How to Ace the SAT Essay Section

As the SAT Essay portion is optional, many students frequently ask whether they should opt to complete it. First, you should find out if any of the colleges you’re applying to require the SAT Essay. However, all students should seriously consider taking this portion of the exam no matter what, as it is another way to differentiate yourself and showcase your academic skills.

The essay prompt will be a passage of 650-750 words that you will have to read and complete your essay within 50 minutes. The instructions for this essay will be the same on every SAT — you will need to demonstrate your ability to analyze an argument by (i) explaining the point the author is making and (ii) describing how the author makes the point, using specific examples from the passage.  The only thing that will change will be the passage that you have to analyze. The directions will ask you to show how the author makes a claim using three things: (1) evidence (facts or examples), (2) reasoning (logic), and (3) stylistic or persuasive language (appeals to emotion, word choice, etc.). Many have pointed out that these three elements can be compared to ethos, logos, and pathos, rhetorical concepts that are often used in high school composition classes.

There are a variety of topics you will see in the example passages. Every passage will have a claim that is being presented by the author. The passage will be an example of persuasive writing, wherein the author tries to convince the audience to adopt a specific position on the topic. An example claim could be something like “Self-driving cars should be banned” or “We can only curtail worsening wildfires by addressing climate change” or “Shakespeare was actually more than one person.” You will not need prior knowledge about the topic to write your SAT Essay. Be careful if you do have knowledge of the topic, as the assignment is not asking for your opinion or knowledge about the subject—it is asking you to explain how the author supports their claim. Do NOT just explain what the passage is about in general and do not share your personal opinion about the argument or topic. 

In terms of structure, you generally want to identify the point the author is making in your introductory paragraph. In the body of your essay, you can show the different techniques the author uses to support their point. You can use multiple examples per paragraph if you wish, but make sure you have some level of organization to your body paragraphs (you can do a paragraph about each of the three rhetorical techniques, for example). You will also want to include a conclusion to sum everything up and end your essay.

Two readers will work together to score your essay. Each of these readers will give you a score of 1-4 in each of three different categories—Reading, Analysis, and Writing. These scores are added together, so you will have a score of 2-8 on each of these three elements (RAW). The total score for the SAT Essay will be out of 24 points. This score is kept separate from your SAT Score. The Reading Score will test that you understood the source text and that you understand the examples you used. The Analysis Score shows how well you explained the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and persuasion to support their claim. The Writing Score will be based on how effectively you use language and structure. You will need to have a clear thesis such as “The author supports the claim X by using evidence, reasoning, and persuasion.” You will also need to have variable sentences, clear paragraph structure, and a clear progression of ideas.

Keep all of the above in mind, and you will have nothing to fear on the essay portion of the SAT! Remember to identify the author’s main point in your intro and remember to identify the 3 different techniques the author uses with examples. Also, don’t forget to practice. You can find many SAT prep courses or SAT tutoring programs that can help you prepare for the SAT Essay as well.

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