SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

The Most Reliable SAT Essay Template and Format

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Apr 14, 2017 6:00:00 PM

SAT Writing

 

feature_satessaytemplateAside from the “grid in” math questions, all you have to do for most of the SAT is answer multiple choice questions.

And then, if you've chosen to take it, there's the essay. Or, more accurately, "To finish up, there's the essay." Because the last thing you'll do on the SAT (with Essay) is read a passage and write an essay analyzing its argument, all in 50 minutes.

How can you even begin to read a passage, analyze it, and write an essay about it in 50 minutes? What SAT essay structure should you follow? Is there an SAT essay format that’ll score you a top score for sure? Read on to find out the answers to these questions!

feature image credit: Pencil by Laddir Laddir, used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

What 5 Things Does Your SAT Essay Need? 

To build a great SAT essay template, you need to know what it needs to include. Here are the five most important elements of any SAT essay:

 

#1: An Introduction

The first impression the grader will have of your writing is your essay introduction. Don't just jump right into discussing argumentative techniques — introduce your analysis with a statement of what the author is arguing in the prompt. You should then briefly mention the specific persuasive techniques the author used that you'll be discusing in your essay.

 

#2: A Clear Thesis Statement

I've separated this out as its own point because it’s so important. You must express a precise claim about what the author's point is and what techniques she uses to argue her point; otherwise, you're not answering the essay question correctly.

This cannot be emphasized enough: SAT essay graders do not care what your stance is on the issue. They care that you understand and explain how the author argues her point.

The SAT essay task is designed for you to demonstrate that you can analyze the structure of an argument and its affect on the reader with clear and coherent reasoning. Take this example prompt, for instance:

Write an essay in which you explain how Eric Klinenberg builds an argument to persuade his audience that Americans need to greatly reduce their reliance on air-conditioning. In your essay, analyze how Klinenberg uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (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.

A bad thesis leaves you unclear on what features of the author's arguments you'll be analyzing in the essay:

The author tries to enforce to his audience by telling that air conditioning has negative effects.

This thesis doesn’t specify what features of the argument you'll be discussing, or even what Klinenberg's specific views are. It's just a (grammatically flawed) sentence that hints at Klinenberg's argument. Compare to a good thesis for the same prompt:

Through consideration of quantitative data, exploring possible counterarguments to his position, and judicious use of striking phrasings and words, Klinenberg strengthens both the logic and persuasiveness of his argument that Americans need to greatly reduce their reliance on air conditioning.

The above thesis clearly specifies both what the author's argument is and what aspects of the argument will be analyzed in the essay. If you want more practice writing strong thesis statements, use our complete list of SAT essay prompts as inspiration.

 

#3: Specific Examples That Support Your Point

To support your thesis, you'll need to draw on specific examples from the passage of the techniques you claim the author uses. Make sure to provide enough information for each example to make it clear how it is relevant to your thesis - and stop there. No need to paraphrase the entire passage, or explain why you agree or disagree with the author's argument - write enough that the reader can understand what your example is and be done.

 

#4: Explanations of the Examples That Support Your Point

It isn't enough to just summarize or paraphrase specific excerpts taken from the passage and call it a day. In each example paragraph, you must not only include details about a example, but also include an explanation of how each example demonstrates an argument technique and why it is persuasive. For instance, let's say you were planning on discussing how the author uses vivid language to persuade the reader to agree with him. Yes, you'd need to start by quoting parts of the passage where the author uses vivid language, but you then also need to explain why that example demonstrates vivid language and why it would be persuasive to the reader.

 

#5: A Conclusion

Your conclusion should restate your thesis and briefly mention the examples you wrote about in your essay (and how they supported your thesis). If you haven't done it already in your essay, this is NOT the place to write about a broader context, or to contradict yourself, or to add further examples you didn't discuss. End on a strong note.

 

What’s the Best SAT Essay Format?

Now that you know what has to be in your essay, how do you fit it all in? It’s not enough to just throw in a thesis and some examples on paper and expect what you write to be an essay. You need to be organized, and when you have to organize an essay under pressure, the generic five paragraph essay format is your friend.

