The SAT Essay: analyzing a passage

Writing an SAT Essay.

In this article, we will review a sample SAT Essay and give you some ideas of how you can approach writing a response to the prompt.

Take a look at the example Essay prompt below.

Initial Impressions.

If you haven’t already, take a few minutes to read the passage above. You may find it helpful to annotate the essay with thoughts about Gioia’s argument as you read it for the first time. As a reminder from the prompt in the first box above, you are looking for examples of evidence-based support, reasoning, and stylistic or persuasive elements that Gioia uses to build his argument. You can also discuss other rhetorical styles if you find them.

Analyzing Gioia’s Essay.

Here are just a few elements of Gioia’s essay that you could pursue in your own essay:
  • “A strange thing:” Gioia highlights the irony of young Americans’ declining interest in the arts and humanities during a thriving economic period and a major information age.
  • Data: He uses data from a respected source, the National Endowment for the Arts, to lend credibility to his argument that young American adults are reading less (and that this is problematic).
  • Emotional appeal: Gioia uses powerful language designed to generate an emotional response in the reader by calling reading a “longstanding” and “fundamental cultural” activity.
  • More data: Gioia analyzes survey data from the National Association of Manufacturers to show that the loss of reading not only impacts Americans’ cultural lives, but also has negative implications on their work.
  • Conclusion, emotional appeal: In the final paragraph, Gioia appeals to readers’ fear and national pride by stating that “our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent-minded” if Americans continue their reading decline. This language adds urgency to Gioia’s call to action.

Writing Your Essay.

When considering the observations we have made about Gioia’s essay, we see a lot of data analysis combined with emotional language. One way to approach writing this essay is to focus on these two elements. We could argue that Gioia uses persuasive, emotional language, combined with data, to craft his argument.
College Board does not have an official recommendation on the number of paragraphs for the Essay; most essays will probably be 4 or 5 paragraphs.
Remember that the essay should focus not just on the types of evidence and rhetoric Gioia uses, but how he uses them to build an argument. Here is a sample outline of an introduction and some ideas for one or more body paragraphs:
I. Introduction:
  • Gioia primarily uses survey-based evidence and powerful, emotional language to appeal to his audience. He builds the argument that a decline in young adult readers will lead to a less informed and capable U.S. society by using evidence and rhetoric.
II. Data and Evidence:
  • Gioia references a variety of surveys, including surveys by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Association of Manufacturers. The data from the NEA, a respected source of information on arts and culture, lends credence to Gioia’s argument that there is a “troubling trend” of “individuals in a time of crucial intellectual and emotional development bypass[ing] the joys and challenges of literature.”
  • Further, Gioia analyzes survey data from the National Association of Manufacturers to show that the loss of reading not only impacts Americans’ cultural lives, but also has negative implications on their work. Research from multiple sources bolsters Gioia’s argument because it reveals a number of different sources have come to the same conclusion: that a decline in American reading is problematic.
III. Emotional Appeals:
  • Gioia uses strong language to highlight the importance of reading (“longstanding” and “fundamental cultural” activity). He also highlights the toll that a decline in reading will take on the U.S. with strong emotional appeals (“our nation becomes less informed, active, and independent-minded”). He uses the emotional appeal strategy to make American readers worry about a less informed United States population, and the negative effect this could have in the country’s place as a global power.
IV. Conclusion:
  • A brief but strong conclusion is a good way to wrap up your essay. Remind the reader how Gioia’s dual focus on emotion and data help him build a convincing argument.
This is just one example of how you could approach and begin to analyze Gioia’s essay. Keep in mind that the example above is still in a rough form, so when writing a full essay, you would need to take this analysis even further.
Note: It is important to use quotations from the text, or close paraphrases of the argument, in order to provide specific evidence to strengthen your analysis. Successful, convincing essays will interweave direct quotes from the passage with your own analysis of how the author's specific words, phrases or sentences prove the point you are trying to make. Don’t let excerpts and snippets of the author’s text dominate your essay; let them illustrate your argument.
Top Tip! Don’t use any more than a sentence or two to summarize the point of the passage! Use the time you have to analyze how the author is making his or her point more powerful and persuasive and why the author might have chosen those methods to make the point.
Practice Makes Perfect! The Essay Test gives you 50 minutes to read and analyze the passage, plan your essay, and write it, so we suggest that you practice and time yourself so you learn how long this process takes you.
This Tips and Planning section also includes a number of SAT Essay prompts, student responses, and scoring.