How To Prepare For The Sat Essay

The SAT Essay is scored separately from the rest of the SAT now, thanks to the changes that went into effect in March 2016.

While the essay is now optional (you don't automatically have to take it every time you take the SAT), some colleges still require students to submit SAT essay scores with their applications. Learning how to consistently write a perfect SAT essay will be a huge boost to your application to these schools.

In this article, we'll discuss what it takes to get a perfect 8/8/8 on the SAT essay and what you need to do to train yourself to get this top score.

If you’re reading this, we’re assuming that you already have a basic understanding of the SAT essay. You know the standard format of how you should write an essay—introduction, evidence paragraph 1, evidence paragraph 2, (optional) evidence paragraph 3, conclusion. You know that you should state your thesis in the introduction. All of this will get you a 5/8 as long as you develop your points enough.

If you aren’t fully aware of the SAT essay building blocks, take a spin through our 15 SAT Essay tips to raise your essay score.

But how do you push your essay to the next level, from "adequate" to "outstanding?" That’s what this article is about.

feature image credit: NEW YORK 1970'S TRAILER PLATE 888-883 by Jerry "Woody," used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

The Big Secret

You’ll have to practice this. The perfect SAT essay is like a puzzle that happens to be in written form—it can be mastered, but to do it well and completely every time requires practice with a lot of sample topics. You need to learn the format of an effective essay and how to fill out a complete essay within 50 minutes.

 

What an SAT Essay Score of 8 Means

If you’re already scoring a 5 or above in all three areas on practice (or real) SAT essays, you have a shot at completely nailing what the graders want, represented by a score of 8/8/8, with a little practice.

But there’s something important to remember in your question for perfection: on the SAT essay, an 8 in all categories is not always achievable. We’ve got good news and bad news for those of you who are determined to score an 8/8/8 on the SAT essay.

 

Good News and Bad News by Mike Licht, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

The Bad News

Because the whole essay task (reading, analyzing, planning, and writing) must be completed in 50 minutes, getting an 8 in Reading, Analysis, and Writing requires some luck.

You have to read the article and analyze the way the author builds her/his argument, pick out the most important components to the argument, find evidence to support your interpretation, and plan out your essay before you can even start writing.

A lot depends on how quickly you can come up with a thesis and relevant support for whatever the prompt happens to be—you might find some articles easier to read and analyze the argumentative structure of than others.

You'll need to use precise language to show mastery of English writing. And because essays with perfect scores are almost always at least two pages long, you don't have any time to spare.

If you trip up on your execution of any of these aspects, the graders might not give your SAT essay an 8/8/8.

 

The Good News

Because the essay is so formulaic, it's always possible to get a 6 across the board. Sometimes you might find the author's argument to analyze harder than others, or sometimes you might find the article more difficult to get through, but you will always be able to impress them enough to get a 6/6/6.

No college worth its salt is going to base your college admissions decision on getting those last two points on an essay you had 50 minutes to write (especially when the essay is optional). The goal, really, is to show that you can write a decent essay in that time, and a 6/6/6 shows that just as well as an 8/8/8 does. But you should aim as high as you can, so keep reading to find out what it really takes to get a perfect score on the SAT essay.

 

The Difference Between a 6 and an 8

If we asked the College Board what the difference is between a 6 and an 8 SAT essay, they would direct us to the scoring rubric that shows the criteria for a 1, 2, 3, and 4 in Reading, Analysis, and Writing. (SAT essays are scored by two graders who each rate your essay on a scale of 1-4 in Reading, Analysis, and Writing; the two graders' scores are added together to get scores out of 8 for each domain.)

Below, we've excerpted the criteria for a 3 and a 4 in all three domains and described the differences between the 3 and 4 score levels for Reading, Analysis, and Writing. We’ve marked the differences between the 3 and 4 criteria in bold.

 

 

Proficient:

Score of 3 (6)

Advanced:

Score of 4 (8)

Major Differences

Reading

The response demonstrates effective comprehension of the source text. The response shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and important details. The response is free of substantive errors of fact and interpretation with regard to the text. The response makes appropriate use of textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating an understanding of the source text.

The response demonstrates thorough comprehension of the source text. The response shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and of most important details and how they interrelate, demonstrating a comprehensive understanding of the text. The response is free of errors of fact or interpretation with regard to the text. The response makes skillful use of textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating a complete understanding of the source text.

