What is the SAT Essay?

So you’ve been suckered into writing the optional SAT essay. Now what? First of all, don’t think of that way. Instead of regarding it as an extra thing to prepare for, some extra source of stress, think of it as an opportunity to let your personality and unique voice shine. There’s very little room (to be honest, no room) for you to assert your individuality on the multiple choice sections. You are merely a test number and a bunch of little #2-filled-in circles. But we both know you’re more than that! 😉

First things first: what is the SAT essay?

Overview of the essay portion of the SAT

If you’ve taken AP Language and Composition, or you participate in your school’s Speech and Debate Club, the SAT essay is essentially a rhetorical analysis. If you’re reading this thinking “what the heck is a rhetorical analysis,” don’t worry. It’s way less scary than it sounds.

You will be given a passage to read and analyze. It may be an excerpt from a speech, possibly a piece of an article. You’ll have 50 minutes to read, annotate, then write an essay in which you analyze how the author presents their argument. I like to think of your task in simple terms – you’re identifying WHAT the author is saying, HOW the author is saying it, and WHY the author is saying it in that way.


On the SAT essay, you will be scored on 3 areas: reading, analysis, and writing.

1. Reading

The first one is pretty straightforward: prove that you comprehend what the excerpt is saying, specifically, that you understand the author’s position. No matter what they throw at you, the author of the excerpt will be taking a stance, making a claim. Your job is to briefly summarize that claim, being careful to both paraphrase and cite important textual elements. You’ll want to avoid copying long pieces from the text. Rather, embed the author’s central terms and phrases in your own retelling.

2. Analysis

How is the author getting their point across? (This is that rhetorical analysis part I was talking about.) There’s more than one way to say the same thing, so what choices has the author made here? If you’re fancy and can name the specific rhetorical devices being used, go for it. But it’s not a treasure hunt, like, “I found a metaphor!” It’s less important to name the things being used and more important to explain their importance.

Some things you might notice and analyze here:

–          Personal anecdote and emotional appeals

–          Imagery and literary devices

–          Facts, numbers, data

Once you identify the choices the author has made, you’ll want to offer a reason why they did that, and explain the effect of those choices on the audience.

3. Writing

Here’s where you can show off your control of language and writing style. Your number one priority should be presenting your thoughts in an organized, clear manner, but feel free to sprinkle in your own brand of twinkle by playing with sentence variety and personal voice.

I know this is a lot to remember, and it can be especially overwhelming on the day of the exam. My best advice for combating test day anxiety is practice. And not just any practice, timed writing practice. Visit the College Board website. Choose a practice prompt. Find a quiet place for yourself, put 50 minutes on the clock, and write an essay. This link provides two prior SAT essay prompts: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sample-questions/essay. Once you write yours, you can compare it with the scored essays provided. College Board offers excellent explanations to both tell and show you how to earn a strong score.


Hey. You got this. Use the College Board resources, take some time to practice, and remember that no matter what they give you that day, you’ll be discussing WHAT, HOW, and WHY in your essay. Be clear and concise, and make this essay uniquely yours.



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By |2018-07-13T16:17:55+00:00July 12th, 2018|SAT|