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The new SAT writing test is now optional, although it’s strongly recommended. It’s a fairly standard essay task, similar to essays you will have written before in school. You have a passage of text that you have to analyze for its persuasive features. The passage will be different each time, and there is no way of predicting the author of style of the passage. Some of the passages are famous texts, or written by famous people, while others are simply magazine articles written by authors you may not have heard of.

Your SAT writing test is scored in 3 categories, each out of 8 (two markers score you out of 4). The reading category is about your interpretation of the passage and how you show that you understand it. There is an analytical score, which measures how well you discuss the features of the passage and their effect. The writing category reflects the technical aspects of your essay structure and language use.


Want to see how I plan and structure the SAT essay?

Want to see how I plan and structure the SAT essay? published on


So today, I introduced one of my students to how to write and plan the SAT essay for the first time. Generally, it’s a pretty straightforward beast. You have to analyze a persuasive text, and say what devices they use to built their argument. If you’re not sure what I mean, read this article where I discuss literary devices in the SAT essay.

I made 2 copies of the essay – my student annotated one, and I did the other. You can see what I’ve picked out, and what I’m going to write.

Here’s a great tip: before I started reading, I found the thesis of Carter’s argument by looking at the box on the end of the essay. In this case, it’s ‘the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should not be developed for industry’. Knowing that this was what the passage was going to be about helped me to pick out persuasive devices right from the start of the text.


plan the SAT essay persuasive devices

plan the SAT essay persuasive devices


I’m going to write a 4 paragraph essay using the following plan:

  1. imagery – the imagery of the first three paragraphs contrasts with the fourth
  2. patriotism and non-partisan appeal (phrases such as ‘national heritage … frontier America’)
  3. structure, and how the writer builds emotional appeal before backing it up with facts later
  4. appeals to the timeless nature of the Arctic Tundra and contrasts it with the ‘short term’ economic benefit

This should give you some idea of the scope of what you can write about!


How long should my essay be?

This mostly depends on you and how fast you can write. You do have 50 minutes, and the planning process is quite straightforward, so I think most students should be aiming to write an essay with 3-4 body paragraphs. Try to pick 4 persuasive devices as you’re reading. This way, if you’re only writing a 3 paragraph essay, you’ve got a spare idea, and you’re still fine if you have time left over and can write 4 paragraphs.

Persuasive devices in the SAT Essay

Persuasive devices in the SAT Essay published on 1 Comment on Persuasive devices in the SAT Essay


ideas space essay writing text SAT
No idea what to write? Fear no more…

The SAT essay is an analytical essay: you are presented with a passage of persuasive text, and asked to analyze how the writer effectively persuades his or her audience.

You can read more about how to write the actual essay, the format and scoring here , but if you’re struggling to identify how exactly the writer persuades the audience, look for the following things that are likely to crop up in persuasive writing.

As a general rule, you should pick 3 of these things that you can identify in the passage, and write a paragraph about each of them. If you want to practice picking them out, read the opinion columns in a newspaper. There are always plenty of these devices to be found there!


Top 10 persuasive devices for the SAT essay

  1. One of the most powerful literary devices, repetition is a good persuasive tool.
  2. A good argument uses powerful examples to prove the point
  3. Using an analogy (likening a situation to another that the audience may be more familiar with) helps to illustrate the point, or make the opposing argument look ridiculous.
  4. Metaphors and similes. You should already know what these are and why they’re persuasive. If not, ask your English teacher! These can be especially effective if the argument opens with them, as the audience is expecting a discussion of one topic, but the writer opens with another, seemingly completely different topic, and then shows that they are in fact related. This works well with analogy too.
  5. Asking a rhetorical question (a question that everyone knows the answer to) is a powerful way of making people agree with you in their heads. You know what I mean, don’t you?
  6. Appeal to your audience. Anything that makes the audience feel good about themselves, or feel particularly united as a group will encourage people to support them. Look out for things like the writer/speaker describing the audience’s characteristics, praising them for being hardworking or dedicated, thanking them for their support, or even using the word ‘we’ a lot. I know you guys are intelligent enough to pick up on this strategy wherever it’s used.
  7. Likewise, empathizing with the audience is also powerful. If the speaker or writer shows that he or she understands the plight of the audience, they will be more supportive.
  8. Using inspirational words like ‘action’, ‘meaningful’, ‘hope’, ‘freedom’, ‘future’ and ‘change’ are all powerful persuasive devices.
  9. Ridiculing the counter argument by either making the opposing side look stupid, or dismantling the counter argument in a thorough, structured manner. Depending on the tone and context of the passage, this could also involve humour
  10. Soundbites: short phrases that summarise your point help people to remember, and thus agree with the writer.

What is the new SAT essay?

What is the new SAT essay? published on No Comments on What is the new SAT essay?


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.