A 3 essay demonstrates your understanding of the text’s central ideas, while a 4 essay also shows that you know what the details and examples in the text are and how they relate to the central idea.

Analysis

The response offers an effective analysis of the source text and demonstrates an understanding of the analytical task. The response competently evaluates the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing. The response contains relevant and sufficient support for claim(s) or point(s) made. The response focuses primarily on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task.

The response offers an insightful analysis of the source text and demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the analytical task. The response offers a thorough, well-considered evaluation of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing. The response contains relevant, sufficient, and strategically chosen support for claim(s) or point(s) made. The response focuses consistently on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task.

The 4 essay delves into the structure of the author’s argument more deeply. The writer not only states the techniques used in the text, but also thoroughly explains their impact on the reader. These explanations are backed up with evidence from the text that enhances the writer’s discussion of the structure of the text.

Writing

The response is mostly cohesive and demonstrates effective use and control of language. The response includes a central claim or implicit controlling idea. The response includes an effective introduction and conclusion. The response demonstrates a clear progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay. The response has variety in sentence structures. The response demonstrates some precise word choice. The response maintains a formal style and objective tone. The response shows a good control of the conventions of standard written English and is free of significant errors that detract from the quality of writing.

The response is cohesive and demonstrates a highly effective use and command of language. The response includes a precise central claim. The response includes a skillful introduction and conclusion. The response demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay. The response has a wide variety in sentence structures. The response demonstrates a consistent use of precise word choice. The response maintains a formal style and objective tone. The response shows a strong command of the conventions of standard written English and is free or virtually free of errors.

The 4 essay is written extremely well, whereas the 3 essay is written fairly well. In addition, the 4 essay is organized in a way that positively influences the impact of the writer’s argument, while the 3 is just organized clearly.

 

Let’s condense the information above. A perfect 4 essay:

  • is extremely clear
  • is consistent, smooth, and easy to read
  • has few errors
  • is not repetitive in content or language
  • is sufficiently detailed (using evidence from the text) to fully support the writer’s thesis
  • demonstrates that you understand the text and the author’s claim(s)

In other words, you need to excel in every one of these aspects to get a perfect score.

 

A Sample Essay

Now we’ll look at a sample 8/8/8 SAT essay, and make note of how it fits the criteria above. The prompt (taken from The Official SAT Study Guide) for the sample essay is as follows:

Write an essay in which you explain how Peter S. Goodman builds an argument to persuade his audience that news organizations should increase the amount of professional foreign news coverage provided to people in the United States. In your essay, analyze how Goodman uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.

The passage to which this prompt refers appears on pp. 183-185 of The Official SAT Study Guide (March 2016 & Beyond), or on slightly different pages in later editions. You'll need the passage to follow along with the sample essay below.

Here’s the essay. Read it first, and we’ll have annotations below.

     In the article “Foreign News at a Crisis Point,” Peter S. Goodman eloquently argues the ‘point’ that news organizations should increase the amount of professional foreign news coverage provided to people in the United States. Goodman builds his argument by using facts and evidence, addressing the counterarguments, and couching it all in persuasive and compelling language.

     Goodman begins the article by bombarding the reader with facts and statistics. He states that, according to a census conducted by the American Journalism Review, the number of full-time foreign news correspondents in the United States dropped from 307 in 2003 to 234 in 2011. In addition, the AJR survey also discovered that “the space devoted to foreign news [in American papers] had shrunk by 53 percent” in the last 25 years.

     Beginning the article with all of these facts and figures has a couple of strengtheing effects on Goodman’s argument. First, by starting out with hard evidence, Goodman lays the groundwork of his own credibility. He’s not just writing an opinion piece—his opinion is backed by the truth. This will bring the readers onboard and make them more likely to trust everything else he says. Second, because Goodman presents these facts without much explaining/interpreting, the reader is forced to do the math herself. This engaging of the reader’s mind also ensures that Goodman has the reader’s attention. When the reader does the math to find a drop of 73 full-time foreign news correspondents employed by US papers in just 8 short years, she will find herself predisposed to agree with Goodman’s call for more professional foreign news reporting.

