12 Essay Sat Examples For Essay

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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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.

 

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