One of the biggest changes to the SAT is the format of the new essay. Instead of writing an essay commenting on a semi-philosophical statement, as you’ve been required to in the past, you now have to produce an analytical essay. This is a very different beast – you need to demonstrate that you understand the argument, but whether or not you agree with it is irrelevant. Instead, you must look at how the writer uses certain devices to build an argument. You have 50 minutes to do this.
The prompt consists of an extract of persuasive text. This is sometimes from a speech (often a famous politician), or sometimes a magazine article, aiming to prove a point with facts and figures.
You then get the following statement:
As you read the passage below, consider how the writer uses
- evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
- reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
- stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.
Write an essay in which you explain how the writer builds an argument to persuade his audience that [whatever the argument is]. In your essay, analyze how the writer uses one or more of the features in the directions that precede the passage (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.
Your essay should not explain whether you agree with the writer’s claims, but rather explain how the writer builds an argument to persuade his audience.
I know you tend to skip over these sections because it’s the part of the prompt that you’ve seen before, but it actually gives quite a lot of clues. Firstly, you’ve got suggestions for your 3 body paragraphs! Those 3 bullet points at the top are great for the basis of your paragraphs, since nearly all persuasive texts have those. They also encourage you to do that further down in the prompt. Most of the sample essays have done it, so it’s a pretty safe choice.
Remember that they are looking for an analytical essay. This means it’s not too creative, so don’t worry about having great ideas, hooks, or metaphors in your essay. Analytical essays are basically technical and boring, but they are quite easy to grade reliably. I’d rather be graded on this essay than on the new ACT essay to be honest!
The College Board has released two sample essay prompts on their website (as well as 4 more if you buy their book), along with 8 sample essays to read online. These are real student produced essays, and they are actually really useful – well worth a read (except maybe the really low scoring ones).
I recommend reading the 444 essay (i.e. a perfect score in each category). Then read the 413 (low score in analysis). My guess is that quite a lot of essay writers will fall into the trap of the 413 essay. The writer has basically summarized the essay instead of analyzing it: the paragraphs spend too much time describing what the author says, rather than looking at why he says it and how it is effective. This leads to a weak score in analysis. I’d really like to to tutor this writer and explain to them how they can improve!
Each of the high scoring essays is structured in the same way (big clue here!). The students pick 3 specific things that the author has used to build their argument (often the 3 things suggested in the prompt), and then said how they are effective. Each one of the three things forms a short body paragraph. So the structure is pretty easy to figure out. Your 3 ‘features’, if you’re not using the suggestions, are things you already know from English class – metaphor, anecdotes, humour or maybe something more dramatic – pathetic fallacy, dramatic imagery etc. Remember that you don’t need to be too creative. I have a great article about the different devices you can write about.
Your essay should still have a thesis. It should look something like this: ‘The writer effectively uses the devices of x, y and z to make a strong case for a or b’.
Two markers score you out of 4 in each category (reading, analysis and writing). This gives you a total score out of 24. You can read the rubric here if you want.
- The reading category measures your understanding of the text, what it sets out to do, and how it uses ideas to support its point. To prove your skill in reading comprehension, you can quote from the passage (not extensively, do it effectively to support your points, not replace them) or summarise the argument. This can be done as your thesis statement or elsewhere in your introduction.
- Analysis is what you say. It’s an analytical essay, meaning that you have to figure out how the writer uses ideas in their argument. This is the probably the hardest category to score highly in, because it’s the most dissimilar to the old essay format. All of the paragraphs in the high scoring analysis categories state the device that the author has used and then how and why it is effective. Read the samples to get the idea.
- The writing category is how you say stuff. It’s grammar, sentence structure, transitions, organization and vocabulary – all the technical stuff. You probably already know whether you’re ok at this or not.
Comment and let me know your thoughts and questions on this new essay format.