     In addition to employing facts to his argument’s advantage, Goodman also cunningly discusses the counterargument to his position. By writing about how social media and man-on-the-ground reporting has had some positive impact on the state of foreign news reporting, Goodman heads off naysayers at the pass. It would have been very easy for Goodman to elide over the whole issue of citizen reporting, but the resultant one-sided argument would have been much less convincing. Instead, Goodman acknowledges things like “the force of social media during the Arab Spring, as activists convened and reacted to changing circumstances.” As a result, when he partially refutes this counterargument, stating the “unease” many longtime profession correspondents feel over the trend of ‘citizen journalism’ feel, the reader is much more likely to believe him. After all, Goodman acknowledges that social media does have some power. Knowing that Goodman takes the power of social media seriously will make the reader more inclined, in turn, to take Goodman’s concern about the limits of social media seriously.

     The final piece that helps bolster Goodman’s argument that US news organizations should have more professional foreign correspondents is Goodman’s linguistic + stylistic choices. Goodman uses contrasts to draw the reader deeper into his mindset. By setting up the contrast between professional reporters as “informational filters” that discriminate good from bad and amateur, man-on-the-spot reporters as undiscriminating “funnels,” Goodman forces the reader to view the two in opposition and admit that professional filters are to be preferred over funnels that add “speculatio, propaganda, and other white noise” to their reporting. In addition, Goodman drives the reader along toward agreeing with his conclusion in the penultimate paragraph of the article with the repetition of the phrase “We need.” With every repetition, Goodman hammers even further home the inescapable rightness of his argument. The use of “We” more generally through the article serves to make the readers feel sympathetic towards Goodman and identify with him.

     By employing the rhetorical techniques of presenting facts, acknowledging the other side, and using persuasive language, Goodman convinces the reader of his claim.

 

Here are our notes on what stands out in this essay (general comments are in purple, spelling/grammar errors are highlighted in yellow):

 




 

Note that not every 8/8/8 essay needs to have exactly the same items in here, nor do you need to argue in exactly the same way. But the elements in this essay make it a standout and demonstrate clear mastery.

And now for the million-dollar question:

 

What Makes This SAT Essay an 8 Rather Than a 6?

Maybe you get the theory behind what makes an essay an 8/8/8, but how can you tell the difference between a 6 and an 8 in practice? Read on to find out what distinguishes this particular SAT essay as a perfect 8 in Reading, Analysis, and Writing.

 

Precise Language

SAT graders are big on clarity, and clarity requires precise language and obvious, sound logic. In this essay, vivid language is used effectively and appropriately:

  • Goodman is described as bombarding the reader with facts and figures
  • The writer describes Goodman as arguing his point using not just language but persuasive and compelling language:
  • The effect of Goodman’s argument is not just that it convinces the reader, but that "the reader…will find herself predisposed to agree with Goodman’s call for more professional foreign news reporting."

All of this clear and precise language helps support and explain the author's point (just as Goodman’s language supports his point in the text!).

 

Effective Analysis and Organization

The writer's clarity extends to her logic as well. Sufficient background is given to make it clear the writer read and understood the text. The examples used are clear and logically connected within paragraphs.

The writer also makes sure to identify the what/why/what of the author's argumentative devices:

  • What are the techniques the author used to persuade the reader of his claim?
  • Why did the author use them?
  • What effect does their use have on the reader?

The organization of the essay follows the organization set out in the introduction: the writer first discusses facts and evidence, then the presentation and refutation of a counterargument, then compelling language. Organization in the essay is aided by transitions between all paragraphs, which create a smooth, consistent argument that is easy to follow.

 

Consistency Throughout

The clarity of the argument and the lack of errors remain consistent from start to finish. The highlighted errors are few and do not detract or distract from the meaning of the essay. The wording of the thesis statement in the introduction and the conclusion is similar but not identical, and the description of how Goodman builds his argument is the same.

 

Dos piezas by Raúl Hernández González, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

Variety

The author uses a variety of words (marked in blue) and sentence structures to convey similar ideas in different ways throughout the essay. For instance, social media, man-on-the-ground (or man-on-the-spot) reporting, citizen journalism, and amateur reporting are all different words and phrases used to describe the same phenomenon of non-professional foreign news correspondents.

In paragraph 4, there's also a good example of a skillfully executed variation in sentence structure. “Knowing that Goodman takes the power of social media seriously will make the reader more inclined…” could easily be the simpler “Goodman takes the power of social media seriously, which makes the reader more likely to agree…” This kind of linguistic "flourish" can be found in most top-scoring SAT Essays.

