Sat Essay Structure Diagram

We're about to dive deep into the details of that least beloved* of SAT sections, the SAT essay. Prepare for a discussion of the SAT essay rubric and how the SAT essay is graded based on that. I'll break down what each item on the rubric means and what you need to do to meet those requirements.

On the SAT, the last section you'll encounter is the (optional) essay. You have 50 minutes to read a passage, analyze the author's argument, and write an essay. If you don’t write on the assignment, plagiarize, or don't use your own original work, you'll get a 0 on your essay. Otherwise, your essay scoring is done by two graders - each one grades you on a scale of 1-4 in Reading, Analysis, and Writing, for a total essay score out of 8 in each of those three areas. But how do these graders assign your writing a numerical grade? By using an essay scoring guide, or rubric.

*may not actually be the least belovèd.

Feature image credit: Day 148: the end of time by Bruce Guenter, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original. 

 

The Complete SAT Essay Grading Rubric: Item-by-Item Breakdown

Based on the CollegeBoard’s stated Reading, Analysis, and Writing criteria, I've created the below charts (for easier comparison across score points). For the purpose of going deeper into just what the SAT is looking for in your essay, I've then broken down each category further (with examples).

The information in all three charts is taken from the College Board site.

 

Reading

The biggest change to the SAT essay (and the thing that really distinguishes it from the ACT essay) is that you are required to read and analyze a text, then write about your analysis of the author's argument in your essay. Your "Reading" grade on the SAT essay reflects how well you were able to demonstrate your understanding of the text and the author's argument in your essay.

Score

Reading

1

(Inadequate)

The response demonstrates little or no comprehension of the source text.

The response fails to show an understanding of the text’s central idea(s), and may include only details without reference to central idea(s).

The response may contain numerous errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text.

The response makes little or no use of textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating little or no understanding of the source text.

2

(Partial)

The response demonstrates some comprehension of the source text.

The response shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) but not of important details.

The response may contain errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text.  

The response makes limited and/or haphazard use of textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating some understanding of the source text.

3

(Proficient)

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.

4

(Advanced)

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.

 

You'll need to show your understanding of the text on two different levels: the surface level of getting your facts right and the deeper level of getting the relationship of the details and the central ideas right.

 

Surface Level: Factual Accuracy

One of the most important ways you can show you've actually read the passage is making sure you stick to what is said in the text. If you’re writing about things the author didn’t say, or things that contradict other things the author said, your argument will be fundamentally flawed.

For instance, take this quotation from a (made-up) passage about why a hot dog is not a sandwich:

“The fact that you can’t, or wouldn’t, cut a hot dog in half and eat it that way, proves that a hot dog is once and for all NOT a sandwich”

Here's an example of a factually inaccurate paraphrasing of this quotation:

The author builds his argument by discussing how, since hot-dogs are often served cut in half, this makes them different from sandwiches.

The paraphrase contradicts the passage, and so would negatively affect your reading score. Now let's look at an accurate paraphrasing of the quotation:

The author builds his argument by discussing how, since hot-dogs are never served cut in half, they are therefore different from sandwiches.

It's also important to be faithful to the text when you're using direct quotations from the passage. Misquoting or badly paraphrasing the author’s words weakens your essay, because the evidence you’re using to support your points is faulty.

 

Higher Level: Understanding of Central Ideas

The next step beyond being factually accurate about the passage is showing that you understand the central ideas of the text and how details of the passage relate back to this central idea.

Why does this matter? In order to be able to explain why the author is persuasive, you need to be able to explain the structure of the argument. And you can’t deconstruct the author's argument if you don’t understand the central idea of the passage and how the details relate to it.

Here's an example of a statement about our fictional "hot dogs are sandwiches" passage that shows understanding of the central idea of the passage:

Hodgman’s third primary defense of why hot dogs are not sandwiches is that a hot dog is not a subset of any other type of food. He uses the analogy of asking the question “is cereal milk a broth, sauce, or gravy?” to show that making such a comparison between hot dogs and sandwiches is patently illogical.

