A Masterclass on the SAT Essay Section

Jeremy Caldwell ‘19, Tufts University

You’ve made it through over 3 hours of SAT testing. You’re doing amazing, but who wouldn’t be tired at this point? After a final break, you’re in the home stretch: the optional essay. “Optional” is a tricky word, because some colleges require you to submit a writing score along with your SAT score. So it’s time to buckle down and write a great essay!


You’ll have 50 minutes to write your essay. Each SAT essay provides you with a short persuasive passage that you’ll have to read and respond to. Your response should discuss how the author of the passage builds their argument using evidence, reasoning, and other persuasive elements rather than restate what the argument is. The purpose of this essay is to assess your ability to analyze an author’s argument. 


At the beginning of your essay section, you’ll have a blank page to plan. Use it! This is your chance to organize your thoughts, decide on the structure of your essay, and choose what evidence from the text you want to use to build your analysis. You’ll be able to write much faster and more clearly when you have a clear idea of what you want to say.


The structure of your essay should be pretty straightforward. One sentence to introduce the topic, a transition to your analysis, and a very clear thesis statement. Remember: your thesis sentence should state your argument, and briefly discuss what each paragraph will go over. 


A few key things to remember: 

  • Be careful with your word choice. Don’t be repetitive with the words you use, and avoid vague terms like “so,” “very,” “maybe,” and “like.”
  • Don’t spend too much time on evidence. While it’s important to cite why you have made an argument, don’t quote the passage too heavily. The readers want to hear what you have to say, not the author. 
  • Be objective! While you are writing an analysis, don’t say “I think,” “I believe,” or “in my opinion.” Have confidence in what you have to say!
  • Write clearly. This one is really tricky because of the time crunch, but if the readers can’t understand what you wrote, they won’t be able to score your essay as well.


Final tips

This essay may seem stressful, but it’s no different from any essay you’ve had to write in English class. Just focus on having a clear argument that is well supported by evidence. And don’t stress about sounding like you have the biggest vocabulary in the world. Being smart doesn’t mean using big words. It’s about being thoughtful and thorough when writing your essay, and being confident in your ability to nail this!