Note that all of the varied usage described above is effective as well as varied. SAT vocab words and differening sentence structures aren't thrown into the essay haphazardly—it's clear, effective writing like what you might read in the New York Times.

 

Detailed Support and Length

The essay is long enough to detail three complex examples (discussing Goodman’s use of facts and evidence, a counterargument, and vivid language) and include introductory and concluding paragraphs.

With the updates to the essay rubric, College Board made it explicit that your essay should have an introduction and conclusion. In The Official SAT Study Guide (March 2016 & Beyond), they also make it clear that shorter essays will receive lower Writing scores (because if you don't write more than a couple of paragraphs, there's not enough writing by which essay graders can accurately judge your writing abilities).

But length means nothing if there isn't valuable information filling the space, so long SAT essays also need to be detailed—this author uses the space to give lots of context for her examples.

 

Dos and Don’ts for an 8/8/8 SAT Essay

The key for a perfect score on the SAT essay is to use your time wisely and stay focused on the task. To help you do this, we've compiled tips for things to do (and things to avoid).

 

Do spend time:

  • Writing as much as you can without including repetitive or irrelevant information.
  • Revising the first and last paragraphs (they stand out in readers’ minds).
  • Making sure you have effective transitions for a seamless essay.
  • Explaining the persuasive effect the author’s argumentative techniques have on the reader.

 

Don't spend time:

  • Thinking of “smart-sounding" evidence—analysis of how the author used a personal anecdote is just as viable as a discussion of the author’s use of logos and other rhetorical strategies.
  • Trying to correct every single error—the grammar and the spelling do not have to be perfect to score an 8 in Writing. This doesn't mean that you should just leave sentence fragments all over the place, but it does mean that accidentally leaving off the last letter of a word or making a small subject/verb agreement error won't be the end of the world (or of your perfect SAT essay score). Spend the extra time trying to write more and develop your points.
  • Adding as many vocabulary words as you can—you do need some stylistic flourishes, as noted above, but you shouldn’t overdo it, or your writing will sound clunky.

 

How to Train to Improve Your SAT Essay Score

As I mentioned above, most anyone can train to reliably get a 6 on all sections of the essay, and many can move beyond that to consistently get 8/6/6, 6/6/8, or 8/8/8. Here’s a framework for how to do this:

  • Read through our complete list of SAT essay prompts.
  • Memorize a list of persuasive techniques that you can find in most essay prompt articles.
  • Start by practicing with extended time (80 minutes) so you can feel what it takes to get a top-scoring essay. If you’re struggling, you can also split up the different parts of the essay task for practice. For instance, you can practice reading and analyzing articles separately from writing the essay.
  • Find a way to grade your essay. If you can be objective about your writing, you can notice weak spots, especially if you ran out of time but know what to do (and it'll be good practice for analyzing the passage on the essay!). Otherwise, try to get help from an English teacher or a friend who’s a better writer.
  • Start narrowing your essay time down to 50 minutes to mirror the actual test.

 

What’s Next?

Ready to get started with practice essays? Check out our thorough analysis of the SAT essay prompt and our complete list of prompts to practice with.

Use our 15 tips to improve your SAT essay score.

Follow along as I take you through how to write a top-scoring SAT essay, step by step.

Took the old SAT essay and want to know what's changed? Read our complete guide to the March 2016 SAT essay here.

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Looking for a great way to prep? Check out PrepScholar's online prep program. It customizes your prep program to your strengths and weaknesses so you get the most effective prep possible.

Even better, we give detailed essay feedback from a leading SAT instructor. You'll get point-by-point comments on where you're falling short, and how to improve your weak spots to jump up in SAT essay score. Click below to sign up for our 5-day free trial.

 

Whether you've never written an SAT Essay or didn't get the score you wanted on your last test, you can benefit from knowing more: both about the essay itself, and what really matters when the graders are reading your essay.

To introduce you to what you'll have to do, we've gathered up these 15 tips to master the SAT essay. If you can reliably follow all these points, you'll be able to get at least a 6/6/6 on the SAT essay—guaranteed.

 

The Challenge

The SAT Essay is a very short assignment. You only get 50 minutes to read a 650-750 word passage, analyze the devices the author uses to structure her/his argument, and write a full-fledged essay—and it can pass in a flash if you don't have a method for attacking it.

