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Chris Lele

SAT Essay – The Intro

The intro is quite possibly the most difficult paragraph of your essay to write. Though once you’ve learned how to structure the intro, it can be, along with the conclusion, the easiest to write.

So how exactly does one go about structuring the intro? Here is a quick recipe:

Sentence 1: Introduce the topic

Sentence 2: Elaboration sentence

Sentence 3: Pivot sentence

Sentence 4: The thesis


Short and Sweet

Before we embark on each point, keep in mind the magical rule to writing the intro: keep it short and sweet. That’s right—no abstract musings or attempts to sound like a Rhodes scholar by adding phrase after confusing phrase to your thesis.


Sample Intro

Let’s take a look at an intro that conforms pretty well to the recipe above.

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The topic is the following: Can knowledge be a burden rather than a benefit?

Knowledge is power. In agriculture, medicine, and industry, for example, knowledge has liberated us from hunger, disease, and tedious labor. Today, however, our knowledge has become so powerful that it is beyond our control. We know how to do many things, but we do not know where, when, or even whether this know-how should be used.


Sentence 1: Introduce the topic

In a mere three words, the first sentence really packs a punch. I’m not saying you should use three words for your first sentence, but you can see that’s sometimes all you really need. As long as you introduce the topic at a general level, and in just a few words, you are doing well.

Sentence 2: Elaboration sentence

This sentence is actually kind of optional, but I think it makes your intro a little smoother. Notice in the example above that the second sentence elaborates on the first. Again, the first is very general, so it is a good idea in your transition sentence to be a little more specific.

Sentence 3: Pivot sentence

This is where you really get to mix things up. For the first two sentences, you’ve been showing how knowledge is powerful—something nobody would disagree with. But now you want to make a claim, one that someone would potentially disagree with, and one, of course, that answers the essay question.

In other words, you are leading into your thesis, which is consistent with the position in sentence 3. And what is that position? That knowledge can sometimes be a bad thing because it has become “beyond our control”.

Notice how this sentence pivots from the first two sentences, which praise knowledge. It is not that you are contradicting yourself; rather you are showing that there is truth to one side (“knowledge is power”) but that in some cases (the present in which knowledge is “beyond our control”) knowledge is not always a good thing.

This type of reasoning shows that you have considered both sides of an issue—instead of just pounding your fist on the table yelling “Knowledge is bad” or, if you take the flip side, “knowledge is always good”.

While the body paragraphs will focus on just one side—the side your thesis argues for—the intro is a great place to show that you are thinking on the issue is not completely black or white.

Sentence 4: The thesis

At this point, it should be clear which side you are arguing for, and so our thesis should flow naturally from sentence 3. In the prompt above, I would have liked the thesis to refer back to “knowledge” and the word “burden” (though that is probably just the teacher’s voice speaking). The thesis still clearly articulates the position, and it does so in a sentence that is not overly long.

Since the thesis is the most important sentence in your essay, and there are more levels of complexity in it than I describe above, I am going to spend a little more time on the thesis later.


Final Note

The four-sentence intro recipe is meant to guide you. Often students struggle with what to write in the intro, wasting precious minutes either writing nothing at all or erasing much of what they’ve wrote, only to write nothing at all. Having this recipe handy will give you direction. What it will not do is automatically wow the essay graders. You’ll still have to write clearly and eloquently.

I should also mention that this is just one essay template, and there are other ways to write the intro. I’ve found this way to be pretty effective, and one that is echoed by the very excerpts the SAT chooses. See, I actually took the above sample paragraph from the College Board book. You know those boxes that are above the assignment? Not only do they give you inspiration and direction on the essay, but they are also often perfectly crafted intros–one’s that follow the recipe above. With a little bit of practice, you can learn to mimic these intros.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I’ve excerpted a few below:

Assignment: Do material possessions make us truly happy?

We are often reminded that acquiring and owning material possessions—money, property, jewelry, even clothing—will not lead to true happiness. While it is certainly true that material possessions alone cannot bring happiness or provide us with genuine meaning in life, there is something to be said for having material possessions. Not only can they make us comfortable, but the happiness they can provide, while it may be momentary, is still happiness.

Comments: Notice this one has a long first sentence so it doesn’t need an elaboration sentence. The second sentence is the “Pivot” sentence.

Assignment: Is flexibility the sign of a strong and wise leader?

Some people emphasize that strong leaders never depart from their goal, plan, or vision and that such dedication is, in fact, a measure of their strength. Others would argue, however, that strong leaders are flexible. Strong leaders know when to admit they have made a mistake and when it is appropriate to change their goal or mission. This flexibility shows their strength and the extent of their wisdom.

Comments: The pivot sentence comes in sentence #2. (Again, there can be slight variations on the recipe).


About Chris Lele

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has inspired countless students across the globe, turning what is otherwise a daunting experience into an opportunity for learning, growth, and fun. Some of his students have even gone on to get near perfect scores. Chris is also very popular on the internet. His GRE channel on YouTube has over 10 million views. You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh GRE blog and High School blog! You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

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