Absolutely Essential SAT Writing Strategies
tl;dr: The SAT essay is graded on three metrics — Reading, Analysis, and Writing — each on a scale from 1-4. To score an 8/8/8 on the SAT essay, you need to understand the rubric and keep in mind the three important parts of the essay: analyzing the prompt, outlining, and writing. Analyzing the prompt requires you to identify the author’s claim, purpose, tone, and persuasive elements that help build the argument. Outlining helps you answer the three questions for each device—why, how, and affect—to ensure you have strong analysis. Finally, when writing the essay, make sure to include an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. With these tips, you can write a great SAT essay and get the top score!
❓ What are the SAT Sections?
In the SAT, you will have 4-5 sections on the test (depending on whether you choose to take the essay section or not)! The sections are:
- Check out this video with an overview of the reading section of the SAT.
- Writing and Language (aka the Grammar section)
- Make sure to watch this video with tips and tricks for the grammar section of the SAT.
- Math (No-Calculator)
- Review the important aspects of the math section with this SAT math review part 1 and part 2.
- Math (Calculator Allowed)
- Writing/Essay (⚠️OPTIONAL ⚠️)
If you signed up for the essay portion of the SAT, you have a relaxing 2-minute break after the math calculator section. You're going to need it, as you have 50 minutes to write a rhetorical analysis essay. ⏲️
If you are taking AP Lang or have already taken the exam, you should be pretty familiar with this format of essay. It is very similar to FRQ 2, or the rhetorical analysis essay. 📰
✍️ Mastering the Rubric
Your essay is graded on these three metrics on a scale from 1-4:
Two readers will score your essay, so the highest score you can receive is an 8 on each of the three sections. Unlike the other SAT sections, there is no percentile for the SAT essay nor a composite score (the three categories aren't "added"). 💯 Let's break down each of these three scoring categories and how you can score an 8 in all three.
This scoring category covers comprehension! Essentially, the scorers want to see if you understand the relationship between the main idea(s) and important details. To get an 8 in this scoring category, you cannot misstate facts from the passage, nor make an interpretation about facts not in the passage.
One of the main things that SAT Essay scorers will check is to ensure you have textual evidence (quotations and/or paraphrases) throughout the essay to ensure that you have a true understanding of the text. 📚
What separates an 8 from a lower score in this category is whether you have thorough (as opposed to effective) comprehension of the text and whether you are making skillful (as opposed to appropriate) use of textual evidence. The line between thorough and skillful is drawn at your consistency; if you make a misrepresentation of text in just one place, that may lower you to a 6.
To earn a 8 in the analysis category, you should be accomplishing the following:
- Offering an insightful analysis of source text.
- Evaluating the author's choice of evidence, reasoning, stylistic & persuasive elements, and/or other features that you noticed.
- Using relevant, sufficient, and strategically chosen support for your claims or points.
- Consistently focusing on features that are most relevant to addressing the task.
What separates an 8 in analysis from a lower score is whether you have strategically chosen support for claims and whether your essay is consistent in its analysis and its focus on "features most relevant to addressing the task."
The writing rubric category is exactly what it sounds like—checking your ability to write an essay! There are a number of guidelines that SAT essay scorers will be looking at, and here are a few of them that will help you earn an 8:
- A cohesive essay that effectively uses and commands language
- A precise central claim
- Skillful introduction and conclusion
- Progression of ideas that is highly effective both within paragraphs and throughout the essay
- Wide variety in sentence structures
- Consistent use of precise word choice
- Formal style and objective tone
- Strong command of English conventions, an essay free of errors
Consistency is also key to getting a high score in this category. Having a mostly cohesive essay or including a few errors could bump your score down to a 6 or below!
📖 Analyzing Prompt and Passage
On test day, you're not going to see the rubric or even the three scoring categories. All you will get is the prompt and passage. It's important you analyze and annotate the prompt and passage to ensure you can write an effective essay.
On test day, you'll see this at the beginning of the essay.
The most important thing to do before you even start reading the passage is to read the given context. In this example, we know that the article is from the Huffington Post and the author Peter Goodman is writing about crisis and foreign policy. 🔥
Then, you'll read a passage about an argument written for a broad audience. In that passage, the author will make a claim, and use different techniques to persuade the audience of that claim.