Writing an SAT essay requires a very specific approach that's unlike the essays you've been writing for English class in school. The goal of this strategy is to cram in as many as possible of the desired components in the 50 minutes you've got. In this article, we give you 15 key tips for the SAT essay.

The first five tips in this article relate to what the College Board tells us about what's a good essay. The next five are truths that the College Board doesn't want you to know (or doesn’t make explicit). And the last five tips for SAT essay writing show you how to build an SAT essay, step by step.

 

What the College Board Does Tell You: 5 Tips

The College Board explains the main components of the successful SAT Essay in its scoring criteria. Here they are, condensed:

 

#1: Give a Clear Thesis

The SAT essay rubric states: "The response includes a precise central claim.”

What this means is that your essay needs to make a clear argument that the reader can easily identify. All you have to do to create your "precise central claim" is to identify the main idea of the passage and list the methods the author uses to support it.

Fortunately, the SAT provides you with the passage’s main idea, so you don’t have to go hunting for it yourself. I've bolded the claim in this (fake) sample prompt so you can see this for yourself:

Write an essay in which you explain how Sam Lindsay builds an argument to persuade her audience that more works of art should feature monsters. In your essay, analyze how Lindsay uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of her argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.

Your essay should not explain whether you agree with Lindsay’s claims, but rather explain how Lindsay builds an argument to persuade her audience.

Now, here's an example of a thesis statement for an essay responding to this prompt:

In the article “Monsters Monsters Everywhere,” Sam Lindsay uses personal anecdotes, vivid language, and appeals to emotion to persuade her audience that more works of art should feature monsters.

It's fine to copy the exact words describing the author’s central claim from the prompt into your thesis statement—in fact, this guarantees that the graders will see that your thesis is there and on-topic.

 

#2: Include Both an Introduction and a Conclusion

The SAT essay rubric states: "The response includes a skillful introduction and conclusion.”

Including an introduction paragraph in your essay is absolutely essential to getting a Writing score above a 4 (out of 8). The introduction paragraph introduces the reader to what you’ll be talking about and allows you to set up the structure for the rest of the essay. Plus, an introduction can be a pretty good indicator of the quality for the rest of the essay—a poorly constructed introduction is often a warning that the essay that follows will be equally discombobulated.

It's best to have both an introduction and a conclusion, but if you’re running short on time and can only have one, definitely pick the introduction. The main reason for this is that a good introduction includes your thesis statement. For the SAT essay, your thesis (or your "precise central claim") should be a statement about what devices the author uses to build her/his argument.

Introductions can be tricky to write, because whatever you write in that paragraph can then make you feel like you’re locked into writing just about that. If you’re struggling with the introduction paragraph, leave yourself 10 blank lines at the beginning of the essay and jump into writing your body paragraphs. Just make sure you remember to go back and write in your introduction before time’s up!

 

#3: Use Effective Language and Word Choice

There are a couple of parts of the Writing score section on the SAT essay rubric that pertain directly to style.

The SAT essay rubric states this about a perfect-Writing-score essay: "The response is cohesive and demonstrates a highly effective use and command of language."

For most of us, "command of language" is an area that takes a long time to develop, so unless your language skills are really rough or you're prepping at least a year ahead of time (or both), you'll probably get more out of focusing on the other components of the essay.

The SAT essay rubric also states: “The response has a wide variety in sentence structures. The response demonstrates a consistent use of precise word choice. The response maintains a formal style and objective tone.”

This basically boils down to: don't be repetitive and don't make grammar mistakes. In addition, you should avoid using first person statements like "I" or "My" in the essay, along with any other informality. You're writing the equivalent of a school paper, not an opinion piece.

 

Bad (Too informal):

“I think that Sam’s super persuasive in this article cause she’s just so passionate. It made me feel kinda bad that I don’t really monster it up in my everyday life.”

 

Good (Formal):

“Lindsay’s passionate defense of how drawing monsters 'allows us to laugh at our personal foibles' causes her audience to put themselves in her shoes and empathize with her position.”

 

Finally, try to use different words to describe the same idea—don't use "shows" 15 times. Take the chance to show off your vocabulary (if, and only if, the vocabulary is appropriate and makes sense). This component is the biggest reason why revising your SAT Essay is essential—it's fast and easy to change repeated words to other ones after you're finished, but it can slow you down during writing to worry about your word choice. If you're aiming for a top score, using advanced vocabulary appropriately is vital.

