Tips to Improve your SAT Essay

Tips to Improve Your SAT Essay

The SAT Essay Section can be one of the most dreadful parts of the SAT test-taking experience. 

Getting a perfect score has become more challenging. You have to read 650-750 word passages, analyze the arguments and how it was structured, and then write a critical essay about it in 50 minutes. 

Unlike your high school essays that only ask your stand on various societal issues, the SAT essay requires very specific analysis of persuasive devices used in the text given. If you aren’t prepared and you do not even know how the test is structured, you’re in for some serious trouble. 

Luckily for you, we’re here to make the whole experience a little more bearable. In this article, we’re going to discuss how to write an SAT essay and earn that perfect score of 8.

Understand How Your Essay Will be Graded

Knowing how your essay will be scored will give you an advantage when you’re already taking the test. It’s like going into battle knowing the tactics of your enemy.

The SAT essay is assigned three scores. Two knowledgeable graders will score your test in three sections: reading, analysis, and writing. In each section, the highest score is four so your goal is to get a perfect combine score of 8 from both individuals. 

For you to get a score of 4 in reading, your essay must reflect how you understand the text you have read. Your analysis score, on the other hand, will be based on how you analyzed the persuasion technique of the author. Lastly, your writing score is a reflection of your essay’s command of the language and overall organization. 

If you want a more detailed list of criteria, there are available SAT essay scoring rubrics online.

Write a Clear Thesis 

Writing a good thesis statement can be challenging. How will you do this? Identify first the “precise central claim” of the passage and then analyze the different persuasive techniques used by the writer to support it. 

Make sure that as you write your thesis, you use precise but interesting language so the graders will be more engaged in reading your work! We also have a helpful guide on how to start an essay.

Memorize a list of persuasive techniques

To be able to break down the arguments in the passage, you need to have an idea on the different techniques that were used by the writer.

Some of the most common persuasive techniques are the following:

  1. Appeal to authority
  2. Appeal to reason
  3. Appeal to emotion
  4. Appeal to trust
  5. Plain folks
  6. Bandwagon
  7. Rhetorical Question
  8. Repetition

I am not saying that you won’t be able to answer your essay without knowing these techniques. You can still prove your point by doing simple analysis. However, for you to save time, you should already know these techniques so your explanation would be easier to write.

Stick to the information given in the passage

The main mistake of some students is that they get carried away when writing. They include personal experiences and biases in order to support their claim. This should be avoided because there is no chance the grader will give you a four if they have seen unnecessary anecdotes in your work.

In answering the test, make sure you stick to the evidences you have read from the passage. You can write a lengthy response to the prompt without resorting to your opinion and assumptions. 

Read the prompt before the passage

Reading the prompt before the passage will save you a lot of time. By knowing the central claim of the author beforehand, you can read the text with the intention of focusing on the arguments he used. You will only have to read it once. For a test with only 50 minutes to finish, you should be able to save up time reading so you can have enough time to answer.

Learn how to present evidences

In presenting evidence, there are two techniques that you could use. First is directly quoting lines from the passage and the second one is paraphrasing.

By quoting lines that you have read and then explaining how it supports your main thesis, you are establishing a sense of credibility in your writing. Same goes with paraphrasing where you explain what you have read in your own words. This tip on how to write an sat essay is applicable not only for the test but also in the different papers you are required to make for your subjects.

Be neat and tidy

The College Board claims that SAT essays are in no way scored based on the test-taker’s neatness and penmanship, and that each grader must take however much time is needed to ascertain what you’ve written, but let’s be real here. Neatness counts!

Think of it this way. If you had to sit around all day reading hundreds of essays on the same topic, you’d probably be more inclined to give higher scores to the more legible essays, for making it easier on you as a reader.

On the other hand, you’d probably be very annoyed if you had to get through an illegible essay, and odds are, you’re not gonna be in a high-score-giving sorta mood if you’re annoyed.

So, moral of the story? Write legibly! Don’t annoy SAT graders!

