While the SAT’s revised essay section is optional, it’s an excellent way to develop the writing skills you’ll need in college. Plus, many colleges will expect you to complete this portion of the exam. You’ll have 50 minutes to read a 500- to 750-word passage and explain how the author uses rhetorical devices to make their argument. The key is to analyze persuasive elements such as factual evidence, logical reasoning, and stylistic choices instead of discussing your opinion on the topic. The new SAT essay is rigorous but, if you practice, it shouldn’t give you much trouble.
EditExample SAT Essay
EditAnalyzing the Passage
- Spend about 5 to 10 minutes reading the sample passage. When you read the passage, note the author’s main point and try to understand how they make their argument. Look for persuasive elements, such as references to scientific studies or appeals to readers’ emotions. Read the passage once straight through, then underline and take notes on persuasive elements when you read it a second time.
- In order to get a good score, you’ll need to demonstrate your understanding of the text’s main point and the rhetorical devices the author uses to make their case. Read the passage twice so you thoroughly comprehend it.
- It’s wise to bring a watch to keep track of time. Just be sure it doesn’t have an alarm or make any other sounds.
- Underline examples and write notes in the margins. Mark up the passage so you’ll be able to quickly find the examples you’ll need to cite in your essay. Underline the author’s thesis, or central claim, and the key rhetorical devices they use to persuade their audience. In the margins, label why you’ve underlined a word or sentence for quick reference.
- For example, underline a reference to a study by a reputable agency (which would be considered ethos). In the margins, write, “factual evidence,” or “appeal to authority.”
- The way the author appeals to emotion (known as pathos), can be identified through asterisks, exclamation points, or other symbols that call your attention to key examples.
- You won’t have extra scrap paper, but you can take notes and outline your essay on the page in the answer booklet labeled “For Planning Only.”
- Identify how the author supports their argument. Your task is to explain and evaluate how the author builds their argument using persuasive rhetorical elements. Put yourself in the author’s shoes, identify their central claim, and figure out what’s needed to make that claim convincing. In your essay, you’ll need to cite specific examples from the passage, such as evidence, reasoning, and stylistic elements.
- An author might establish their authority (ethos) by citing factual evidence, such as scientific studies or expert quotes. Keep in mind the passage might lack strong evidence, and your essay could explain how data or statistics would have strengthened the author’s claim.
- Logical reasoning (logos) is the thread that ties the author’s argument together. You might explain how the author cites a fact, then draws a conclusion, such as, “This study shows ocean temperatures are rising. If ocean temperatures get warmer, then more strong hurricanes will form.”
- An author might appeal to readers’ fears or beliefs, or use vivid, passionate language to add force to their claim (pathos).
- Analyze the stylistic elements of the text as well, such as the tone, figurative language (alliteration, metaphors, irony, etc.), imagery, parallel structure, and so on.
- Focus on the most relevant persuasive elements. Your essay shouldn’t merely list every example of persuasive language that you can find. Ask yourself which techniques are essential aspects of the author’s argument. In your essay, explain and evaluate how 2-3 essential techniques function.
- For example, the passage might argue that a decline in literacy has harmful effects on society. The key persuasive devices in this case would be factual evidence of a decline in literacy and specific examples of its harmful effects.
EditCrafting Your Response
- Analyze rhetorical devices instead of discussing your opinion. The most important thing to remember about the SAT essay is that you should not discuss whether you agree or disagree with the author. Your job is to explain how they make their argument, not to write about your personal take on their claims.
- You can critique persuasive devices and write that the author’s argument is ineffective, but you shouldn’t merely write that you disagree with their claim. Explaining that the author failed to support their argument with concrete, credible evidence is different than writing that you disagree with them.
- It shouldn’t be hard to identify the author’s main point. The essay instructions will most likely identify the passage’s thesis, so read the prompt carefully.
- Come up with a concise thesis statement. Your thesis should encapsulate your assessment of the author’s argument. A strong thesis statement is clear and concise, and should guide your essay’s body.
- Your thesis might be, “By appealing to authoritative evidence, Dana Gioia crafts a convincing argument that a decline in literacy negatively affects society.”
- Note that this example doesn’t mention whether or not you agree with the argument. Instead, it states the author’s argument (a decline in literacy negatively affects society) and the key persuasive elements (authoritative evidence).
- Since you won’t have extra scrap paper, write your thesis and other notes on your answer booklet’s blank planning page.
- Map out your essay briefly in the introduction. In order to get a good score, your essay needs to have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion. Since you’re working against the clock, keep your introduction simple and brief so you can spend as much time as possible on the body. Aim to write only about 4 sentences in the intro, and be sure to include your thesis.