 

#4: Only Use Information From the Passage

All the relevant information is in the passage, so avoid getting drawn into the topic and using your outside knowledge—you want to be sure to show that you’ve read the passage.

In real life, there are many ways to support a thesis, depending on the topic. But on the SAT, there's one kind of correct support: specific details drawn from the passage you’re asked to analyze. We'll show you more below.

 

#5: Focus Your Essay on Relevant Details

You don’t have to mention every single detail that makes the argument effective. In fact, your essay will be more coherent and more likely to score higher in Analysis if you focus your discussion on just a few points. It's more important to show that you're able to pick out the most important parts of the argument and explain their function that it is to be able to identify every single persuasive device the author used.

Think about it as if you were asked to write a 50-minute essay describing the human face and what each part does. A clear essay would just focus on major features—eyes, nose, and mouth. A less effective essay might also try to discuss cheekbones, eyebrows, eyelashes, skin pores, chin clefts, and dimples as well. While all of these things are part of the face, it would be hard to get into detail about each of the parts in just 50 minutes.

 

And this is the eye, and this is the other eye, and this is the...other eye...and the other eye...and the other...wait...what's going on here?

 

What the College Board Doesn’t Tell You: 5 Secrets

Even though the SAT essay has clearly stated, publicly-available guidelines, there are a few secrets to writing the essay that most students don't know and that can give you a major advantage on the test.

 

#1: Read the Prompt Before the Passage

Why? Because the prompt includes the description of the author’s claim. Knowing what the author’s claim is going into the article can help keep you focused on the argument, rather than getting caught up in reading the passage (especially if the topic is one you're interested in).

 

#2: Your Facts Must Be Accurate…But Your Interpretation Doesn’t Have to Be

A big part of the Analysis score for the SAT essay is not just identifying the devices the author uses to build her argument, but explaining the effect that the use of these devices has on the reader. You don’t have to be completely, 100% accurate about the effect the passage has on the reader, because there is no one right answer. As long as you are convincing in your explanation and cite specific examples, you’ll be good.

Here's an example of an interpretation about what effect a persuasive device has on the reader (backed by evidence from the passage):

Lindsay appeals to the emotions of her readers by describing the forlorn, many-eyed creatures that stare reproachfully at her from old school notebook margins. The sympathy the readers feel for these forgotten doodles is expertly transferred to Lindsay herself when she draws the connection between the drawn monsters and her own life: “Often, I feel like one of these monsters—hidden away in my studio, brushes yearning to create what no one else cares to see.”

Now, you don't necessarily know for sure if "sympathy for the doodles" is what the author was going for in her passage. The SAT essay graders probably don't know either (unless one of them wrote the passage). But as long as you can make a solid case for your interpretation, using facts and quotes from the passage to back it up, you'll be good.

 

#3: You Should Write More Than One Page

This has always been true for the SAT essay, but for the first time ever, the College Board actually came out in The Official SAT Study Guide and explicitly said that length really does matter. Here's the description of a one-paragraph, 120-word-long student response that received a Writing score of 2/8 (bolding mine).

“Due to the brief nature of the response, there is not enough evidence of writing ability to merit a score higher than 1. Overall, this response demonstrates inadequate writing.” (source: The Official SAT Study Guide, p. 176)

You’ll have one page for (ungraded) scrap paper that you can use to plan out your essay, and four pages of writing paper for the essay—plan on writing at least two pages for your essay.

 

#4: Be Objective When Reading the Passage

Being able to stay detached while reading the passage you'll be writing the essay about can be tricky. This task might be especially difficult for students who were used to the old SAT essay (which pretty much made it mandatory for you to choose one side or the other). You’ll have to practice reading persuasive essays and gaining objectivity (so that you are able to write about how the argument is constructed, not whether it’s good or bad).

A good way to practice this is to read news articles on topics you care deeply about by people who hold the opposite view that you do. For instance, as a composer and violist/violinist, I might read articles about how children should not be encouraged to play musical instruments, since it holds no practical value later on in life (a view I disagree with vehemently). I would then work on my objectivity by jotting down the central ideas, most important details, and how these details relate to the central ideas of the article.

Being able to understand the central ideas in the passage and details without being sidetracked by rage (or other emotions) is key to writing an effective SAT essay.

 

"Always Wear a Helmet." ©2015-2016 by Samantha Lindsay. Used with permission.

Don't let the monster of rage distract you from your purpose.