Just as with every five-paragraph essay you've written at school, your SAT essay should have an introduction, 2-3 body paragraphs (one paragraph for each argumentative technique you discuss), and a conclusion. Your thesis statement (which techniques you'll be analyzing in the essay) should go in both your introduction and your conclusion, with slightly different wording. And even if you're just discussing multiple examples of the same technique being used in the passage, you’ll still probably need two body paragraphs for organizational purposes.

 

body_stayorganized
Sock Drawer by noricum, used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Cropped from original
Keep your essay as organized as this sock drawer.

 

SAT Essay Template Outline

So how do you write an SAT essays in this five paragraph format? I've created an SAT essay template that you can use as a guide to structure your own SAT essays, based on the following prompt:

Write an essay in which you explain how Eric Klinenberg builds an argument to persuade his audience that Americans need to greatly reduce their reliance on air-conditioning. In your essay, analyze how Klinenberg uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (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 Klinenberg’s claims, but rather explain how Klinenberg builds an argument to persuade his audience.

You can read the full text of the passage associated with the prompt (part of Practice Test 5) via our complete collection of official SAT essay prompts.

 

In the following SAT essay format, I've broken down an SAT essay into introduction, example paragraphs, and conclusion. Since I'm writing in response to a specific prompt, some of the information and facts in the template will only be useful for answering this specific prompt (although you should feel free to look for and write about the argumentative techniques I discuss in any of your essays). When responding to any SAT question, however, you can and should use the same format and structure for your own essays. To help you out, I've bolded structural words and phrases in the below template.

 

body_essayprompttreasure.jpg

 

 

Introduction (2-5 sentences)

Begin with a statement that explains the central claim of the passage's argument; this statement should provide some context for what you’ll be discussing in the essay. It can be brief if you’re short on time (1-2 sentences):

In his commentary, Eric Klinenberg conveys a strong stance against the rampant and short-sighted utilization of air conditioning (AC) nationwide. He believes AC is a massive unnecessary energy drain, and he implores the reader to reconsider the implications of constant cool comfort.

Next comes the all-important thesis statement that includes a clear outlining of what aspects of the author's argument you'll be discussing. You can be very specific (e.g. "statistics about air-conditioning usage in the US") or more vague (e.g. "quantitative data") here - the important part is that you'll be supporting your opinion with proof (1-2 sentences).

To buttress his argument, Klinenberg deftly employs quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language.

 

Sample SAT essay introduction

In his commentary, Eric Klinenberg conveys a strong stance against the rampant and short-sighted utilization of air conditioning (AC) nationwide. He believes AC is a massive unnecessary energy drain, and he implores the reader to reconsider the implications of constant cool comfort. To buttress his argument, Klinenberg deftly employs quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language.

 

Example 1 (6-10 sentences)

Introduce your first example with some kind of transition (1 sentence).

In his introductory paragraph, the author points to AC usage statistics to illustrate the grave magnitude of our hedonistic climate control.

In this case, the writer linked this body paragraph to the introduction by explaining how his example (AC usage statistics) relates to one of the persuasive techniques he'll be discussing (statistics): it is an example of the harm created by overuse of air-conditioning.

 

Next, provide relevant information about when and how in the passage the author uses this persuasive technique (4-7 sentences). Be sure to paraphrase or directly quote the passage for the strongest evidence.

He shares that “Americans use twice as much energy…as we did 20 years ago, and more than the rest of the world’s nations combined.” These staggering statements immediately give the reader pause, forcing an internal dialogue about their significant. Clearly, in the past 20 years, the American population has come nowhere close to doubling - and yet, AC energy use has doubled. This can only mean utilization per person has skyrocketed. Furthermore, the American population can comprise no more than 10% of the world’s population (400 million to the world’s 6 billion) - and yet we use more AC energy than the rest of the world. This leads to another profound inference - each American may use almost 10 times more AC energy as the average non-American. These conclusions are grave and thought-provoking.

 

Finally, explain how this example works to strengthen the author's argument (3-4 sentences).

By introducing incontrovertible data, Klinenberg empowers the reader to reason though her own arguments and formulate her own conclusions. The rhetorical consequence is that the reader independently and actively agrees with Klinenberg’s thesis, rather than being a passive unengaged audience member. By the virtue of her own logic, the reader is compelled to agree with Klinenberg.