The above statement takes one step beyond merely being factually accurate to explain the relation between different parts of the passage (in this case, the relation between the "what is cereal milk?" analogy and the hot dog/sandwich debate).

Of course, if you want to score well in all three essay areas, you’ll need to do more in your essay than merely summarizing the author’s argument. This leads directly into the next grading area of the SAT Essay.

 

Analysis

The items covered under this criterion are the most important when it comes to writing a strong essay. You can use well-spelled vocabulary in sentences with varied structure all you want, but if you don't analyze the author's argument, demonstrate critical thinking, and support your position, you will not get a high Analysis score.

Score

Analysis

1

(Inadequate)

The response offers little or no analysis or ineffective analysis of the source text and demonstrates little or no understanding of the analytic task.

The response identifies without explanation some aspects of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s choosing,

Or numerous aspects of the response’s analysis are unwarranted based on the text.

The response contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made, or support is largely irrelevant.

The response may not focus on features of the text that are relevant to addressing the task,

Or the response offers no discernible analysis (e.g., is largely or exclusively summary).

2

(Partial)

The response offers limited analysis of the source text and demonstrates only partial understanding of the analytical task.

The response identifies and attempts to describe the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing, but merely asserts rather than explains their importance, or one or more aspects of the response’s analysis are unwarranted based on the text.

The response contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made.

The response may lack a clear focus on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task.

3

(Proficient)

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.

4

(Advanced)

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.

 

Because this category is so important, I've broken it down even further into its two different (but equally important) component parts to make sure everything is as clearly explained as possible.

 

Part I: Critical Thinking (Logic)

Critical thinking, also known as critical reasoning, also known as logic, is the skill that SAT essay graders are really looking to see displayed in the essay. You need to be able to evaluate and analyze the claim put forward in the prompt. This is where a lot of students may get tripped up, because they think “oh, well, if I can just write a lot, then I’ll do well.” While there is some truth to the assertion that longer essays tend to score higher, if you don’t display critical thinking you won’t be able to get a top score on your essay.

What do I mean by critical thinking? Let's take the previous prompt example:

Write an essay in which you explain how Hodgman builds an argument to persuade his audience that the hot dog cannot, and never should be, considered a sandwich.

An answer to this prompt that does not display critical thinking (and would fall into a 1 or 2 on the rubric) would be something like:

The author argues that hot dogs aren’t sandwiches, which is persuasive to the reader.

While this does evaluate the prompt (by providing a statement that the author's claim "is persuasive to the reader"), there is no corresponding analysis. An answer to this prompt that displays critical thinking (and would net a higher score on the rubric) could be something like this:

The author uses analogies to hammer home his point that hot dogs are not sandwiches. Because the readers will readily believe the first part of the analogy is true, they will be more likely to accept that the second part (that hot dogs aren't sandwiches) is true as well.

See the difference? Critical thinking involves reasoning your way through a situation (analysis) as well as making a judgement (evaluation). On the SAT essay, however, you can’t just stop at abstract critical reasoning - analysis involves one more crucial step...

 

Part II: Examples, Reasons, and Other Evidence (Support)

The other piece of the puzzle (apparently this is a tiny puzzle) is making sure you are able to back up your point of view and critical thinking with concrete evidence. The SAT essay rubric says that the best (that is, 4-scoring) essay uses “relevant, sufficient, and strategically chosen support for claim(s) or point(s) made.” This means you can’t just stick to abstract reasoning like this:

The author uses analogies to hammer home his point that hot dogs are not sandwiches. Because the readers will readily believe the first part of the analogy is true, they will be more likely to accept that the second part (that hot dogs aren't sandwiches) is true as well.