Since you will be writing about how the author uses different techniques in the passage to make their argument more persuasive, that is exactly what you should look out for while writing your essay. 🔍
When reading the passage, you'll want to look at the three bullet points given in the prompt: specific factual evidence or examples, reasoning that connects evidence and claims, and other stylistic or persuasive elements that helps the author build the argument. 🚧
Here's a short bullet list of stylistic or persuasive elements that you can look out for:
- Shifts of any kind (in diction 🗣️, tone 😤, imagery 🖼️, etc.)
- Appeals to emotion 💕, logic 🧠, or credibility 👩🏽🎓
- Syntax (organization of paragraphs 📑, length of sentences ↔️)
- Unique diction or imagery (make sure to describe diction/imagery with an adjective)
After you find the rhetorical devices you want to analyze, you'll need to answer three important questions:
- Why does the author use this device or strategy?
- How does this device or strategy help them achieve their purpose?
- How does the device or strategy affect or change the audience?
You can strengthen your analysis and answer these three questions for each of your devices by outlining.
There are a few components to an outline that will help you secure an 8/8/8 on the SAT essay:
- Identifying audience & author's purpose
- Writing a thesis
- Identifying rhetorical devices
- Answering the three important "analysis" questions for each rhetorical device
On test day, find some white space under the article (or on the next page) to write your outline. Knowing and writing down these elements will make the writing process go a lot smoother!
📝 Writing the Essay
Let's break down how to write each section of the SAT essay portion: the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.
There are a few elements that you should explicitly include in your introduction:
- Author's claim in the passage
- Author's tone & purpose
- Audience of passage
- Specific rhetorical choices or persuasive elements in the passage that "enhance logic/persuasiveness" of the argument
One example template for an introduction is:
Here's an example:
Writer Marcus Stern in his article, "How to Prevent an Oil Train Disaster," asserts that new Obama-era regulations in 2015 were insufficient in protecting the public's safety and needed to be expanded. Stern adopts a critical tone to persuade his audience, the general public, of his purpose of supporting stricter, comprehensive regulations that reduce oil volatility. To achieve his purpose, Stern utilizes a variety of rhetorical techniques, including but not limited to specific credible evidence, appeals to the general public's fear of disaster, and emotional word choice that enhances the logic and persuasiveness of his argument.
Your body paragraphs should create a line of reasoning, which is just a fancy of way of saying that it should follow the structure you outline in the essay. For instance, from the introduction paragraph above, I would make my first body paragraph about the "specific credible evidence," my second body paragraph about the appeals to the general public, and so on. 🤩
⚠️ Note: There is no minimum or maximum number of body paragraphs that you should include—focus on developing solid body paragraphs rather than including as many as possible!
You should include the following in a body paragraph to earn high scores on reading, analysis, and writing:
- A strong introduction sentence tied to the thesis
- Embedded quote or paraphrase with context
- Why the author uses this rhetorical strategy or persuasive element
- How it affects the audience and/or how it helps the author achieve their purpose
- Link back to thesis
Let's see these five elements in an example!
- Stern furthers his argument by appealing to the general public’s fear of disaster.
- He invokes specific visual imagery when asserting that an oil tanker rupture would send a “mushroom-shaped fireball” into the sky. In fact, Stern further builds his argument by citing the “nine other places in North America” in which oil tanker explosions materialized.
- Stern uses these appeals to logic and emotion primarily because they highlight a somber reality of the impacts of continued inaction.
- Because Stern includes multiple instances of oil explosions, the audience feels logically impacted. This sense of urgency communicated by the visual imagery makes the audience more convinced that action must be taken, specifically because it could harm them very soon.
- Ultimately, Stern successfully leaves the audience convinced that lax oil restriction could lead to devastating consequences that could harm the audience, which strengthens the persuasion of his argument that we should enact strict regulation that decreases volatility.
You may hear sometimes from your teacher that the conclusion is not that important, or that it can simply be one sentence. This is not true for the SAT; in fact, you could get points taken off the writing section with an oversimplified or non-existent conclusion.
However, you can score highly with a slightly reworded introduction! Here's what you should include in your conclusion:
- Author's central claim (reworded from intro)
- Persuasive elements/rhetorical choices
- Audience & author's purpose
Here's an example conclusion paragraph that includes those elements (and you can see its parallel to the intro):
Author Olmer Stern communicates to the general public that there is a necessity for stricter safety regulations that decrease oil volatility. To convince the audience of his purpose, Stern effectively invokes fearful emotion of the general public, cites specific evidence from the oil industry, and communicates powerful diction about the imminent oil threat to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument.
📂 Resources and Example Essays
There are some fantastic ways to practice for the SAT essay! Here are some useful resources and example essays :