prove it – both are already done for you. All you need to do is pay attention in class!

Give this method a try and see how it works – it might just save your life!

Anthony-James Green is world-renowned SAT and ACT tutor with over 10,000 hours of experience teaching these tests, crafting curriculum, and training other tutors to teach their own students. He is also the founder of CNN recently named Anthony: “The SAT tutor to the 1%

How To Go From A “Good” To A “Great” Paper

Ask any one of my buddies.  When I have to write a paper, I want to literally shoot myself in the face & end it all.  I’m dramatic and whiny but I always get it done, correctly and on time.  I can’t make the process any more enjoyable but hopefully these tips can take your paper to the next level.

#1 Don’t worry about filling up pages.  This is the number one way to get a C or lower on a paper.  It leads to rambling repeated ideas rephrased and a lack of coherent structure. Instead, try to find more facts to back up your thesis statement or main points. Include graphs, charts, figures or anything else that will reinforce the message you are trying to get across.  Nobody can argue with the facts; words are wind.

#2 A great way to avoid #1, determine the scope of your paper.   Scope means the size of the question you want to answer.

I’ll give you an example of a prompt I received in an ethics and public policy paper.

“Which is more important: maximizing happiness or minimizing rights violations?”  The reading for the paper was 200 pages and the scope of the original question is HUGE.  A doctoral thesis could be written on that question alone and I only have 3-5 pages to work with.  So I change the question.  Instead of addressing everything, I answer ‘maximizing happiness is more important that minimizing rights violation when conditions A, B and C exist.  Boom, thesis and scope knocked out in one fell swoop.

Which naturally leads to step…

#3 unpack your ideas.  Focus on two or three points for a paper of 3-5 pages and then thoroughly argue them.  How do you achieve this?  Think of every objection you can think of to the point you are trying to make and address those weaknesses and objections.  Addressing counter arguments makes your thesis stronger, not weaker and it builds up to that page limit constructively while leaving the writer with only a few points to address well. That is, in a nutshell, what unpacking is.

One last word of advice, it is such a rookie mistake we have all been guilty of at one point or another, and it will bite you in the butt every time.  The thesaurus is not a data mine for you to intellectualize your paper with more eloquence. The thesaurus is to tease out nuances for an idea you are trying to express (ex. I don’t just want to beat my opponent, I want to hammer him).  Use with caution!

Good luck, I hope this helps!  Questions are welcome in the comments section.



I’m reading Campbell Biology: Concepts and Connections