SAT Tip of the Week: How to Write a Good SAT Essay

SAT Tip of the Week - FullEven though you get a whole 25 minutes to piece together your SAT essay, the grader who reads it will only take around 1-2 minutes to evaluate it. You might think this is annoying or unfair – after all, you probably put a lot of thought into your essay and want the reader to appreciate your hard work. However, this is the reality of the situation, and it’s your (and our!) job to figure out how to take advantage of it. So how should you go about doing this? The answer is simple to understand, and not much harder to do: Clarity.

In your high school essays, you might have been taught to write with nuance, to “show not tell.” This is good advice for other writing assignments, but not for the SAT essay. The rushed graders are unlikely to notice detailed intricacy in your essay, but they will recognize a clear, direct argument.

The best way to make a clear argument (in my words) is to “hit the reader over the head” with the point you’re trying to make. Going over the top in restating and explaining your main argument – which will show up in your thesis statement – is a foolproof way to ensure the reader will know exactly what you are attempting to say. My advice is to start with a strong thesis in the intro paragraph, but also include a restated version of that thesis statement in all of your body paragraphs. The goal of the examples in your body paragraphs should be to relate them back to your thesis, so framing the thesis in each of those paragraphs leads the grader to make that connection naturally.

It’s key to make sure that your examples are clearly related to your thesis, as well. The more it’s clear why you chose those examples, the better the argument the grader will think that you’re making. The best kind of example is an obvious one that is well explained, not a subtle one that requires a ton of confusing exegesis.

Alright, so now you know you have to be clear, but you may be asking, “What exactly does being clear look like?” Don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging. Here’s an example of a recent SAT essay prompt with a corresponding clear and unclear thesis:

Prompt: Do good intentions matter, or should people be judged only according to the results of their actions?

Clear Thesis: It is most fair to judge people based on the goodness of their intentions because humans cannot absolutely control the effects their actions have on the world.

Unclear Thesis: Since the results of our actions are shaped by factors that may or may not be outside of human control, it is best in most cases to judge people based on what we perceive their intentions to be, although it is often difficult to accurately tell what people’s intentions really are.

The clear thesis gets right to the point. It doesn’t beat around the bush, introduce ambiguous claims, or contradict itself. The unclear thesis wavers, and it’s difficult to even follow what argument it is trying to make. As is evident in these two examples, the clearer your thesis is (and the more clear your examples are) the better the grader’s understanding of your essay will be. And of course, the better the grader’s understanding, the better your score!

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By Aidan Calvelli.