SAT Tip of the Week: How to Write a Perfect Essay on the New SAT

SAT Tip of the Week - FullOn the old SAT, the essay questions were often vague philosophical prompts asking you to develop and support your position on the topic. This opened itself up to all sorts of shenanigans by students, like blatantly lying about personal examples (I’m guilty…) or using examples from classic novels to show off their smarts.

On the new SAT, the format of the essay is different. Now the SAT is about analyzing how an author develops her argument and convinces readers of her point. This difference means that the same old strategies won’t cut it anymore. Luckily, there’s an effective way to make the new essay as formulaic as the old essay, giving students a useful framework that they can always use, regardless of the prompt

First, here are the directions for the essay. The top of the page will read something like:

As you read the passage below, consider how (the author) uses

  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.

After the article, the instructions for the essay will be:

Write an essay in which you explain how (the author) builds an argument to persuade his/her audience that (author’s argument is true). In your essay, analyze how (the author) uses one or more of the features in the directions that precede the passage (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his/her argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.

Your essay should not explain whether you agree with (the author’s) claims, but rather explain how (the author) builds an argument to persuade his/her audience.

At first glance, these directions might seem vague. “Evidence,” “reasoning,” and “stylistic or persuasive elements” are sometimes too broad to conceive an essay out of. Here’s where my strategy comes in.

On every essay, I like to have three go-to techniques that I always look for when reading the article and can use in my essay. These three are pathos, logos, and ethos – modes of persuasion that are present in practically all argumentative writing, these three techniques are easy to apply to an SAT essay. Plus, analyzing how the author uses these intellectual terms will show your grader that you have a high-level command of rhetorical analysis, and set you up for a classic five-paragraph essay. Let’s break down these techniques further:

Pathos is an appeal to emotion. Authors use pathos to draw readers into their pieces and connect them with the story. You can often find examples of pathos in anecdotes, calls to action, or appeals to a common purpose.

Logos is an appeal to logic.  Authors use logos to make their pieces more intellectually persuasive and consistent. You can often find examples of logos in the use of data, statistics, or research. You can also find logos in trains of reasoning: if x happens, then y will also happen, because of factor z (or something akin to that).

Ethos is an appeal to ethics, character, or credibility. Authors use ethos to add authority or legitimacy to their arguments. This can be done by demonstrating that the author is qualified to make the argument he or she is making. It can also be done by citing experts or authority figures who let the reader know that the author’s claims are backed up by sound evidence or opinion. As such, ethos is often present in quotes from experts or citations of authority figures.

These three techniques – pathos, logos and ethos – are specific and complex enough to let you write a sophisticated new SAT essay, as well as broad enough to allow you to find and analyze them in any article the SAT essay throws at you. This combination of factors creates a structure of analyzing how the author uses pathos, logos and ethos to build his or her argument that is a great way to approach the new SAT essay.

Still need to take the SAT? We run a free online SAT prep seminar every few weeks. And be sure to find us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

By Aidan Calvelli.