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Sat Essay Writing Tips Pdf Free

Aside from the “grid in” math questions, all you have to do for most of the SAT is answer multiple choice questions.

And then, if you've chosen to take it, there's the essay. Or, more accurately, "To finish up, there's the essay." Because the last thing you'll do on the SAT (with Essay) is read a passage and write an essay analyzing its argument, all in 50 minutes.

How can you even begin to read a passage, analyze it, and write an essay about it in 50 minutes? What SAT essay structure should you follow? Is there an SAT essay format that’ll score you a top score for sure? Read on to find out the answers to these questions!

feature image credit: Pencil by Laddir Laddir, used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

What 5 Things Does Your SAT Essay Need? 

To build a great SAT essay template, you need to know what it needs to include. Here are the five most important elements of any SAT essay:

 

#1: An Introduction

The first impression the grader will have of your writing is your essay introduction. Don't just jump right into discussing argumentative techniques — introduce your analysis with a statement of what the author is arguing in the prompt. You should then briefly mention the specific persuasive techniques the author used that you'll be discusing in your essay.

 

#2: A Clear Thesis Statement

I've separated this out as its own point because it’s so important. You must express a precise claim about what the author's point is and what techniques she uses to argue her point; otherwise, you're not answering the essay question correctly.

This cannot be emphasized enough: SAT essay graders do not care what your stance is on the issue. They care that you understand and explain how the author argues her point.

The SAT essay task is designed for you to demonstrate that you can analyze the structure of an argument and its affect on the reader with clear and coherent reasoning. Take this example prompt, for instance:

Write an essay in which you explain how Eric Klinenberg builds an argument to persuade his audience that Americans need to greatly reduce their reliance on air-conditioning. In your essay, analyze how Klinenberg 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.

A bad thesis leaves you unclear on what features of the author's arguments you'll be analyzing in the essay:

The author tries to enforce to his audience by telling that air conditioning has negative effects.

This thesis doesn’t specify what features of the argument you'll be discussing, or even what Klinenberg's specific views are. It's just a (grammatically flawed) sentence that hints at Klinenberg's argument. Compare to a good thesis for the same prompt:

Through consideration of quantitative data, exploring possible counterarguments to his position, and judicious use of striking phrasings and words, Klinenberg strengthens both the logic and persuasiveness of his argument that Americans need to greatly reduce their reliance on air conditioning.

The above thesis clearly specifies both what the author's argument is and what aspects of the argument will be analyzed in the essay. If you want more practice writing strong thesis statements, use our complete list of SAT essay prompts as inspiration.

 

#3: Specific Examples That Support Your Point

To support your thesis, you'll need to draw on specific examples from the passage of the techniques you claim the author uses. Make sure to provide enough information for each example to make it clear how it is relevant to your thesis - and stop there. No need to paraphrase the entire passage, or explain why you agree or disagree with the author's argument - write enough that the reader can understand what your example is and be done.

 

#4: Explanations of the Examples That Support Your Point

It isn't enough to just summarize or paraphrase specific excerpts taken from the passage and call it a day. In each example paragraph, you must not only include details about a example, but also include an explanation of how each example demonstrates an argument technique and why it is persuasive. For instance, let's say you were planning on discussing how the author uses vivid language to persuade the reader to agree with him. Yes, you'd need to start by quoting parts of the passage where the author uses vivid language, but you then also need to explain why that example demonstrates vivid language and why it would be persuasive to the reader.

 

#5: A Conclusion

Your conclusion should restate your thesisand briefly mention the examples you wrote about in your essay (and how they supported your thesis). If you haven't done it already in your essay, this is NOT the place to write about a broader context, or to contradict yourself, or to add further examples you didn't discuss. End on a strong note.

 

What’s the Best SAT Essay Format?

Now that you know what has to be in your essay, how do you fit it all in? It’s not enough to just throw in a thesis and some examples on paper and expect what you write to be an essay. You need to be organized, and when you have to organize an essay under pressure, the generic five paragraph essay format is your friend.

Just as with every five-paragraph essay you've written at school, your SAT essay should have an introduction, 2-3 body paragraphs (one paragraph for each argumentative technique you discuss), and a conclusion. Your thesis statement (which techniques you'll be analyzing in the essay) should go in both your introduction and your conclusion, with slightly different wording. And even if you're just discussing multiple examples of the same technique being used in the passage, you’ll still probably need two body paragraphs for organizational purposes.