That explanation is a good starting point, but if you don't back up your point of view with quoted or paraphrased information from the text to support your discussion of the way the author builds his/her argument, you will not be able to get above a 3 on the Analysis portion of the essay (and possibly the Reading portion as well, if you don't show you've read the passage). Let's take a look of an example of how you might support an interpretation of the author's effect on the reader using facts from the passage:

The author’s reference to the Biblical story about King Solomon elevates the debate about hot dogs from a petty squabble between friends to a life-or-death disagreement. The reader cannot help but see the parallels between the two situations and thus find themselves agreeing with the author on this point.

Does the author's reference to King Solomon actually "elevate the debate," causing the reader to agree with the author? From the sentences above, it certainly seems plausible that it might. While your facts do need to be correct,  you get a little more leeway with your interpretations of how the author’s persuasive techniques might affect the audience. As long as you can make a convincing argument for the effect a technique the author uses might have on the reader, you’ll be good.

 

Say whaaat?! #tbt by tradlands, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped and color-adjusted from original.

Did I just blow your mind? Read more about the secrets the SAT doesn’t want you to know in this article. 

 

Writing

Your Writing score on the SAT essay is not just a reflection of your grasp of the conventions of written English (although it is that as well). You'll also need to be focused, organized, and precise.

Score

Writing

1

(Inadequate)

The response demonstrates little or no cohesion and inadequate skill in the use and control of language.

The response may lack a clear central claim or controlling idea.

The response lacks a recognizable introduction and conclusion. The response does not have a discernible progression of ideas.

The response lacks variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive. The response demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be poor or inaccurate. The response may lack a formal style and objective tone.

The response shows a weak control of the conventions of standard written English and may contain numerous errors that undermine the quality of writing.

2

(Partial)

The response demonstrates little or no cohesion and limited skill in the use and control of language.

The response may lack a clear central claim or controlling idea or may deviate from the claim or idea over the course of the response.

The response may include an ineffective introduction and/or conclusion. The response may demonstrate some progression of ideas within paragraphs but not throughout the response.

The response has limited variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive.

The response demonstrates general or vague word choice; word choice may be repetitive. The response may deviate noticeably from a formal style and objective tone.

The response shows a limited control of the conventions of standard written English and contains errors that detract from the quality of writing and may impede understanding.

3

(Proficient)

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.

4

(Advanced)

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.

 

Because there's a lot of different factors that go into calculating your Writing score, I've divided the discussion of this rubric area into five separate items:

  1. Precise Central Claim
  2. Organization
  3. Vocab and Word Choice
  4. Sentence Structure
  5. Grammar, Etc.

 

Precise Central Claim

One of the most basic rules of the SAT essay is that you need to express a clear opinion on the "assignment" (the prompt). While in school (and everywhere else in life, pretty much) you’re encouraged to take into account all sides of a topic, it behooves you to NOT do this on the SAT essay. Why? Because you only have 50 minutes to read the passage, analyze the author's argument, and write the essay, there's no way you can discuss every single way in which the author builds his/her argument, every single detail of the passage, or a nuanced argument about what works and what doesn't work.

Instead, I recommend focusing your discussion on a few key ways the author is successful in persuading his/her audience of his/her claim.

Let’s go back to the assignment we've been using as an example throughout this article:

"Write an essay in which you explain how Hodgman builds an argument to persuade his audience that the hot dog cannot, and never should be, considered a sandwich."

Your instinct (trained from many years of schooling) might be to answer:

"There are a variety of ways in which the author builds his argument."

This is a nice, vague statement that leaves you a lot of wiggle room. If you disagree with the author, it's also a way of avoiding having to say that the author is persuasive. Don't fall into this trap! You do not necessarily have to agree with the author's claim in order to analyze how the author persuades his/her readers that the claim is true.

Here's an example of a precise central claim about the example assignment:

The author effectively builds his argument that hot dogs are not sandwiches by using logic, allusions to history and mythology, and factual evidence.

In contrast to the vague claim that "There are a variety of ways in which the author builds his argument," this thesis both specifies what the author's argument is and the ways in which he builds the argument (that you'll be discussing in the essay).

