Jumping to a winning conclusion.
Quick Note: Build a Foundation First
An effective conclusion is based on an already-solid essay with a good thesis. Work first on mastering the basics, and then build up to the conclusion. Your score will reflect the difference.
The SAT Essay:
Most test-takers are intimidated by it. This is largely because they don’t understand the difference between a good essay and a great one. I’m going to show you how to achieve the latter 🙂
First, check out our esoteric (vocab alert) friend, the essay rubric. Let’s decode the level-6 criteria: A great essay is well-structured with a beginning, middle, and END. Books, films, plays, lessons, articles, and arguments all have endings. So do essays. Show that you understand this.
Through working with many students and collaborating with other fantastic teachers, I’ve concluded (ha) that an effective SAT writer keeps two questions in mind:
1) “What’s your point?” (Thesis– What you’re trying to teach the reader)
2) “So What?” – (Conclusion – Why this matters)
If you don’t answer the “So What?” at the end, the reader doesn’t see why your essay is important. Instead of developing a meaningful point of view, you just restate what you’ve already written. Your thesis is a case you have to win, or a lesson you have to teach. For that, you must answer both of the above questions. Instead, many test-takers pay attention to their thesis (1st question), but forget to explain its relevance (2nd question). The final product includes the basic ingredients: A definitive thesis, supporting examples, and summary. This can get a mid-range score (7-8), but let’s say you want to reach the next level.
What’s the missing puzzle piece?
Consider the Conclusion
Your conclusion is an opportunity; it’s the last thing your scorer reads. Instead of being jotted down as an afterthought, it should be the final battle cry that drives your point home. Ending on an excellent note can be the clincher for extra points; it shows the exact position you’ve taken on the prompt. It also demonstrates perceptiveness and provides a deeper look into the thesis. In fact, an insightful conclusion is a defining quality of top-scoring (11-12) essays. I have seen this play out repeatedly.
7 Options For a Winning Conclusion
Don’t freak out—if conclusion is effective, it can be short (and probably will be, due to time). Pick ONE of these questions/concerns. Then, answer them for your audience.
1) “How Does It All Tie Together?”
- Show the reader you’re wrapping up- explain how everything ties together. Don’t just restate things.
- Intro + Body Paragraphs = Conclusion
- If you put a quote/anecdote in your intro, refer back to it
THEN you can re-assert your thesis, but try to word it differently. Lucas would agree. 🙂
Bring it full circle.
2) “Something to Think About”
- Closing sentence: Leave reader with an open-ended question or a strong quote
Pondering. (Vocab Alert)
3) “Why Should We Listen?” – Your Sales Pitch
- The benefits (pros) of applying your thesis
4) “If We Don’t Listen?” – Your Warning
- Cons (negative consequences) if we reject your thesis
I’m warning ye.
5) “Next Steps?”
- Suggest what should be done, according to your thesis
Enter your prescription here.
6) “Well, What About THIS?”
- Address a counter-argument (reason someone might disagree) and disprove it: Explain why your thesis is better.
- Note: This method is a little tricky, so practice and master it.
7) “Wow—I Didn’t Even Consider That!”
- “Big Picture” Benefit – For future, society, humanity
How This Helps You
A killer conclusion enhances your ideas and shows that you thought critically about the prompt. High-scoring essays (10-12) demonstrate this complexity of thought, so think about your conclusion from the beginning to grab those extra points.
When you determine your “So What” early on, you’ll think clearly about what you want to achieve and choose examples that fit perfectly with the rest of the essay. I agree with one of my favorite teachers, Ethan Sawyer: “Clear thinking leads to clear writing.”
When choosing your thesis/examples at the start, remember the “So What?” and consider the above methods (just a couple minutes). When you start writing, you’ll know exactly where you’re going. That actually saves you precious time at the end. Otherwise, you’re figuring out your essay as you go, and scorers WILL notice. You’ll also be scrambling to write a few extra sentences in the last 30 seconds, or worse—you won’t get a chance to write any conclusion, and your essay stops short.
This doesn’t have to be you.
Fulfillment: It Matters
Practice takes time, energy, and thought. Why not make that count on test day and end on a note of satisfaction? I’ve done lots of SAT essay prep: assigned prompts, suggested examples, and read students’ work. Did their work show command of paragraphs, examples, and grammar? Sure—these were good essays. However, the BEST essays were the ones that actually taught me something and gave a concrete perspective on the prompt. They left a lasting impression right before I gave a score.
I promise I’m not as annoying as this pencil, but hear me out.
Think carefully about the conclusion. You’ll impact on the reader, take your thesis a step further, and feel truly great about it after the test.
Feelin’ satiated (vocab alert).
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About Tanya Shah
Tanya has taught advanced English and test prep for over five years, and sees standardized tests as solvable puzzles. When she's not reading or writing, she is sampling local bakeries or enjoying the outdoors with her dogs.
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