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Lucas Fink

How to Write a Graceful SAT Essay

Having good examples is a great way to strengthen your SAT essay, and it’s actually necessary for a high score. After all, the prompt specifically asks you for examples. But once students realize that fact, they often lose sight of an equally important part of the essay—putting those examples into context.


Structuring your SAT Essay

The easiest and by far most common way to structure an SAT essay is with some version of the five-paragraph essay. You’re probably familiar with the form. It looks something like this: Introduction with thesis, example one, example two, example three, conclusion.

There’s a pretty good chance you won’t get to five paragraphs in your SAT, and that’s fine. Twenty-five minutes isn’t very long, so just shoot for two examples. But here’s the key: make sure those are two well-explained examples.


The most common mistake in SAT essay examples

Here’s a sure-fire way to score no more than a four out of six points from each essay grader: list your examples without connecting them.

An SAT essay with the thesis “Garden gnomes aren’t trustworthy” might have some great examples to back up the argument. But if your body paragraphs start like this…

<>My aunt had a garden gnome, and he stole her mail.

…and this…

In the movie Amelie, the garden gnome doesn’t watch over the house, like he should.

…then you probably have a problem. The two examples might be linked to your thesis, yes, but there’s no transition between them.

Instead, you should put down some more general ideas at the beginning and end of each paragraph.


Zoom out, zoom in, zoom out

A solid body paragraph gives not only the details of the example but also the bigger picture. Start the body paragraph more generally, explaining the greater idea around your example—what exactly is it an example of?

Since they’re left in one place all day, it’s relatively common that gnomes become bored. Without anything to distract themselves, it’s not surprising that they get up to mischief.

Only then should you start getting into concrete details.

My aunt had a garden gnome, and he stole her mail. Again and again, letters that she expected simply didn’t turn up, at least not in the mailbox; they would invariably be crammed in his little fist.

Then zoom back out.

While it’s possible that he simply needed something to read to pass the time, that doesn’t justify the breach in privacy. That need for stimulation led him to betray her trust. Their restlessness leads to disloyalty.

It’s much easier to transition to your next example if you’re already speaking generally. The last sentence in a body paragraph should do just that.

Then, while writing the next body paragraph, stay in that analytical mode for a sentence or two. Don’t just start in with another concrete example! It would look like a list, not an essay. Instead, reference your previous paragraph to link them together.

For that same reason, gnomes may skirt their duties as watchmen.

Then you can move on to your next example.


Don’t make lists

A list is not an essay. Your essay has to explain. Don’t forget that, or else you’ll be losing valuable points from your SAT writing score.


P.S. Ready to get your highest SAT score? Start here.
About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

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