7 Writing Tips to Improve Your SAT Essay

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7 Writing Tips to Improve Your SAT Essay

SAT Essay

While the SAT Essay is an optional section of the entire SAT exam, many students choose to write the essay because some colleges require the section as part of their admission process. When it comes to this section of the SAT, every minute counts. Students have 50 minutes to do the following:

  • Read the 650-750 word passage
  • Analyze the devices used by the author to structure their argument
  • Write a 1- to 2-page essay based on your analysis of the passage

Just like other sections of the SAT exam, students can earn a high score by carefully planning out each step of the writing process. Looking for a higher score on the SAT essay? Follow our effective step-by-step methodology for better essays.

1. Create An Outline

The SAT essay rubric clearly states: “The response demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay.”

A compelling SAT Essay follows the “introduction-body-body-conclusion” model taught in high school English classes. Since you want your essay graders to understand your reasoned approach, start by outlining your essay.

Take the opportunity to write down any points and details that you can refer back to as you write. While the outline may take a few minutes to create, you can save time by identifying key points you want to include in your essay, rather than improvising as you write.

2. Read the Writing Prompt Carefully

Before diving into writing, take the time to read the question. While this may seem obvious, you may rush your reading due to the time pressure you’re feeling. As a result, you may forget to include key points that the writing prompt asks.

Here’s an essay prompt example. Read it thoroughly:

“Write an essay in which you explain how Martin Luther King Jr. builds an argument to persuade his audience that American involvement in the Vietnam War is unjust.”

The prompt should frame how you search for information in the essay. Don’t forget that you can always return to the prompt, as it sets up the topic you’ll evaluate throughout the essay.

3. Develop a Strong Thesis and Introduction

A strong thesis and introduction set the tone for the rest of your SAT essay. As such, you’ll want to make sure you spend time developing a compelling introduction paragraph to entice the grader to continue reading. A strong thesis statement should answer the following two questions:

  • What is the author’s argument?
  • What are the persuasive elements that the author uses?

Once you identify those elements, you can focus on how effectively the author builds their argument.

4. Objectivity Matters

You will surely have a personal opinion about the essay topics. However, keep in mind that the goal of the SAT Essay is to articulate the author’s arguments. Your role is to respond as the “outside eye.”

Make sure to avoid getting drawn into the passage to the point that you begin focusing on your personal response to the material. The essay graders want to know that you’re able to concentrate on the arguments of the author rather than insert your own personal opinion.

5. Choose the Most Important Points

While you want to let the essay reader know you have a keen eye for detail, your goal is to focus on the most significant points of the author’s argument.

With only 50 minutes available, you’re better off picking a few of the essay’s strongest arguments and discussing them thoroughly rather than writing quick and rushed comments about too many items. The essay reader will also appreciate your ability to prioritize arguments.

6. Essay Length

While the SAT Essay isn’t a competition to fill up blank pages with as many words as possible, you should plan on writing a minimum of four paragraphs. But if you have enough time, try adding a fifth paragraph for more substance.

Most SAT essays that receive perfects scores contain 4 or 5 paragraphs. Your paragraph layout informs the organization of your essay. And the test graders do evaluate how you effectively you organize your paragraphs.

7. Does Handwriting Count?

In a world dominated by computers and smartphones, students simply don’t handwrite as much as previous students. However, students must still handwrite their SAT essay. While you may not have the best handwriting in the world, it must be legible enough for a test grader to read it. Are you comfortable writing in cursive? If not, it may be best for you to print your essay.

Could you actually be penalized for poor handwriting? Keep in mind this rule of thumb: Errors that undermine the reader’s understanding can reduce your score. Make sure that you handwrite your practice essays. You’ll be doing yourself a true disservice if you type out your answers on a computer.