This post has been updated with current, accurate content for the new SAT that premiered in March 2016 by Magoosh test prep expert David Recine!
You know how much first impressions count for? The people who read and grade your SAT essay (there will be 2 of them) are going to see a couple of things immediately. First, there’s the length and the handwriting, but those only count for so much. Almost immediately, the reader will get to your introductory paragraph.
What you put in that intro is going to be a significant chunk of their first impression, so you’ve got to make sure it’s good.
I’m going to give you a formula to follow for a clear and focused introduction to your SAT essay. No, it won’t guarantee you a high score, but if you follow it, you’ll have fewer choices to make, and that’s a good thing.
In the New SAT’s essay prompt, you will write a response to an opinion piece, either an historical piece of writing (such as an essay by past political leader), or a recently-written editorial about a modern issue. The example opening paragraph below will be based on an article about the benefits of exposing young children to technology. Before you look at the example sentences below, review the article and essay prompt on the official SAT website here.
First sentence – identify and describe the source article
In your opening, you want to immediately identify the reading passage you’re responding to. Name the author, other relevant information such as when the source was written or where it was published, and very briefly describe the source’s content. This demonstrates fundamental reading comprehension. It also makes the purpose of your essay clear—you are analyzing a specific piece of writing.
In “The Digital Parent Trap,” an op-ed for Time Magazine, author Eliana Dockterman asserts the many benefits of exposing children to multimedia technology via computer, Internet and mobile platforms.
The name of the author and the purpose/subject of the article are essential. Include the title and publishing venue for the article if possible. (Sometimes a really long title may not fit well into a sentence, and the publishing venue can also be unwieldy or difficult to correctly determine.)
Second sentence – Explain more about the writer’s purpose and beliefs
Note that in the first sentence above, the brief description of the article’s content appeared at the very end. This placement allows the end of the first sentence to transition smoothly to the second sentence. The second sentence will expand on the ideas from the end of the previous sentence, giving more details about the article’s content, and what the author is trying to do.
Dockterman challenges the traditional beliefs that electronic media is bad for children, saying that exposure to electronic media actually benefits children cognitively, developmentally, and educationally.
Notice the way that this sentence summarizes all key points from the source article, and lists them in the order they appeared. Dockterman first mentions conventional bias against exposing children to electronic entertainment, and then challenges this bias by listing three benefits of mobile technology for children. It’s best to have the second sentence follow the sequence of ideas in the article, as this is the easiest, most straightforward way to give a summary.
Third sentence – Characterize the argument and give your opinion of it
Now that you’ve given a good description of the article and its content, it’s time to actually analyze the article. Think about your own feelings on what you just read, in terms of writing quality. What does the argument look like, structurally? And how well-constructed is the argument?
The author’s argument unfolds clearly as she provides evidence that anti-tech bias exists and is incorrect.
Be careful when you write this third sentence. You may agree with what the author has written, or you may have a difference of opinion. But the focus of the sentence should be your opinion of the author’s writing skill, not your feelings on the rightness or wrongness of the author’s claims. Try to keep this sentence relatively simple and focused.
Fourth sentence – Give the reason for your opinion
Once you’ve stated your opinion on the quality of writing in the article, you need to justify your characterization of the argument. In this case, sentence four will need to explain more about why the Time Magazine article in question “unfolds clearly,” how the author “outlines biases,” and why the author’s evidence is “believable.”
Citing statistics, scholarly research and quotations from experts, Eliana Dockterman credibly demonstrates all of her key assertions.
Fifth sentence – Preview the body of your essay
The fifth sentence is optional, but I advise including it more often than not. By previewing what you’ll cover in the body of the essay, you provide a strong transition between your introduction and the rest of your written piece. The New SAT essay format is more complex than the previous format, and it helps to have a lot of transitions to hold everything together.
Through an impressive array of external sources, the author crafts a multifaceted argument that adults should allow children to use technology and electronic media.
By mentioning an “array” of evidence and a “multifaceted argument,” this sentence indicates that the rest of the SAT essay will analyze multiple pieces of evidence and different aspects of Dockterman’s rhetoric. This helps prepare the reader (in this case SAT scorer) for the sophisticated full written analysis that will follow the introduction.
Practice this intro structure before the day of your SAT
The best way to remember any system is to use it, so make sure you try this structure out a few times. If you have it down pat on the day of your SAT, it’ll make your life a lot easier.