 

Sock Drawer by noricum, used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Cropped from original

Keep your essay as organized as this sock drawer.

 

SAT Essay Template Outline

So how do you write an SAT essays in this five paragraph format? I've created an SAT essay template that you can use as a guide to structure your own SAT essays, based on the following prompt:

Write an essay in which you explain how Eric Klinenberg builds an argument to persuade his audience that Americans need to greatly reduce their reliance on air-conditioning. In your essay, analyze how Klinenberg 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.

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

You can read the full text of the passage associated with the prompt (part of Practice Test 5) via our complete collection of official SAT essay prompts.

 

In the following SAT essay format, I've broken down an SAT essay into introduction, example paragraphs, and conclusion. Since I'm writing in response to a specific prompt, some of the information and facts in the template will only be useful for answering this specific prompt (although you should feel free to look for and write about the argumentative techniques I discuss in any of your essays). When responding to any SAT question, however, you can and should use the same format and structure for your own essays. To help you out, I've bolded structural words and phrases in the below template.

 

 

 

Introduction (2-5 sentences)

Begin with a statement that explains the central claim of the passage's argument; this statement should provide some context for what you’ll be discussing in the essay. It can be brief if you’re short on time (1-2 sentences):

In his commentary, Eric Klinenberg conveys a strong stance against the rampant and short-sighted utilization of air conditioning (AC) nationwide. He believes AC is a massive unnecessary energy drain, and he implores the reader to reconsider the implications of constant cool comfort.

Next comes the all-important thesis statement that includes a clear outlining of what aspects of the author's argument you'll be discussing. You can be very specific (e.g. "statistics about air-conditioning usage in the US") or more vague (e.g. "quantitative data") here - the important part is that you'll be supporting your opinion with proof (1-2 sentences).

To buttress his argument, Klinenberg deftly employs quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language.

 

Sample SAT essay introduction

In his commentary, Eric Klinenberg conveys a strong stance against the rampant and short-sighted utilization of air conditioning (AC) nationwide. He believes AC is a massive unnecessary energy drain, and he implores the reader to reconsider the implications of constant cool comfort. To buttress his argument, Klinenberg deftly employs quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language.

 

Example 1 (6-10 sentences)

Introduce your first example with some kind of transition (1 sentence).

In his introductory paragraph, the author points to AC usage statistics to illustrate the grave magnitude of our hedonistic climate control.

In this case, the writer linked this body paragraph to the introduction by explaining how his example (AC usage statistics) relates to one of the persuasive techniques he'll be discussing (statistics): it is an example of the harm created by overuse of air-conditioning.

 

Next, provide relevant information about when and how in the passage the author uses this persuasive technique (4-7 sentences). Be sure to paraphrase or directly quote the passage for the strongest evidence.

He shares that “Americans use twice as much energy…as we did 20 years ago, and more than the rest of the world’s nations combined.” These staggering statements immediately give the reader pause, forcing an internal dialogue about their significant. Clearly, in the past 20 years, the American population has come nowhere close to doubling - and yet, AC energy use has doubled. This can only mean utilization per person has skyrocketed. Furthermore, the American population can comprise no more than 10% of the world’s population (400 million to the world’s 6 billion) - and yet we use more AC energy than the rest of the world. This leads to another profound inference - each American may use almost 10 times more AC energy as the average non-American. These conclusions are grave and thought-provoking.

 

Finally, explain how this example works to strengthen the author's argument (3-4 sentences).

By introducing incontrovertible data, Klinenberg empowers the reader to reason though her own arguments and formulate her own conclusions. The rhetorical consequence is that the reader independently and actively agrees with Klinenberg’s thesis, rather than being a passive unengaged audience member. By the virtue of her own logic, the reader is compelled to agree with Klinenberg.

