Unpacking the SAT Essay Prompt
The SAT Essay is currently only being administered in a few states as part of a graduation requirement.
Before you spend time practicing the SAT Essay, make sure you're actually going to have to write one.
Read this article for more info.
SAT Essay: Unpacking the prompt
The words in the SAT Essay Prompt have been chosen very carefully. What do they all mean?
This article provides a detailed analysis of the SAT Essay task.
Here's a generic prompt:
As you read the passage below, consider how [the author] uses
- evidence, such as facts of 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.
Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade the audience that [author's claim]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features listed above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of their 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 their audience.
"...explain how the author builds an argument to persuade the audience..."
Your essay should be focused on identifying and analyzing the strategies the author uses to make his or her point.
Do describe the HOW: How does the author make the point?
Don't spend more than a sentence or two describing what the passage is about and what the point of the passage is.
Do pay attention to how the author uses particular techniques and elements to make the writing more convincing, persuasive, and powerful. How and why do these features work?
Do focus on what the author does, why he or she does it, and what effect this is likely to have on readers
Do capture some of the main ideas and key details of the passage in your analysis
Don't spend too much time summarizing that information
Do assess the key details' contribution to the argument
"... consider how the author uses evidence to support claims."
"Evidence" refers to information and ideas that the author uses to support a claim. Evidence takes many forms, and the forms vary depending on the kind of argument the author is writing and the nature of the point the author is trying to make.
Types of Evidence
- quotations from (other) experts
- the results of experiments or other research
The author of any given passage may use some of these or rely on other kinds of sources entirely.
Your Job is to figure out what constitutes evidence in a particular passage and how the author uses it to support his or her claims. You may end up pointing out that the author relies (perhaps too much) on one kind of evidence or another — or on little or no evidence at all, likely weakening the argument’s effectiveness. You may instead or in addition point to specific cases in which the author’s choice of evidence was particularly effective in supporting a claim or point.
Other approaches are possible as well.
"...consider how the author uses reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence."
Reasoning is the connective tissue that holds an argument together. It’s the “thinking” — the logic, the analysis — that develops the argument and ties the claim and evidence together.
Reasoning plays a stronger role in some texts than in others. Some authors are very careful about making their thought processes clear so that readers can follow and critique them. In other cases, texts rely less heavily on logic.
Your analysis of an author’s use of reasoning can take a number of different approaches. Here are two possibilities:
- Discuss how the author uses (or fails to use) clear, logical reasoning to draw a connection between a claim and the evidence supporting that claim.
- Evaluate the impact that particular aspects of the author’s reasoning (e.g., unstated assumptions) have on how convincing the argument is.
Other approaches are possible as well.
"...consider how the author uses stylistic or persuasive elements to add power to the ideas expressed."
Stylistic and persuasive elements are rhetorical techniques that an author might employ to enhance the power of his or her argument.
- Appeals to the audience’s emotions, like fear or anger
- Appeals to the audience's sense of honor, patriotism, justice or decency
- Word choice - tone, diction, register
- Vivid descriptive language or imagery to create a mood of excitement, anticipation, anxiety or whimsy
There’s no definitive list of these techniques and you don’t have to know them all by heart or by name to be able to get strong scores on the Essay.
Top Tip: As you read the passage, be on the lookout for the ways by which the author attempts to influence the audience, sometimes by using something other than a strictly logical, rational approach!
Your analysis of the author’s use of stylistic and persuasive elements can follow a number of paths. For example:
- Point out instances in which the author uses such devices and evaluate their role or their effectiveness in convincing an audience to action.
- Analyze and evaluate the varying extent to which logic and emotion contribute to the persuasiveness of the text.
Other approaches are possible as well.
We’ve listed some examples of how evidence, reasoning, and stylistic and persuasive elements might be analyzed in a passage, but these are by no means the only ways to earn a good score. For some passages, evidence may be less important than reasoning and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, so it makes sense to devote less attention to evidence in such a case. Successful responses do not need to cover each of these three categories.
It’s better to focus your essay on a few points that are well made than attempt to check off a long list of rhetorical elements.
You can also choose to discuss some aspect of the passage that doesn’t fit neatly into one of the three categories but that plays an important part in how the author builds the argument.
The best way to practice is to actually do a few prompts - stop thinking about it, stop reading about it, take out that pencil and start marking up a passage - then, create an outline and write a draft!
This article was adapted by Dave Travis from "The Official SAT Study Guide," with permission from College Board.
Want to join the conversation?
- Can anyone describe the exact steps to follow when trying to attempt the SAT essay?(31 votes)
- Have a look at Chegg SAT Essay videos. They helped a lot(7 votes)
- what exactly does persuading to ethos, logos or pathos mean?(10 votes)
- Ethos: using ethics, basically providing yourself credibility and making yourself trustworthy.
Logos: Using logic, like if This is wrong and this is like that then that is also wrong.
Pathos: Emotion, think imagery, metaphors, anecdotes etc. that makes your mind create the image the author is trying to portray.(54 votes)
- Does the Essay have to be structured into 5 paragraphs with a introduction and conclusion? Also, what's an example of a thesis statement when you're analyzing someone else's work rather than stating your own opinion or argument? Are we supposed to make an argument about the validity of the argument in the passage or purely analyze how they made their argument?(7 votes)
- 1) The essay does not have to follow that format, but it is strongly recommended.
2) A thesis statement would be the main point what the author is talking about.
3) Absolutely not. You NEVER make an argument about the validity of the argument. You NEVER include your opinion about it. You just need to analyze it.
Hope this helps! If you have any questions or need help, please ask! :)(37 votes)
- Will our marks be deducted if we write a few words in british english instead of american english? (for eg, honour instead of honor)(12 votes)
- British spellings won't have an effect on your score!(13 votes)
- If a relevant point is omitted am I going to be penalized?(4 votes)
- A relevant point in the essay... like something the author says that just makes a ton of sense? I guess it's possible. I think it really depends on how well your essay is written. if you have an amazing essay that misses one relevant point, you'll probably be okay. On the other hand, if your essay is very poor, but contains all the relevant points, you may get a lower score.
Does that help you?(10 votes)
- Do I have/should I give my essay a title?(4 votes)
- Are all SAT Essays persuasive?(3 votes)
- No. All SAT essays require rhetorical analysis of the author's argument.(3 votes)
- Should this be a very strictly formal paper? I’m mainly referring to word choices and ways of bringing points across. And I’m not talking about being allowed to say, “ ya’ know what” and informal slang like that.
Also, are we supposed bring it across in a convincing way by using certain techniques, or is it supposed to just be a simple presentation of facts?
I’m not sure if that makes any sense, but I was just curious if anyone had any opinions.
- DISCLAIMER: This is my own opinion.
I would say, formal toned. Not SUPER strictly, but like, not conversationally toned, either. I think just a presentation of the facts.(6 votes)
- Can identifying writer's techniques, tone and mood and other literary devices boost my essay score?(1 vote)
- They can, but concentrate on clarity over fancy words.(5 votes)
- what should be the structure of my essay ?(3 votes)