Three Tips for the New SAT Essay

The new SAT essay is much like any 5-paragraph essay you’ve written for school. It provides a reading passage (“a source text”), for which students must write an essay, analyzing the author’s argument and elements, like simile and metaphor that the author uses to bolster his claim.

You’ll have 50 minutes for the essay. While the new SAT essay is optional, most selective colleges will require the essay. You should check with the colleges you’re applying to see if the essay is required. The new essay is scored on a scale of 1-4 with a 4 being the highest score.

Here are our top three tips for improving your SAT essay score.

First, let me explain the format you’ll be seeing. You’ll see a long passage, and then a prompt inside a box.

TIP # 1: Before reading the long passage that you must analyze, first read the prompt, located right after the reading passage.

This part of the prompt gives the author’s main argument, making your job a whole lot easier!   

Underline the author’s argument and make sure you include it in the first paragraph of your essay. And, voila, your first paragraph has its core idea.

Sample prompt, following the long reading passage:

TIP #2: As you read the passage, mark up the following elements, underlining and taking brief margin notes as you go.  

You will then discuss each feature in a separate body paragraph.

  • Evidence provided to support claims
  • Reasoning given to develop ideas and connect claims and evidence
  • Stylistic or persuasive elements to convince the reader of the author’s viewpoint

(Stylistic elements include examples of  irony, similes, metaphors, and other elements that appeal to emotions.)

TIP #3: Use an essay template.

Are you ever afraid of “freezing” on the essay, afraid you won’t know what to write on test day? Below is a template we use in our courses, so you’ll know just what to write in each paragraph.

Insider Tip: For the highest score, aim for four to five paragraphs; studies conducted by Les Perelman at MIT showed that longer SAT essays receive higher scores. Our founder worked for Les at MIT, and we’ve been able to integrate his remarkable insights about how SAT essays are graded into our courses.