 

Sample SAT essay body paragraph (1)

In his introductory paragraph, the author points to AC usage statistics to illustrate the grave magnitude of our hedonistic climate control. He shares that “Americans use twice as much energy…as we did 20 years ago, and more than the rest of the world’s nations combined.” These staggering statements immediately give the reader pause, forcing an internal dialogue about their significant. Clearly, in the past 20 years, the American population has come nowhere close to doubling - and yet, AC energy use has doubled. This can only mean utilization per person has skyrocketed. Furthermore, the American population can comprise no more than 10% of the world’s population (400 million to the world’s 6 billion) - and yet we use more AC energy than the rest of the world. This leads to another profound inference - each American may use almost 10 times more AC energy as the average non-American. These conclusions are grave and thought-provoking. By introducing incontrovertible data, Klinenberg empowers the reader to reason though her own arguments and formulate her own conclusions. The rhetorical consequence is that the reader independently and actively agrees with Klinenberg’s thesis, rather than being a passive unengaged audience member. By the virtue of her own logic, the reader is compelled to agree with Klinenberg.

 

 

Example 2 (6-10 sentences)

Transition from the previous paragraph into this example (1 sentence).

Quickly after this data-driven introduction, Klinenberg effectively addresses potential counterarguments to his thesis.

 

Provide at least one specific example of how the author uses the persuasive technique you're discussing in this paragraph (2-5 sentences).

He acknowledges that there are clear valid situations for AC use - to protect the “lives of old, sick, and frail people,” “farm workers who work in sunbaked fields,” and “workers who might otherwise wilt in searing temperatures.” By justifying several legitimate uses of air conditioning, the author heads off his most reflexive critics.

 

Explain how and why this example persuades the reader of the author's opinion. (3-4 sentences).

An incoming reader who has just absorbed Klinenberg’s thesis would naturally have objections - if left unaddressed, these objections would have left a continuous mental roar, obscuring the absorption of further arguments. Instead, Klinenberg quells the most common objection with a swift riposte, stressing that he is not a maniacal anti-AC militant, intent on dismantling the AC-industrial complex. With this addressed, the reader can continue further, satisfied that Klinenberg is likely to be somewhat well-reasoned and objective. Ultimately, this facilitates acceptance of his central thesis.

 

Sample SAT essay body paragraph (2)

Quickly after this data-driven introduction, Klinenberg effectively addresses potential counterarguments to his thesis. He acknowledges that there are clear valid situations for AC use - to protect the “lives of old, sick, and frail people,” “farm workers who work in sunbaked fields,” and “workers who might otherwise wilt in searing temperatures.” By justifying several legitimate uses of air conditioning, the author heads off his most reflexive critics. An incoming reader who has just absorbed Klinenberg’s thesis would naturally have objections - if left unaddressed, these objections would have left a continuous mental roar, obscuring the absorption of further arguments. Instead, Klinenberg quells the most common objection with a swift riposte, stressing that he is not a maniacal anti-AC militant, intent on dismantling the AC-industrial complex. With this addressed, the reader can continue further, satisfied that Klinenberg is likely to be somewhat well-reasoned and objective. Ultimately, this facilitates acceptance of his central thesis.

 

Example 3 (Optional, 6-10 sentences)

This paragraph is in the same format as Example 2. You should only include a third example if you think it’s strong and will help (rather than detract from) your point.

In the case of the essay we've been using as the backbone of this template, the author had the time to write a third example. Here it is, broken down in the same way as the previous example, starting with a transition from the previous paragraph (1 sentence):

When he returns to his rebuke of wanton AC use, Klinenberg employs forceful vivid language to magnify his message.

 

Provide at least one specific example of how the author uses the persuasive technique you're discussing in this paragraph (2-5 sentences).

He emphasizes the blind excess of air conditioner use, comparing cooled homes to “igloos” circulating “arctic air.” Then, to underscore the unforeseen consequences of such behavior, he slides to the other extreme of the temperature spectrum, conjuring the image of “burning through fossil fuels in suicidal fashion.” This visual imagery shakes the reader from complacency. Most likely, the reader has been the beneficiary of AC use. “So, what’s the big deal?” By comparing malls to igloos and excessive energy use to suicide, Klinenberg magnifies the severity of the problem.

 

Explain how and why this example persuades the reader of the author's opinion. (3-4 sentences).

