Three Keys to Nailing the SAT Essay

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This tip for improving your SAT score was provided by David Greenslade at Veritas Prep.

For many college applicants, the essay is the most dreaded portion of the SAT. Many students believe that a good essay requires time to develop into something that conveys  nuanced understanding of the material. Although time and skill are useful in writing a dissertation, the SAT essay is much more formulaic and simply requires an understanding of how to produce a passable piece of persuasive writing that can function with nearly every prompt. Here are three keys to creating a consistently excellent essay on the SAT:

1. Create a template before you write an essay.

Essentially all persuasive writing has the same characteristics. The goal is to take a position on some question and support that position with evidence, which can efficiently be accomplished in a five paragraph essay (an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion). For this reason, one can essentially write the bones of the essay before one knows what the topic of the essay is. The easiest way to accomplish this is to write a bona-fide practice essay that you feel is strong and then remove all the specific references to the topic. For example, say you were writing a thesis statement on the topic of whether or not it is better for a leader to be feared or loved. (Much great writing already exists on this expansive topic, but we don’t have to be Plato here.) A thesis might say: “Therefore the assertion that being loved is a more powerful motivator for achieving a leader’s desired goals than being feared is demonstrably true.” This is a strong thesis and could essentially be boiled down to “therefore the assertion that [position on topic] is demonstrably true.” Voila! This is a thesis that can essentially work for any specific topic. From here on, all that needs to be done is to create a prototypical essay and remove all the specifics. This essay template works especially well for the introduction and conclusion, but the next tip is very helpful for the body paragraphs.

2. Relate topic sentences and non-personal examples back to the thesis.

It is a little harder to completely script the body paragraphs, as these will be related to whatever examples you choose to include. The magic ticket in the body paragraphs, however, is to relate what you are writing back to your thesis. For instance, if one of your examples for the above topic of whether a leader should be feared or loved is Animal Farm, it is not strong to simply summarize the book. For example “Animal Farm is the story of how animals rise up against an unjust system, only to emulate the system they so despise.” Not a bad summary of Animal Farm, but if graders want to know what happens in that book, they’d just read it. Graders want to know how the example will be related back to the thesis. A better take is “The eventual societal decay and uprising of the subjugated animals in George Orwell’s Animal Farm demonstrates the danger of a leader being feared, as opposed to being loved.” This is much more related to the main thesis of the essay. Also, make sure your examples are from something outside personal experience; it is far stronger to apply learning than to apply anecdotes on the SAT.

3. Write as if you were creating sentences for the multiple choice questions.

This is a surprisingly effective tool in ensuring stylistic and grammatical clarity on the SAT. Students devote quite a bit of time to learning potential errors on the multiple choice writing questions, but it does not always occur to them to put their own writing under the same scrutiny. All the guidelines for correct sentences can be applied to personal writing: Use active voice, check for subject verb agreement, be clear, and the list goes on and on. If the same precision applied to the writing multiple choice questions is applied to this essay, grammar and clarity will not be issues.

These are three helpful tools that can be applied to nail the SAT essay. This section, like all of the SAT, is about preparation and practice. So go write that prototypical essay and block out the bones of the essay. Then let the great ideas already present flow onto the page. Happy test taking!

Plan on taking the SAT soon? Take advantage of Veritas Prep’s free SAT resources, including free SAT video lessons.

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