 

Organization

While it's extremely important to make sure your essay has a clear point of view, strong critical reasoning, and support for your position, that's not enough to get you a top score. You need to make sure that your essay  "demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay."

What does this mean? Part of the way you can make sure your essay is "well organized" has to do with following standard essay construction points. Don't write your essay in one huge paragraph; instead, include an introduction (with your thesis stating your point of view), body paragraphs (one for each example, usually), and a conclusion. This structure might seem boring, but it really works to keep your essay organized, and the more clearly organized your essay is, the easier it will be for the essay grader to understand your critical reasoning.

The second part of this criteria has to do with keeping your essay focused, making sure it contains "a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas." You can't just say "well, I have an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion, so I guess my essay is organized" and expect to get a 4/4 on your essay. You need to make sure that each paragraph is also organized. Recall the sample prompt:

“Write an essay in which you explain how Hodgman builds an argument to persuade his audience that the hot dog cannot, and never should be, considered a sandwich.”

And our hypothetical thesis:

The author effectively builds his argument that hot dogs are not sandwiches by using logic, allusions to history and mythology, and factual evidence.

Let's say that you're writing the paragraph about the author's use of logic to persuade his reader that hot dogs aren't sandwiches. You should NOT just list ways that the author is logical in support of his claim, then explain why logic in general is an effective persuasive device. While your points might all be valid, your essay would be better served by connecting each instance of logic in the passage with an explanation of how that example of logic persuades the reader to agree with the author.

Above all, it is imperative that you make your thesis (your central claim) clear in the opening paragraph of your essay - this helps the grader keep track of your argument. There's no reason you’d want to make following your reasoning more difficult for the person grading your essay (unless you’re cranky and don’t want to do well on the essay. Listen, I don’t want to tell you how to live your life).

 

Vocab and Word Choice

In your essay, you should use a wide array of vocabulary (and use it correctly). An essay that scores a 4 in Writing on the grading rubric “demonstrates a consistent use of precise word choice.”

You’re allowed a few errors, even on a 4-scoring essay, so you can sometimes get away with misusing a word or two. In general, though, it’s best to stick to using words you are certain you not only know the meaning of, but also know how to use. If you’ve been studying up on vocab, make sure you practice using the words you’ve learned in sentences, and have those sentences checked by someone who is good at writing (in English), before you use those words in an SAT essay.

 

Sentence Structure

Creating elegant, non-awkward sentences is the thing I struggle most with under time pressure. For instance, here’s my first try at the previous sentence: “Making sure a sentence structure makes sense is the thing that I have the most problems with when I’m writing in a short amount of time” (hahaha NOPE - way too convoluted and wordy, self). As another example, take a look at these two excerpts from the hypothetical essay discussing how the author persuaded his readers that a hot dog is not a sandwich:

Score of 2: "The author makes his point by critiquing the argument against him. The author pointed out the logical fallacy of saying a hot dog was a sandwich because it was meat "sandwiched" between two breads. The author thus persuades the reader his point makes sense to be agreed with and convinces them."

The above sentences lack variety in structure (they all begin with the words "the author"), and the last sentence has serious flaws in its structure (it makes no sense).

Score of 4: "The author's rigorous examination of his opponent's position invites the reader, too, to consider this issue seriously. By laying out his reasoning, step by step, Hodgman makes it easy for the reader to follow along with his train of thought and arrive at the same destination that he has. This destination is Hodgman's claim that a hot dog is not a sandwich."

The above sentences demonstrate variety in sentence structure (they don't all begin with the same word and don't have the same underlying structure) that presumably forward the point of the essay.

In general, if you're doing well in all the other Writing areas, your sentence structures will also naturally vary. If you're really worried that your sentences are not varied enough, however, my advice for working on "demonstrating meaningful variety in sentence structure" (without ending up with terribly worded sentences) is twofold:

  1. Read over what you’ve written before you hand it in and change any wordings that seem awkward, clunky, or just plain incorrect.
  2. As you’re doing practice essays, have a friend, family member, or teacher who is good at (English) writing look over your essays and point out any issues that arise. 