We are forced to consider our comfortable abode as a frigid arctic dwelling, prompting the natural question of whether we really do need our hones cold enough to see our breath indoors. The natural conclusion, in turn, is that we do not. By employing effective visual imagery, Klinenberg takes the reader through another internal dialogue, resulting in stronger acceptance of his message.

 

Sample SAT essay body paragraph (3)

When he returns to his rebuke of wanton AC use, Klinenberg employs forceful vivid language to magnify his message. He emphasizes the blind excess of air conditioner use, comparing cooled homes to “igloos” circulating “arctic air.” Then, to underscore the unforeseen consequences of such behavior, he slides to the other extreme of the temperature spectrum, conjuring the image of “burning through fossil fuels in suicidal fashion.” This visual imagery shakes the reader from complacency. Most likely, the reader has been the beneficiary of AC use. “So, what’s the big deal?” By comparing malls to igloos and excessive energy use to suicide, Klinenberg magnifies the severity of the problem. We are forced to consider our comfortable abode as a frigid arctic dwelling, prompting the natural question of whether we really do need our hones cold enough to see our breath indoors. The natural conclusion, in turn, is that we do not. By employing effective visual imagery, Klinenberg takes the reader through another internal dialogue, resulting in stronger acceptance of his message.

 

"What did you make today?" "Mistakes" by Topher McCulloch, used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

Conclusion (2-4 sentences)

Reiterate your thesis, using different words (1-2 sentences).

Overall, the passage effectively weaves quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language to rebuke the excesses of air conditioning. The reader leaves with the strong conclusion that perhaps a bit of moderation can do the world some good.

 

You may also choose to mention the examples you used if you have time and if it adds anything (1-2 sentences). In this case, the author of the essay chose not to.

 

Sample SAT essay conclusion

Overall, the passage effectively weaves quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language to rebuke the excesses of air conditioning. The reader leaves with the strong conclusion that perhaps a bit of moderation can do the world some good.

 

The Final SAT Essay Template

Here's what the final SAT essay template looks like (key structural words and phrases bolded):

In his commentary, Eric Klinenberg conveys a strong stance against the rampant and short-sighted utilization of air conditioning (AC) nationwide. He believes AC is a massive unnecessary energy drain, and he implores the reader to reconsider the implications of constant cool comfort. To buttress his argument, Klinenberg deftly employs quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language.

In his introductory paragraph, the author points to AC usage statistics to illustrate the grave magnitude of our hedonistic climate control. He shares that “Americans use twice as much energy…as we did 20 years ago, and more than the rest of the world’s nations combined.” These staggering statements immediately give the reader pause, forcing an internal dialogue about their significant. Clearly, in the past 20 years, the American population has come nowhere close to doubling - and yet, AC energy use has doubled. This can only mean utilization per person has skyrocketed. Furthermore, the American population can comprise no more than 10% of the world’s population (400 million to the world’s 6 billion) - and yet we use more AC energy than the rest of the world. This leads to another profound inference - each American may use almost 10 times more AC energy as the average non-American. These conclusions are grave and thought-provoking. By introducing incontrovertible data, Klinenberg empowers the reader to reason though her own arguments and formulate her own conclusions. The rhetorical consequence is that the reader independently and actively agrees with Klinenberg’s thesis, rather than being a passive unengaged audience member. By the virtue of her own logic, the reader is compelled to agree with Klinenberg.

Quickly after this data-driven introduction, Klinenberg effectively addresses potential counterarguments to his thesis. He acknowledges that there are clear valid situations for AC use - to protect the “lives of old, sick, and frail people,” “farm workers who work in sunbaked fields,” and “workers who might otherwise wilt in searing temperatures.” By justifying several legitimate uses of air conditioning, the author heads off his most reflexive critics. An incoming reader who has just absorbed Klinenberg’s thesis would naturally have objections - if left unaddressed, these objections would have left a continuous mental roar, obscuring the absorption of further arguments. Instead, Klinenberg quells the most common objection with a swift riposte, stressing that he is not a maniacal anti-AC militant, intent on dismantling the AC-industrial complex. With this addressed, the reader can continue further, satisfied that Klinenberg is likely to be somewhat well-reasoned and objective. Ultimately, this facilitates acceptance of his central thesis.

