SAT Test Prep

CHAPTER 12
WRITING A GREAT ESSAY

1. Map the SAT Essay Assignment

2. Analyze the Assignment Closely

3. Brainstorm Your Alternatives Creatively

4. Connect to Your Knowledge with “Source Summaries”

5. Write a Strong and Creative Thesis

6. Organize Your Thoughts

7. Write Logically

8. Write Clearly

9. Write Concisely

10. Write Forcefully

11. Write Masterfully

12. Finish with a Bang

Lesson 1: Map the SAT Essay Assignment

The Assignment

Your essay assignment will look something like this:


Consider carefully the issue discussed in the following passage, and then write an essay that answers the question posed in the assignment.


Our leaders love to tell us that only victory will do, as if they are imparting great wisdom. They seek to defeat the enemy, to achieve the goal. Yet many times a loss, particularly one that is hard fought, is more valuable than victory. We cannot live a life full of only victories, nor should we. The quality of our lives depends as much on how we manage our losses as on how we achieve our victories.


Assignment: Can a loss ever be more valuable than a victory? Write an essay in which you answer this question and discuss your point of view on this issue. Support your position logically with examples from literature, the arts, history, politics, science and technology, current events, or your experience or observation.



The essay assignment asks you to formulate a point of view regarding a particular aspect of human values or behavior. It does not require you to recall any specific knowledge from your studies, although you should try to connect your thesis with your studies. There is never a “right” or “wrong” answer to the question; that is, your actual position does not affect your score. More important (contrary to what a lot of SAT-prep folks claim), the graders are not looking for essays that fit a particular formula. You can use narration, exposition, persuasion, or argument as long as it is focused on developing an interesting point of view that answers the question.


Know What They’re Looking For

Two English teachers who have been trained by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) will read and score your essay from 1 (poor) to 6 (outstanding). They are trained to look for five things:


Interesting, relevant, and consistent point of view. Do you take a thoughtful and interesting position on the issue? Do you answer the question as it is presented? Do you maintain a consistent point of view?

Good reasoning. Do you define any necessary terms to make your reasoning clear? Do you explain the reasons for and implications of your thesis? Do you acknowledge and address possible objections to your thesis without sacrificing its integrity?

Solid support. Do you give relevant and specific examples to support your thesis? Do you explain how these examples support your thesis?

Logical organization. Does every paragraph relate clearly to your thesis? Do you provide logical transitions between paragraphs? Do you have a clear introduction and conclusion? Does the conclusion provide thoughtful commentary rather than mere repetition of the thesis?

Effective use of language. Do you use effective and appropriate vocabulary? Do you vary sentence length and structure effectively? Do you avoid needless repetition? Do you use parallelism, metaphor, personification, or other rhetorical devices to good effect? Do you use strong verbs? Do you avoid needlessly abstract language? Do you avoid cliché?

The readers will not mark you down for minor spelling or grammar mistakes, and they won’t mark you up just for using big words. Focus on good reasoning. If you can take an interesting position, explore its implications, discuss relevant examples that support it, and maintain your focus, you will get a very good score.


How Long Should It Be?


Quality is much more important than quantity, but it’s hard to get a great score with fewer than four paragraphs. This is so because the readers are looking for structure and development, which require good use of paragraphs. Think of your paragraphs as “stepping-stones” on a journey. Only two or three stepping-stones don’t make for much of a journey. Plan to write four well-defined paragraphs—five if you have enough time.


Practice 1: Map the SAT Essay Assignment

SAT Essay Grading Review

1. What does it mean for an essay to have good substance?

2. What does it mean for an essay to have strong organization?

3. What does it mean for an essay to be clear?

4. What does it mean for an essay to have an effective and interesting style?

5. How long should your SAT essay be?

Check your answers with the answer key at the end of the chapter.