The SAT essay follows the same structure and theme in each exam. What you must do on each essay is read one passage (between 650-750 words). After reading, you must write an essay in which you explain how the author builds an argument to persuade the audience about his/her claim. To do this, you have to evaluate the passage in terms of the evidence used, the reasoning implemented, the stylistic or persuasive elements that were displayed, or any other feature that you may deem fit to analyze. The analysis will be a discussion about how the author builds their argument rather than an explanation of the argument itself. That is the main distinction here that many students overlook or can’t nail down. It’s all about how the author persuades, not what the topic is or why the topic is chosen or even if you agree with the author. So, the first paragraph should be an overview of the argument, the main tools the author uses to further that argument, and how those tools effectively persuade the reader. Every essay should have a thesis, or a main arguing point. Your thesis should cover how efficient the author is at arguing their point.
This is the main body of what your work will be on the essay in which you isolate and identify the methods of how the author built their argument. A proper argument requires showing the pros and cons to all sides of an issue and evaluating how true each side is. You have to really analyze the meaning behind each argument, breaking them down to their core concepts. The author will use reasoning and logic to develop their ideas and connect evidence and claims made in the passage. Those pieces of evidence are the only way they can concretely support their claims, so you should be able to pick them out and analyze just how strong they are. Furthermore, keep the author’s style and tone in mind. Are they being passionate? Cold and logical? Appealing to emotion? Using fancy language to empower their ideas?
No idea is credible without evidence or explanation. The same is certainly true for your essay. Never neglect developing your argument organically with evidence and examples. These can only help to illustrate your point! The pieces of the author’s argument that you analyze will be your pieces of evidence and claims. Solely relying on feelings, opinions, and empathetic factors will get you somewhere, but will not hold up to scrutiny. If you can’t explain an argument with some form of logic – whether it be evidence, precedent, or reasonable cause and effect – then you should not include said argument. Bringing up something that cannot be supported by fact or reason just makes your point hazier. The SAT will score you based on how well you understood the source text, so do use textual evidence effectively while demonstrating that you internalized the meaning.
Without organizing your essay, it will be a messy heap of thoughts and words. Before you even think of starting, brainstorm the flow of the author’s argument and what techniques were used. This can be done by making a quick chart or list on some scratch paper. A good format is an introduction, three body paragraphs (typically with each one focusing on one of the three perspectives, comparing them with your own), and a conclusion. This seems pretty basic and obvious, and it is, but that is because this is a tried and true method of logically and naturally developing an essay. The introduction will, obviously, introduce the essay and contain your thesis that states your point of view in regards to the text clearly and concisely. From there, you should start laying out the strengths of the author’s argument while also stating how effective they are to a reader. Transitions that properly and swiftly cause a nice flow between sentences and paragraphs is icing on the cake and helps immensely. Being able to follow someone’s thought process works wonders when analyzing an argument and just makes for easier reading.
Adept use of language, grammar, and punctuation will also make things much easier and more fun for the reader. In addition, using skillful and precise word choices, proper use of advanced and varied vocabulary, having a non-repetitive and clear sentence structure, and stylizing your voice and tone will enhance your argument exponentially. Nothing makes someone want to agree with what you’re writing quite like making them enjoy what you’re saying. That’s what charisma is, after all (and probably something that the author of your given passage is adept with). However, you can be as charismatic as you want and still ruin what you’re working so hard for by using incorrect grammar and punctuation. Make sure to go over what you’ve written down! You don’t have an editor, so you’ll have to make do with your own skills, meaning that practice will always help with writing an essay. You can also weaken your essay by being too fancy. Fanciful wording and sentence structure might sound very appealing – in fact, I argued for them not but a few sentences ago! – but it is much better to be clear than flowery. Unless you’re an expert writer, you’ll want to stick with more straight forward prose because what might sound nice and fun to you will only be perplexing to someone else.
While the essay portion of the SAT might not be widely utilized or sought after by most schools, it can still be an important and impressive factor when applying for college. In order to do well on the essay, you have to know what to expect: the structure, the techniques of arguments, the grading rubric, and keeping a strong and consistent voice. The only thing you cannot anticipate is the topic that will be presented. Finish the essay, wrapping up your key points and the thesis is a nice, digestible paragraph. Nevertheless, if you have taken these tips to heart – and perhaps even sought out a tutor – you will have no trouble putting thought to pencil to paper and striking awe in the minds of readers.
Some Useful Tools
Now that you know how the SAT essay should be written, you can take action and prepare for it! Here is a good resource for practicing grammar and punctuation at Khan Academy. The SAT website has some example essays written for a two prompts, each having different scores. This is great as you can see what constitutes a bad essay, an alright essay, and a great essay. Go ahead, compare these samples and internalize the scoring rubric!