When he returns to his rebuke of wanton AC use, Klinenberg employs forceful vivid language tomagnify his message. He emphasizes the blind excess of air conditioner use, comparing cooled homes to “igloos” circulating “arctic air.” Then, to underscore the unforeseen consequences of such behavior, he slides to the other extreme of the temperature spectrum, conjuring the image of “burning through fossil fuels in suicidal fashion.” This visual imagery shakes the reader from complacency. Most likely, the reader has been the beneficiary of AC use. “So, what’s the big deal?” By comparing malls to igloos and excessive energy use to suicide, Klinenberg magnifies the severity of the problem. We are forced to consider our comfortable abode as a frigid arctic dwelling, prompting the natural question of whether we really do need our hones cold enough to see our breath indoors. The natural conclusion, in turn, is that we do not. By employing effective visual imagery, Klinenberg takes the reader through another internal dialogue, resulting in stronger acceptance of his message.

Overall, the passage effectively weaves quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language to rebuke the excesses of air conditioning. The reader leaves with the strong conclusion that perhaps a bit of moderation can do the world some good.

 

This essay contains some inferences about what the reader may experience (e.g. that the reader is shaken from complacency by the image of suicidally burning through fossil fuels). It also has some minor grammatical and spelling errors.

Since there is no way to survey the mind of every reader and see how the majority of them react to the author's arguments, however, graders will go along with any reasonable inferences about how a reader would react to the author's argument. As far as grammatical, spelling, punctuation, or sentence structure issues, the rule is even simpler: if the error doesn't make your essay too difficult to read and understand, the people who score your essay will ignore these errors.

 

Oops! by Terry Whalebone, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped and resized from original.

The essay graders will not fault you for factual inaccuracies or minor grammar/punctuation/spelling errors.

 

SAT Essay Format: A Quick Recap

To summarize, your SAT essay should stick to the following format:

  • Introduction (with your thesis) - 2-5 sentences
    • Start with a statement about what the author of the passage is arguing.
    • Thesis with a clear statement about what argumentative techniques you'll be examining in the essay.
  • Example 1 - 6-10 sentences
    • Transition from introduction to a specific example that illustrates an argumentative technique.
    • Brief description of when the author uses that technique and how they employ it.
    • Explanation for why that example strengthen's the passage author's argument
  • Example 2 - 6-10 sentences
    • Transition from previous paragraph to a specific example that illustrates a second argumentative technique.
    • Brief description of when the author uses that technique and how they employ it.
    • Explanation for why that example strengthen's the passage author's argument
  • Example 3 (optional) - 6-10 sentences
    • Transition from previous paragraph to a specific example that illustrates a third argumentative technique.
    • Brief description of when the author uses that technique and how they employ it.
    • Explanation for why that example strengthen's the passage author's argument
  • Conclusion - 2-4 sentences
    • Restate your thesis (in different words) and mention the examples you used to support it in your essay.

 

 

 

What’s Next?

Worried about putting this template into practice? Watch us write an SAT essay, step by step, to learn how to do it yourself!

Can you write a killer SAT essay in less than a page? Find out how SAT essay length affects your score here.

Want to make sure you're not leaving any stone unturned in your SAT essay prep? Read our 15 SAT Essay tips to improve your score.

 

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I know you’re probably thinking of the new SAT essay as a necessary evil—an optional evil, no less. But much of what you’ll learn here isn’t a means to a quick end, but something that you will be using for the rest of your life.

What I’m about to say probably won’t make me popular with many high school math teachers, but here it is. Some of the stuff that you’ll prep for in the math SAT section, you might never have to learn or use again. Now I, for one, think the unit circle is nifty but besides—maybe—a lower division math class in college, you won’t see it again, unless you have kids one day who need your help studying for a trig final. If you don’t plan on studying math or science in college, there’s a lot on the SAT math section (though by no means all) that fits into this category.

Writing, on the other hand, is very different. For the rest of your life writing is a skill that will make your college work load a lot more manageable and give you an edge in whatever professional career you choose (anything from a resume to an email will highlight your writing skills, or lack thereof).

That’s not to say the SAT essay totally mirrors that kind of writing. But by improving your overall writing ability as you study for the SAT, you’ll be honing a skill that you’ll be using for years to come.