 

#5: Memorize and Identify Specific Persuasive Techniques

Once you’re able to read articles objectively (as discussed in point #4 above), the next step is to be able to break down the essay passage's argument. To do this successfully, you'll need to be aware of some of the techniques that are frequently used to build arguments.

The SAT essay prompt does mention a few of these techniques (bolding mine):

As you read the passage below, consider how Lindsay uses

  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.

It’s certainly possible to wing it and go into the test without knowing specific names of particular persuasive devices and just organically build up your essay from features you notice in the article. However, it's way easier to go into the essayknowing certain techniques that you can then scan the passage for.

For instance, after noting the central ideas and important details in the article about how more works of art should feature monsters, I would then work on analyzing the way the author built her argument. Does she use statistics in the article? Personal anecdotes? Appeal to emotion?

I discuss the top persuasive devices you should know in more detail in the article "6 SAT Essay Examples to Answer Every Prompt".

 

How to Get All the Necessary Components in 50 Minutes: 5 Step-By-Step Strategies

When you write an SAT essay, you only have 50 minutes to read, analyze, and write an essay, which means that you need a game plan going in. Here's a short step-by-step guide on how to write an effective SAT essay.

 

#1: Answer the Prompt

Don’t just summarize the passage in your essay, or identify persuasive devices used by the author—instead, be sure to actually analyze the way the author of the passage builds her argument. As The Official SAT Study Guidestates,

"[Y]our discussion should focus on what the author does, why he or she does it, and what effect this is likely to have on readers."

College Board makes a point of specifying this very point in its grading rubric as well—an essay that scores a 2 (out of 4) or below in Analysis "merely asserts, rather than explains [the persuasive devices'] importance." If you want to get at least a 3/4 (or a 6/8) in Analysis, you need to heed this warning and stay on task.

 

#2: Support Your Points With Concrete Evidence From the Passage

The best way to get a high Reading score for your essay is to quote from the passage appropriately to support your points. This shows not only that you’ve read the passage (without your having to summarize the passage at all), but also that you understand what the author is saying and the way the author constructed her argument.

As an alternative to using direct quotations from the passage, it’s also okay to paraphrase some of what you discuss. If you are explaining the author's argument in your own words, however, you need to be extra careful to make sure that the facts you're stating are accurate—in contrast to scoring on the old SAT essay, scoring on the new SAT essay takes into account factual inaccuracies and penalizes you for them.

 

#3: Keep Your Essay Organized

The SAT essay rubric states: “The response demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay.”

The main point to take away from this is that you should follow the standard structure for an SAT essay (introduction-body-body-conclusion). Using a basic four- to five-paragraph essay structure will both keep you organized and make it easier for the essay graders to follow your reasoning—a win-win situation!

Furthermore, you should connect each paragraph to each other through effective transitions. We'll give you ways to improve your performance in this area in the articles linked at the end of this article.

 

#4: Make Time to Read, Analyze, Plan, Write, and Revise

Make sure you allocate appropriate amounts of time for each of the steps you’ll need to take to write the essay—50 minutes may seem like a long time, but it goes by awfully quick with all the things you need to do.

Reading the passage, analyzing the argument, planning your essay, writing your essay, and revising are all important components for writing an 8/8/8 essay. For a breakdown of how much time to spend on each of these steps, be sure to check out our article on how to write an SAT essay, step-by-step.

 

"Watch Yourself." ©2015-2016 by Samantha Lindsay. Used with permission.

 

#5: Practice

The more you practice analysis and writing, the better you’ll get at the task of writing an SAT essay (as you work up to it a little at a time).

It's especially important to practice the analysis and writing components of the essay if you are a slow reader (since reading speed can be difficult to change). Being able to analyze and write quickly can help balance out the extra time you take to read and comprehend the material. Plus, the time you put into working on analysis and writing will yield greater rewards than time spent trying to increase your reading speed.

But don't forget: while it’s okay to break up the practice at first, you also really do need to get practice buckling down and doing the whole task in one sitting.

 

What’s Next?

This is just the beginning of improving your SAT essay score. Next, you actually need to put this into practice with a real SAT essay.

Looking to get even deeper into the essay prompt? Read our complete list of SAT essay prompts and our detailed explanation of the SAT essay prompt.

Hone your SAT essay writing skills with our articles about how to write a high-scoring essay, step by step and how to get a 8/8/8 on the SAT essay.

 

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