SAT 2016

CHAPTER 6

THE SAT ESSAY: ANALYZING ARGUMENTS

Organize Your Thoughts (10–15 minutes)

After you’ve finished your three passes, it’s time to organize your thoughts. You need to have something interesting to write about and a coherent way to express it. This stage of the process involves constructing a thesis and outlining the entire essay.

Lesson 7: Construct a precise, thorough, and insightful thesis

According to the College Board, a good thesis for your SAT Essay is precisethorough, and insightful. That is, it conveys a thoughtful central idea that demonstrates that you (1) thoroughly understand the text, (2) have analyzed its essential rhetorical and stylistic elements, and (3) have evaluated those elements for effectiveness.

Take your time when composing your thesis. Choose your words carefully and make sure you capture the key elements listed above. You will probably need more than one sentence to accomplish everything you need in a good thesis paragraph. Consider this first draft for our thesis:

Draft 1

In his essay, “Mind Over Mass Media,” Steven Pinker looks at new forms of media. His thesis is about the reality of modern social media and the Internet. He talks about the misconceptions that cultural critics have about the relationship between modern media and the human brain.

Is it precise?

Analyze your sentences for precision by “trimming” them as we discussed in Chapter 4, Lesson 3. Trimming reduces a sentence to its core, that is, the phrases that convey the essential ideas. When we do this with our first draft, we get “… Steven Pinker looks at new forms. … His thesis is about the reality. … He talks about the misconceptions. …” Are the verbs strong and clear? Are the objects concrete and precise? Not really. Let’s look back at our notes and use quotations from the passage to make these sentences more precise.

Draft 2

In his essay, “Mind Over Mass Media,” Steven Pinker looks at examines the “moral panics” about the supposed moral and cognitive declines caused by new forms of media. His thesis is about the reality of modern social media and the Internet that “such panics often fail reality checks.”He talks about effectively analyzes the misconceptions that cultural critics have about the relationship between modern media and the human brain.

Notice that this revision better specifies what Pinker is examining in his essay by more precisely articulating his thesis, even including a quotation.

Is it thorough?

Although our second draft provides more detail about Pinker’s thesis, this draft still lacks detail about his essay’s rhetorical and stylistic elements. It could be more thorough. Let’s look back at our notes and add some details about these elements.

Draft 3

In his essay, “Mind Over Mass Media,” Steven Pinker examines the “moral panics” about the supposed moral and cognitive declines caused by new forms of media. His thesis, is that “such panics often fail reality checks,” is supported with historical examples, logical analysis, illustrative images, and touches of humor. He provides scientific context for his claims, and effectively analyzes the misconceptions that cultural critics have about the relationship between modern media and the human brain.

Note that this revision more thoroughly explains how Pinker makes his points by specifying rhetorical and stylistic devices.

Is it insightful?

An insightful essay provides a unique perspective on and evaluation of the source text. Although the SAT Essay instructions say that your response should NOT explain whether you agree with the author’s claims, the official SAT Essay scoring rubric states that a high-scoring essay mustoffer a thorough, well-considered evaluation of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic elements, and/or features of the student’s own choosing. In other words, don’t say whether you agree with the source text, but explain how well it performs the persuasive task.

Think of it this way: a good movie or restaurant reviewer shouldn’t just say “Don’t go to that movie because I hate car chases,” or “Don’t go to that restaurant because I don’t like spicy food,” because a reader might actually like car chases or spicy food. Instead, a good reviewer describes the cinematic aspects of the movie or culinary aspects of the food to help the reader make a better decision. Similarly, your essay should give your reader enough information to decide for himself or herself whether Pinker’s essay is strong.

Our current draft is lacking some of these insights, so let’s add a few.

Draft 4

In his essay, “Mind Over Mass Media,” Steven Pinker examines the “moral panics” about the supposed moral and cognitive declines caused by new forms of media. His essay provides a measure of balance to our sometimes hysterical discussions of social media and instantaneous digital information. His thesis, that “such panics often fail reality checks,” is supported with historical examples, logical analysis, illustrative images, and touches of humor. He provides scientific context for his claims, and effectively analyzes the misconceptions that cultural critics have about the relationship between modern media and the human brain. Although his argument could have been bolstered with more specific scientific support, his essay as a whole effectively argues for a reprieve from the hysteria about intellectual and moral decline allegedly caused by Twitter and Facebook.

Notice that this revision insightfully evaluates how effectively Pinker makes his points.

Lesson 8: Outline your essay

Once you’ve composed your thesis, outline the rest of your essay. Plan to write between five and seven paragraphs.

Our thesis paragraph draws the reader in by beginning to answer the question How does Steven Pinker’s Essay, “Mind Over Mass Media,” establish a point of view about the effects of modern media and information technologies? by summarizing Pinker’s thesis, describing his rhetorical and stylistic techniques, and evaluating the effectiveness of his writing.

The rest of the essay should focus on supporting those points and discussing their relevance.

Outline

1.  Pinker’s essay examines the “moral panics” about new media and information technologies supposedly causing cognitive and moral decline, and argues for a reprieve from the hysteria.

2.  Pinker effectively uses historical examples to support his thesis.

3.  Pinker uses logical analysis to refute the opposing viewpoint.

4.  Pinker uses psychological research to explain how misguided our worries about new media are.

5.  Pinker attempts to refute his critics with an analogy between modern critics and the thinking of ancient peoples.

6.  Pinker provides constructive advice for those prone to distraction by new media.

7.  Pinker concludes with a hopeful view of new media and information technologies.