Of course, the new SAT essay doesn’t boil down only to writing but also to understanding the specific format, and what the graders are expecting of you. The following tips will help you become both a better writer and better equipped to do well on the new essay. And when you’re done, check out the Magoosh SAT study guide for even more tips and tricks for SAT writing and grammar.

1. Understand the new SAT design

So the SAT essay has changed. As in really changed. No longer will you have to argue a point using contrived examples from either history or your personal life. Instead you are going to read a complex, opinion-driven essay. And here’s the kicker: you will not be asked whether you agree or disagree with the author’s point. Instead, you are going to write an essay that discusses how the writer goes about trying to persuade his or her audience.

This is not easy to do; I’m guessing, you’ve never written an essay exactly like this. Therefore, read some of the essay samples and the responses online to see exactly how one goes about discussing how a writer persuades his or her audience.

An important first step is to know the directions, which won’t change test day since the SAT will recycle them, word-for-word, as they appear below.

“Consider how the author (the name will change each time) 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.”

2. Know the fundamentals of rhetoric

It’s good to know how writers go about persuading us. Indeed, the ancients—meaning Greek dudes walking around in togas—developed a glossary of terms to describe the way a speaker or writer aims to persuade his or her audience.

Rhetor

This is a fancy way of referring to the speaker/writer, the person trying to argue at point. Those he or she aims to persuade is the audience. For the SAT, the writer of the article is the rhetor; the audience is made up of those who originally read the work. You, the SAT reader, however, are not the audience. Instead, you should think of yourself as a referee or judge. Your job is to describe how the rhetor is trying to persuade his or her audience.

To understand this, the next few terms are essential and tie back to the directions listed above.

Pathos

We are not robots; we are moved by passionate appeals. Compare the following:

        Closing the school down will exert a negative effect on the community at large.
        By closing down the school, administrators will displace hundreds of young children who have only just begun to forge friendships; additionally many local residents employed by the school might be forced to move from the area.

Both sentences are saying the same thing. But the first sentence likely leaves you feeling cold; the language is vague and technical. The second, by contrast, tugs at your heartstrings (the poor children!) Were this written on a petition to save the school, you’d be far more likely to sign it than the first sentence, I’m guessing. And that’s the point of pathos: it hopes to persuade us by appealing to our emotions.


Ethos

It is possible to make the sentence with the school even more persuasive without appealing even more to our emotions. How? Well, compare the following:

        According to the United States Department of Education, closing down the school will displace hundreds of young children who have only just begun to forge friendships; additionally many local residents employed by the school might be forced to move from the area.

All I did was attribute—or credit—the idea to an entity. But not just any entity. I appealed to the highest educational authority in the land. After all, if I put “I think”, you might wonder, who the heck I am. But by putting the United States Department of Education, I’ve invoked the highest authority in the land in matters of education. Ethos refers to the credibility of the speaker.

On the SAT essay, ethos will often take the form of “a study released by Harvard Medical school”. That is, the writer will quote where he or she is getting the information from. And it will never be their neighbor or that one lady they talked to on the bus. Writers will always quote leading authorities to give their claims greater authority. That way, their audience is more likely to be persuaded.


Logos

You might be thinking that the kids should just be able to go to another school. And surely there are more jobs in the area. Those are valid objections and that’s why writing doesn’t just aim to persuade us at an emotional level (pathos) but also at an intellectual or logical level (logos). How does the following use logos to build on the pathos?

        Happy Hills Private School is a one of a kind institution for gifted children recruited from all over the country. For many decades it has grown to such a degree that a large community has sprung up consisting of many who depend on the school for the livelihood. If the school shuts down, these educators, administrators and custodians will have to move elsewhere and many local businesses, which depend on their patronage, will be forced to close.
        Additionally, by closing down the school, administrators will displace hundreds of young children who have forged deep friendships.

We now have the necessary context to understand the logic behind the idea that a closure of a school means a serious disruption in the lives of students and for the community that depends on the school.

Logos, or logical statements, can often be identified by “if…then” statements. Notice the bolded part above. The second bolded part (“by closing…friendships”) also has a similar structure: if you close the school, this will happen (“by closing down the school, etc.”)