- Your thesis can be the first sentence of your introduction. Then, you could map out the body by writing, for example, “First, Gioia proves that the decline actually exists by referencing reports by the National Endowment for the Arts and the US Census Bureau. He then expounds this decline’s harmful political and economic consequences, and supports his conclusions by citing credible agencies and publications.”
- Explain and evaluate specific examples in your essay’s body. When you provide quotations from the passage, incorporate them into your text seamlessly. Describe how the examples you’ve selected contribute to the author’s argument. You might choose 2 or 3 examples, and spend a paragraph analyzing each one.
- For instance, the body’s first paragraph might focus on the reports by the National Endowment for the Arts and the US Census Bureau that Gioia cites. This paragraph should explain that Gioia’s first task was to prove that the decline is real, and he accomplishes this by citing factual evidence compiled by authoritative agencies.
- Your next paragraphs could discuss the evidence Gioia uses to connect the decline in literacy to economic impacts, decreases in civic awareness, and lower political engagement.
- A final body paragraph could explain that including factual evidence instead of using impassioned, evocative language made Gioia’s argument more effective.
- End your response with a clear conclusion. The scoring rubric requires a clear conclusion, so make a closing argument instead of trailing off ambiguously. In your conclusion, restate your thesis and draw your essay’s themes together.
- You might close by writing, “Gioia’s appeals to authority prove that there is actually a decline in literacy, then connect this decline to specific consequences. Furthermore, rather than waxing poetic, Gioia constructs an effective argument by including facts compiled by credible sources.”
EditPracticing for the Essay Test
- Familiarize yourself with the scoring rubric. Before you take the SAT, read the standards by which your scorers will be grading your essay. You can find detailed descriptions of each scoring category and numerical score here: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/scores/understanding-scores/essay.
- Your essay will be graded by 2 scorers. They’ll assign individual scores from 1 to 4 for 3 categories: reading, analysis, and writing.
- The 2 scores from each grader are added up for each category, so your best possible score for each category is an 8.
- Find sample passages, essays, and other resources on College Board. College Board is the company that manages the SAT, and it offers plenty of helpful resources. You can read sample passages, take practice essay tests, and read scored sample essays for every quality level, along with descriptions of why the grader assigned a given score.
- Find all the help you’ll need at https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sample-questions/essay.
- Use a timer when you write practice essays. Work on your time management skills so you’ll use your allotted 50 minutes efficiently. Set the timer for 10 minutes, and read the passage and take notes during that time. Then set the timer for 35 minutes, and use that time to write your essay.
- Take the last 5 minutes to proofread and polish your work.
- Make sure you finish in the allotted time! If you run out of time when you practice, try to analyze the prompt faster, make your writing as concise as possible, and stick to the introduction, body, and conclusion structure.
- Practice general reading and writing skills before the test. You’ll likely take SAT practice tests at school, and your school’s writing lab might have helpful resources. In the months prior to the test, take advantage of any opportunities to hone skills such as reading comprehension, and grammar.
- If your school has a writing lab, have a reviewer offer feedback on an essay you wrote and see if you can get a writing tutor. You could also get extra help from your English or literature teachers.
- Review grammar topics including subject-verb agreement, proper sentence structures, and punctuation. Additionally, reading more books and articles can improve both your grammar and comprehension skills.
- Try using a word of the day app or calendar to improve your vocabulary.
- Work on varying your sentence structures. Command of language is important if you want a high writing score, so try writing a page-long essay every day. One key thing the scorer will look for is varied sentence structures, so avoid monotonous, repetitive wording.
- For example, avoid writing terse, repetitive sentences like, “The author wrote this. They then explained that. This is a strong argument.”
- Additionally, keep your writing formal and objective. Avoid personal pronouns, slang, contractions, and other informal expressions.
- Hone your skills by reading and analyzing a variety of texts. In the weeks leading up to the SAT, read newspaper articles, academic essays, and other varied publications. Practice identifying the thesis and the persuasive devices that each author uses to make their case.
- Try to read at least 1 text a day for at least a month before the test date.
- Make sure your writing is neat and legible. When you start a new paragraph, indent the first line to help the scorer identify how your essay is organized. You want to make it easier for the graders to give you a good score!
- You’ll take the essay portion of the SAT after spending 3 hours on the other sections. Pack a snack and drink to help you stay sharp. However, you cannot eat or drink during the actual test, so plan to snack during the allotted breaks.
EditSources and Citations
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