The SAT Essay Breakdown

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This tip for improving your SAT score was provided by Jake Davidson at Veritas Prep.

To many students, the SAT essay is the equivalent of an English class surprise prompt for which you have 25 minutes to write about a subject with zero preparation. This perception of the essay adds a stigma to the first section of the SAT and can even act as a barrier to success on the test. The good news, however, is that the SAT essay is nothing like a surprise essay in English class. Even though you have no idea what the prompt will be, you can still come into the test with a full outline, knowing exactly what you will write.

Before delving farther into the outline, it is important to remember how much of a factor the SAT essay plays in your overall test performance. In addition to accounting for a large portion of your writing score, it is always the first section of the SAT. Like any test or competition, starting out well and feeling confident about your performance from the get-go can help ensure a successful test. Excelling on the essay will give you a confidence boost through the rest of the SAT.

Since the essay is so important, it’s a good idea to dedicate a lot of preparation time to practice essays, as well as build a strong outline with great examples. It might seem weird to create an outline without knowing the prompt, but the outline provides structure. Once you get the prompt, you can apply your examples to any broad concept the SAT asks you to write about.

All SAT prompts are fairly broad; they ask about worldly themes. While you don’t know the specific question the College Board will ask, it’s almost guaranteed that you can apply any example from literature or history to prove your point. The key is to take a hard stance—one way or the other—on the question, either agreeing wholeheartedly with the prompt or disagreeing with the statement. Once you do this in your thesis, it’s a matter of plugging in pieces for the rest.

It’s important to fill up both pages on the essay. Studies have shown that this automatically increases your chances of a higher score on the essay. The best way to do this is through a five-paragraph essay structure. While this may not be the best advice for English class, it works wonders on the SAT.

In the five-paragraph essay, you will have three examples. These examples should be from history, literature, or current events. Avoid writing about personal experiences. It doesn’t matter which examples you use, as long as you are very comfortable and knowledgeable about each of the three.

This is where practice comes in. Writing countless SAT essays ahead of time, using the same prompt, will be instrumental in ensuring that you are comfortable on the day of the test. If you have already used your various historical and literary examples for a multitude of broad prompts, applying them on the test will be easy.

Knowing which examples you are going to use and how you are going to structure your essay should add a measure of comfort for the essay portion of the test. With enough preparation and practice, a 10 or 12 on the essay is within reach for every test-taker. Moreover, starting off on the right foot with a strong essay will leave you feeling confident and ready to succeed on the rest of the test.

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