Two important points

        • All writing that you’ll see will use a combination of ethos, pathos, and logos. Sometimes in the same sentence:
              According to the education department’s report, if the school is closed down, hundreds of students will be torn from a nurturing environment and cast into alien—and possibly hostile—environments.
          (Okay, I got a little carried away with the pathos there!)
        • You should not call these rhetorical devices out by name (“the writer uses logos in line 4”) but use them as a general framework to understanding how the writers is trying to persuade his or her audience. I’ll describe how to this in tip #8.

3. Know how the new SAT essay is scored

Unlike the old SAT essay, which has a single score, the new SAT essay will contain three scores, one for reading, one for analysis, and one for writing. Two graders will score the essay and these scores will be added up. In the end, we get a grand total of 24, or a range of 2-8 for each of the three areas. A score report will look something like this: 7 reading/6 analysis/6 writing. While that adds up to 19, the SAT will deliver the score split three ways.

It’s also a good idea to know what these three different categories are. The reading score reflects your ability to understand the passage that you have to read. For instance, if you misinterpret what the author is trying to say this is going to hurt your score.

Analysis, which I will go over in depth in tip #8, is your ability to analyze how the author goes about persuading his or her audience. Remembering the fundamentals of rhetoric is a great first step.

Finally, writing is just what it sounds like: how do you use words to create sentences and convey your thoughts? Do you so in a way that is grammatically sound and your meaning is clear?

4. Read sample SAT essays

The College Board has provided us with new SAT essay samples. You might think to skip over these—but don’t. I can pontificate all day on what the test writers are looking for, but unless you actually look at how specific essays are graded, along with copious feedback from the graders, you won’t really get a sense of what the test writers are looking for.

You also won’t get a sense from what separates a writing score of ‘4’ from a writing score of ‘3’, an analysis score of ‘2’ from an analysis score of ‘1’, and so on. But you get all of that here: so study the prompt, the essay responses, the essay scores, and finally the feedback. Return to these samples essays often as you prep for the essay. Compare your essays to the samples to see where you’d likely score.

5. Assess your strengths and weaknesses

In looking at the samples, you’ll likely see things that the writers do well, and things they don’t do so well. Oftentimes our standard is our own writing. By looking at the samples, you’ll get a sense of the issues you need to work on. Maybe you can write wonderful flowery sentences, full of phrasal twists and turns. But when you read the passage, you are not exactly sure what to analyze or exactly what the essay graders are looking at when they grade for analysis (for more on analysis see step #8).

Of course, you might get the gist of the analysis, but you feel that you can’t get your thoughts down on paper, that you just freeze up midsentence.

6. Learn to outline your ideas based on the new SAT design

Whenever you are faced with a timed essay, it is a natural response to want to begin writing as soon as the teacher/proctor says “time”. If you don’t plan on how you’ll attack the essay, however, your essay will lack the organization the test graders are looking for. Most likely, you’ll describe the main points of the essay and just list out what you think are the rhetorical devices the author uses. The essay will lack any overarching point.

Instead, first write down a few main points the author is making. Then, quickly write down three distinct areas in which the author is using rhetoric. This second bit will help you focus your analysis. Often, it is a good idea to break up paragraphs either by the different areas of analysis used in the essay or by the specific points the author is trying to make and how he or she is specifically going about persuading the reader. By outlining you’ll have a clear idea of what you are going to write about, versus frantically grasping onto unrelated ideas just to keep the writing afloat.

7. Vary your sentence structure and vocabulary

        The SAT is an important test. The essay is very important for some. You need to understand what the test writers are looking for. This post will help you that.

What do you notice about these four short sentences? Do they put you off from reading more? The reason is that the sentence structure is almost exactly the same: subject + verb + object. Additionally, these four sentences lack any transitions, such as the word “additionally”.

Changing up your sentence structure makes your writing far more compelling. And using transitions will help tie ideas together both between and within sentences.

Finally, you’ll want to avoid using vague words such as “good”, “big”, especially if you repeat them. Notice the first two sentences use the word “important”. I’m not saying you should avoid this word altogether. But repeating it so closely together smacks of monotony, much as the sentence structure does.

Now, I’ll communicate the same ideas in the intro bit, varying up the sentence structure and vocabulary, while offering some helpful transition words.