Use the 5 paragraph structure

We’re personally not a fan of this simplistic writing style, but, as it turns out, SAT essay readers love it. Why? It’s easy to follow. It gets the point across succinctly and clearly. So if you’re still asking yourself how to write an SAT essay in a matter of minutes, here is the answer.

SAT 5 paragraph structure

When outlining your essay, be sure to start with a broad introductory paragraph containing the thesis of your essay, followed by three body paragraphs, each providing evidence/examples to support their thesis, and lastly, a concluding paragraph to wrap things up.

Go for length!

It may sound a bit silly, but several studies have concluded that, on average, students who write longer SAT essays tend to receive higher essay scores, despite the fact that College Board claims that length is not a part of their criteria.

No joke! Why would a longer essay receive a higher score? Well, no one really knows, but odds are, the graders look at super short essays and figure the writer simply doesn’t have much to say and mark them off on ideas and content.

So, make sure you fill in every line with good, relevant information to receive full credit for ideas!

We not saying that you should ramble on forever and say the same thing over and over for the sake of writing a longer essay–the SAT readers will catch on to this and penalize you for it. Instead, focus on including as much relevant information as possible without being repetitive.

Use correct grammar

Correct grammar will make your essay come across as more sophisticated, and more palatable to the reader, and will ultimately earn you big points! This is probably one of the most underrated SAT essay tips but following correct grammar rules on the SAT will make you stand out. 

Here’s a trick: try to use active verbs when writing an essay. For example, instead of saying “he was being sad,” your child should just say, “he was sad.”


This is probably one the most obvious SAT essay tips, but we’re going to say it again: PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!

Seriously. You can read every SAT essay guide you want, but the only way you’re really going to master the art of SAT essay writing is by obtaining some practice prompts (via the internet, SAT prep books, or some other medium) and writing essays over and over and over again.

So what are you waiting for? Go check out some practice prompts!


Here are the 11 SAT essay tips that made it into our list:

  1. Understand how your essay will be graded
  2. Write a clear thesis 
  3. Memorize a list of persuasive techniques
  4. Stick to the information given in the passage
  5. Read the prompt before the passage
  6. Learn how to present evidences
  7. Be neat and tidy
  8. Use the 5 paragraph structure
  9. Go for length!
  10. Use correct grammar
  11. Practice!

With these awesome sat essay tips and hints on how to write an SAT essay, we’re sure you will do well on your test! 

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Todd VanDuzer

Co-Founder & CEO at Student-Tutor
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students design the life of their dreams by ensuring college, scholarship, and career success! I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, host of a career exploration podcast for teens, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. I invite you to join my next webinar to learn how to save thousands + set your teenager up for college, scholarship, and career success!
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5 years ago

Thanks for sharing such a nice write-up.!!and Nice blog

Michele Donlon
Michele Donlon
5 years ago

Thanks for sharing such a nice write-up.!! It would be really helpful for students and other too. One thing I would like to know more about academic essay writing, where I can find it easily. we have one useful resource for essay papers

Michele J. Donlon
Michele J. Donlon
5 years ago

Thanks for sharing such a nice write-up.!! It would be really helpful for students and other too. One thing I would like to know more about academic essay writing, where I can find it easily.

6 years ago

Nice post. Very helpful for every student.

Laura Petersen
Laura Petersen
6 years ago
Reply to  Nikita

Thank you very much for the supportive comment, Nikita! All of us on the S-T team are happy to hear it is helpful for students. 🙂 What else would you want to learn more about?

Hong Chang
Hong Chang
6 years ago

Thanks for this post! I think it is really useful. Where I can find more information about academic writing?

Renae Hintze
Renae Hintze
6 years ago
Reply to  Hong Chang

Hong, Our blog is always an open resource to you for academic writing.:) What I did here was go to our search bar on the main page and type “writing” to show you more posts about it: Particularly I think you will be interested in “Top 10 Academic Writing Tips”: Also, since I see you were looking specifically at the SAT, know that we have many, many articles with information on all sections (including writing): I hope this helps and if you are seeking additional help via the SAT or academics in general, Student-Tutor DOES offer personalized help.… Read more »

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