If you’re choosing to complete the optional essay section on the latest version of the SAT, you’re probably wondering how to get a good score, especially since there are no right or wrong answers when you’re composing an essay. However, you might be surprised to learn that there is a correct SAT essay format, and you probably already know it by heart. The essays that score the highest will be traditional five-paragraph essays that use evidence from the reading passage to support its claims.

Even if you don’t have this traditional essay format memorized, it won’t take long to understand it with these SAT essay tips. You’ll need to practice writing this type of essay if you want to be able to complete it in the 50 minutes allotted on the real SAT itself. Search for SAT essay prompts and examples before you start. You can find a few on the College Board’s website itself.

What the SAT Essay Prompts Will Look Like

SAT essay prompts won’t just give you a paragraph and ask you to respond with your thoughts. The new writing section of the SAT will test your understanding of a passage, your ability to reason and the strength of your writing. To do this, SAT essay prompts come in three parts: the introduction, the reading passage and the prompt paragraph. Make sure you read all of them or else you’ll risk tanking your grade for this section.

The introduction to the prompt gives you hints on what the graders will look for when they read your essay. Most introductions will ask you to consider authorial choices made in the passage that follows it. These will include evidence the author uses to support claims, reasoning implemented to develop claims and persuasive or rhetorical elements that the author used to enhance his ideas.

After the passage itself, you will find the prompt that will ask you to analyze how the author of the passage used certain persuasive elements to convince the audience of the claim. The prompt may tell you exactly which elements you should talk about, and it might even tell you the claim you should analyze. The prompt will also remind you that the essay should not be based on your own opinion, and you should rely on the information from the passage instead of your own experience to form the argument of your essay.

How the SAT Essay Section Is Scored

To earn a perfect score on the SAT Essay section, you’ll need to do more than write well. Your essay will have to excel in three areas: reading, analysis and writing. To demonstrate advanced reading ability, you will need to present ideas from the passage using details and quotations that show a connection between its ideas, structure and rhetoric, and, of course, your interpretation of the passage must be correct.

Earning full marks for your analysis is just as difficult because you have to demonstrate higher-level insight and understanding of the passage’s structure and information. You must use evidence from the text to back up your assertions. Otherwise, you won’t receive full credit. As for your analysis itself, you have to form a complete argument as well, building a relevant thesis that answers the prompt and informs the reader through focused reasoning and developed support. In other words, you have to explain the author’s choices, why she made them and what impact they have on the reader in order to get full credit.

As for the writing itself, you must structure your essay using a logical progression of ideas. Your essay also needs a deliberate introduction, body and conclusion. Your introduction should have a logical thesis statement that answers the prompt, and your body needs evidence from the passage. The prose itself should be completely free of spelling and grammatical mistakes, demonstrating a thorough command of standard English.

What Does a Perfect SAT Essay Look Like?

An essay that will score the highest marks on the SAT will follow the SAT essay format. As an outline, SAT essay format looks like this:

  • Introduction
  • Body paragraph one
  • Body paragraph two
  • Body paragraph three
  • Conclusion

You can expand your SAT essay outline to include other requirements as well. A more thorough outline will include these:

  • Introduction: Your introduction should start with a hook to draw in the reader, and it should also include a thesis statement that introduces the claim you will support in the rest of your essay.
  • Body paragraphs one, two and three: Each body paragraph must elaborate on your claim using evidence from the text to form a strong argument. You can also use a counterclaim in the third body paragraph to support your claim by addressing opposing viewpoints.
  • Conclusion: Conclusions shouldn’t reiterate your introduction; rather, they should be impactful and drive home the reasons the information from the rest of the essay matters.

What Is the Most Important Part of an SAT Essay?

Although there are many elements that you need to include in your essay if you want to score well, the one that informs all the others is your thesis statement. The thesis statement, which is sometimes called a claim, should come at the end of your first paragraph and clearly indicate your stance on the subject of the prompt and the elements of the passage you're going to explain. The thesis statement is the road map to your essay; without it, your reader will get lost.

It follows that the rest of your essay should serve to elaborate on the idea you claim with your thesis statement. Make sure your explanations in the rest of your essay proceed logically from your assertion in your thesis or else your essay won't make much sense, and you won't score well. However, don't stress about it too much while you're writing. You can go back to the beginning and tweak your thesis statement after you're done with the draft.

SAT Essay Tips for Getting a Perfect Score

It may seem like you can’t study for writing an essay, but you actually can. Use these SAT essay tips while you practice, and by the time you get to the real test, you’ll be confident in your ability to earn the perfect score.

  • Write a thoroughly reasoned argument without getting repetitive. You aren’t graded by the number of words you put on the paper, so don’t pad your word count by diluting your reasoning.
  • Use transitions that link your ideas instead of just jumping from idea to idea without a link.
  • Read over your essay not just for spelling and grammar mistakes but also for the clarity of your word choices and the impact of your message.

Don’t waste your time:

  • Trying to sound smart, as this technique can make your writing sound awkward or lacking in fluency instead of having your desired effect.
  • Editing while you write, since trying to be perfect can prevent you from completing your essay.
  • Adding in esoteric vocabulary words because you don’t get bonus points for sounding fancy when your main concern is to present a clear argument. 

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About the Author

Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.