        Many know the SAT might be the most important test for college admissions. Yet, for some, the essay can also play a significant role. For this group, understanding how the essay has changed and what the test graders expect is paramount. Hopefully, this post will help you that.

8.Work on understanding the analysis

What really makes the new SAT essay different—besides the fact that you don’t have to state your opinion—is the analysis. While many students are capable writers and have no issue comprehending what the author is trying to say, they aren’t sure how to go about discussing how exactly the author is trying to persuade us.

In tip #2, I talked about rhetoric, or the tools an author uses to persuade us. Understanding these is a first step to analyzing the essay. But you’ll want to go a step further. Since each essay is very specific, it’ll be doing things that can loosely be categorized as falling under pathos, logos, or ethos. Make sure you describe these specific things. For instance, let’s take an essay from a College Board official guide.

        At my family’s cabin on a Minnesota lake, I knew woods so dark that my hands disappeared before my eyes. I knew night skies in which meteors left smoky trails across sugary spreads of stars. But now, when 8 of 10 children born in the United States will never know a sky dark enough for the Milky Way, I worry we are rapidly losing night’s natural darkness before realizing its worth. This winter solstice, as we cheer the days’ gradual movement back toward light, let us also remember the irreplaceable value of darkness.

        -Adapted from Paul Bogard, “Let There be Dark”

It is not enough to say, “the author uses pathos because he reminds the author of a childhood experience and such experiences appeal to our emotions.” This is pretty obvious and superficial. Digging deeper means looking at the very specific writerly choices the author makes to really get into our psyche. Here is one possible way to describe this:

        To illustrate just how much darkness has become a scarce resource, Paul Bogard draws upon memories of the night sky from when he was a child. The author, though, is not merely content to describe the night sky but dramatizes the darkness: “I knew woods so dark…eyes”. Furthermore, he uses metaphorical descriptions to capture the intensity of the sky (“sugary trails”). As readers, we are readily transported to the vista unfolding above him. This description also allows the author to set up the dramatic contrast with tonight’s sky when he describes many children today who will “never know” such a sky. This last bit creates an effect of urgency: something must be done.

Notice I didn’t say “pathos” anywhere. Instead, I described—in meticulous detail—how the author constructs the paragraph to elicit a strong emotional response from the reader. I also analyzed how he constructed the passage, an example of logos; yet I didn’t call logos out by name. Instead, I describe the logic of the transitions and how this affected the emotional effect of the paragraph.

9. Get feedback only from those who’ve read tip #4

Since the new essay is an entirely different animal, many—including your teachers—don’t really know what it is testing. Yet, for feedback, we are inclined to go to our teachers or other intelligent adults in our lives. Make sure that said parties have read sample essays and the scores these essays have received. Otherwise, you might get feedback that doesn’t help you improve in a way that the essay graders are looking for.

One exception is the writing score, since the conventions of writing—what makes a good sentence, good syntax, and good word choice—hasn’t changed. Here is feedback from students who have already taken the new SAT.

10. Read with a critical eye

Assuming you’ve read all of the above and have a good idea of how the SAT essay is constructed, you can start to read a little differently. What do I mean? Well, for the Reading Comprehension section, I recommend that students read articles from the New York Times or some other popular online newspaper. While reading the article, put on your grammar hat on and analyze the sentences. Do you notice the subordinating conjunctions? How about the use—and the correct use, mind you—of em-dashes?

But it’s not just about grammar. By analyzing professional writing, you can improve your writing, noticing the transitions and the vocabulary such articles use. Of course, it doesn’t hurt with your overall comprehension, something that bleeds into both the writing section and the reading comprehension of the new SAT.

Finally, with more pointed pieces—such as those you’ll find in the New York Times op-Ed section—you’ll be able to see how authors use the tools of rhetoric. In other words, you’ll be analyzing and comprehending just as you’ll have to do on the actual SAT essay.


Now that we’ve discussed tips for the new SAT essay, discover how Magoosh can assist you on the math and reading sections!

About Chris Lele

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has inspired countless students across the globe, turning what is otherwise a daunting experience into an opportunity for learning, growth, and fun. Some of his students have even gone on to get near perfect scores. Chris is also very popular on the internet. His GRE channel on YouTube has over 10 million views. You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh GRE blog and High School blog! You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook!


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