 

Grammar, Etc.

This part of the Writing grade is all about the nitty gritty details of writing: grammar, punctuation, and spelling. It's rare that an essay with serious flaws in this area can score a 4/4 in Reading, Analysis, or Writing, because such persistent errors often "interfere with meaning" (that is, persistent errors make it difficult for the grader to understand what you're trying to get across).

On the other hand, if they occur in small quantities, grammar/punctuation/spelling errors are also the things that are most likely to be overlooked. If two essays are otherwise of equal quality, but one writer misspells "definitely" as "definately" and the other writer fails to explain how one of her examples supports her thesis, the first writer will receive a higher essay score. It's only when poor grammar, use of punctuation, and spelling start to make it difficult to understand your essay that the graders start penalizing you.

My advice for working on this rubric area is the same advice as for sentence structure: look over what you’ve written to double check for mistakes, and ask someone who’s good at writing to look over your practice essays and point out your errors. If you're really struggling with spelling, simply typing up your (handwritten) essay into a program like Microsoft Word and running spellcheck can alert you to problems. We've also got a great set of articles up on our blog about SAT Writing questions that may help you better understand any grammatical errors you are making.

 

How Do I Use The SAT Essay Grading Rubric?

Now that you understand the SAT essay rubric, how can you use it in your SAT prep? There are a couple of different ways.

 

Use The SAT Essay Rubric To...Shape Your Essays

Since you know what the SAT is looking for in an essay, you can now use that knowledge to guide what you write about in your essays!

A tale from my youth: when I was preparing to take the SAT for the first time, I did not really know what the essay was looking for, and assumed that since I was a good writer, I’d be fine.

Not true! The most important part of the SAT essay is using specific examples from the passage and explaining how they convince the reader of the author's point. By reading this article and realizing there's more to the essay than "being a strong writer," you’re already doing better than high school me.

 

girl sleeping on a couch holding a mirror by Rick&Brenda Beerhorst, used under CC BY 2.0/Resized from original.

Change the object in that girl’s left hand from a mirror to a textbook and you have a pretty good sketch of what my junior year of high school looked like.

 

Use The SAT Essay Rubric To...Grade Your Practice Essays

The SAT can’t exactly give you an answer key to the essay. Even when an example of an essay that scored a particular score is provided, that essay will probably use different examples than you did, make different arguments, maybe even argue different interpretations of the text...making it difficult to compare the two. The SAT essay rubric is the next best thing to an answer key for the essay - use it as a lens through which to view and assess your essay.

Of course, you don’t have the time to become an expert SAT essay grader - that’s not your job. You just have to apply the rubric as best as you can to your essays and work on fixing your weak areas. For the sentence structure, grammar, usage, and mechanics stuff I highly recommend asking a friend, teacher, or family member who is really good at (English) writing to take a look over your practice essays and point out the mistakes.

If you really want custom feedback on your practice essays from experienced essay graders, may I also suggest the PrepScholar test prep platform? I manage the essay grading and so happen to know quite a bit about the essay part of this platform, which gives you both an essay grade and custom feedback for each essay you complete. Learn more about how it all works here.

 

What’s Next?

Are you so excited by this article that you want to read even more articles on the SAT essay? Of course you are. Don't worry, I’ve got you covered. Learn how to write an SAT essay step-by-step and read about the 6 types of SAT essay prompts.

Want to go even more in depth with the SAT essay? We have a complete list of past SAT essay prompts as well as tips and strategies for how to get a 12 on the SAT essay.

Still not satisfied? Maybe a five-day free trial of our very own PrepScholar test prep platform (which includes essay practice and feedback) is just what you need.

Trying to figure out whether the old or new SAT essay is better for you? Take a look at our article on the new SAT essay assignment to find out!

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? 

Check out our best-in-class online SAT prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your SAT score by 160 points or more.

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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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