The SAT Prep Black Book

The SAT Essay

SAT Essay Quick Summary

This is a one-page summary of the major relevant concepts. Use it to evaluate your comprehension or jog your memory. For a more in-depth explanation, see the rest of the section.

The Big Secret: The SAT Essay isn’t graded like a school essay, and shouldn’t be written like one.

State your position on the prompt clearly, and support it with three examples.

Factual accuracy doesn't matter, as long as your examples would support your thesis if they were true.

Personal, historical, and literary examples are all equally valid. Go with what's easiest for you.

Some imperfect grammar is okay. Showing off your vocabulary won’t help. Just say what you mean.

Length is the most important thing. Plan on 1.5 pages at a bare minimum. Closer to 2 is best.


There’s no set format you must follow to get a good score, but I find it's best to stick to the standard 5-paragraph format: intro, 3 example paragraphs, conclusion. Since it's familiar, structured, and repetitive, it will be easy to write in the time allotted, and it will be easy for the grader to read and understand quickly.

Remember that you're not trying to stand out and write a 'special' essay. You want to write one that's just like all the other high-scoring essays, so the grader can quickly read it, recognize that it's a good essay, give you a good score, and then move on.

Here’s the process:

oRead the prompt and quickly pick a side.

oIntro paragraph: Start your essay with a simple thesis statement, just a clear and direct response to the prompt. Briefly mention your three supporting examples. Restate your answer to the prompt in a sentence or two. Pad out the first paragraph (which is a more polite way of saying “BS it”).

o1st example paragraph: In a few sentences, explain your first example. Finish the paragraph with a sentence or two relating this example back to the first sentence of the essay.

o2nd example paragraph: Repeat the previous step with your second example.

o3rd example paragraph: Repeat the previous step with your third example.

oConclusion: Start with a sentence or two relating all your examples back to the first sentence of your essay. Finish by rephrasing the first sentence of the essay. Pad this out, too ;)

As I said, this is not the only possible way to get a high score on your essay, but in my experience it's the easiest and most reliable. Just make sure it's long, and your examples support your position.

There’s probably no need to plan your essay, since you can make up whatever examples you want anyway. A lot of people don’t plan at all. They just make up each example as they come to it, and use the time they save so they can write more, because length is the primary indicator of the score.

Refer to the example essays in the Blue Book to see what high-scoring essays look like.