 

Sample SAT essay body paragraph (1)

In his introductory paragraph, the author points to AC usage statistics to illustrate the grave magnitude of our hedonistic climate control. He shares that “Americans use twice as much energy…as we did 20 years ago, and more than the rest of the world’s nations combined.” These staggering statements immediately give the reader pause, forcing an internal dialogue about their significant. Clearly, in the past 20 years, the American population has come nowhere close to doubling - and yet, AC energy use has doubled. This can only mean utilization per person has skyrocketed. Furthermore, the American population can comprise no more than 10% of the world’s population (400 million to the world’s 6 billion) - and yet we use more AC energy than the rest of the world. This leads to another profound inference - each American may use almost 10 times more AC energy as the average non-American. These conclusions are grave and thought-provoking. By introducing incontrovertible data, Klinenberg empowers the reader to reason though her own arguments and formulate her own conclusions. The rhetorical consequence is that the reader independently and actively agrees with Klinenberg’s thesis, rather than being a passive unengaged audience member. By the virtue of her own logic, the reader is compelled to agree with Klinenberg.

 

body_carAC.jpg

 

Example 2 (6-10 sentences)

Transition from the previous paragraph into this example (1 sentence).

Quickly after this data-driven introduction, Klinenberg effectively addresses potential counterarguments to his thesis.

 

Provide at least one specific example of how the author uses the persuasive technique you're discussing in this paragraph (2-5 sentences).

He acknowledges that there are clear valid situations for AC use - to protect the “lives of old, sick, and frail people,” “farm workers who work in sunbaked fields,” and “workers who might otherwise wilt in searing temperatures.” By justifying several legitimate uses of air conditioning, the author heads off his most reflexive critics.

 

Explain how and why this example persuades the reader of the author's opinion. (3-4 sentences).

An incoming reader who has just absorbed Klinenberg’s thesis would naturally have objections - if left unaddressed, these objections would have left a continuous mental roar, obscuring the absorption of further arguments. Instead, Klinenberg quells the most common objection with a swift riposte, stressing that he is not a maniacal anti-AC militant, intent on dismantling the AC-industrial complex. With this addressed, the reader can continue further, satisfied that Klinenberg is likely to be somewhat well-reasoned and objective. Ultimately, this facilitates acceptance of his central thesis.

 

Sample SAT essay body paragraph (2)

Quickly after this data-driven introduction, Klinenberg effectively addresses potential counterarguments to his thesis. He acknowledges that there are clear valid situations for AC use - to protect the “lives of old, sick, and frail people,” “farm workers who work in sunbaked fields,” and “workers who might otherwise wilt in searing temperatures.” By justifying several legitimate uses of air conditioning, the author heads off his most reflexive critics. An incoming reader who has just absorbed Klinenberg’s thesis would naturally have objections - if left unaddressed, these objections would have left a continuous mental roar, obscuring the absorption of further arguments. Instead, Klinenberg quells the most common objection with a swift riposte, stressing that he is not a maniacal anti-AC militant, intent on dismantling the AC-industrial complex. With this addressed, the reader can continue further, satisfied that Klinenberg is likely to be somewhat well-reasoned and objective. Ultimately, this facilitates acceptance of his central thesis.

 

Example 3 (Optional, 6-10 sentences)

This paragraph is in the same format as Example 2. You should only include a third example if you think it’s strong and will help (rather than detract from) your point.

In the case of the essay we've been using as the backbone of this template, the author had the time to write a third example. Here it is, broken down in the same way as the previous example, starting with a transition from the previous paragraph (1 sentence):

When he returns to his rebuke of wanton AC use, Klinenberg employs forceful vivid language to magnify his message.

 

Provide at least one specific example of how the author uses the persuasive technique you're discussing in this paragraph (2-5 sentences).

He emphasizes the blind excess of air conditioner use, comparing cooled homes to “igloos” circulating “arctic air.” Then, to underscore the unforeseen consequences of such behavior, he slides to the other extreme of the temperature spectrum, conjuring the image of “burning through fossil fuels in suicidal fashion.” This visual imagery shakes the reader from complacency. Most likely, the reader has been the beneficiary of AC use. “So, what’s the big deal?” By comparing malls to igloos and excessive energy use to suicide, Klinenberg magnifies the severity of the problem.

 

Explain how and why this example persuades the reader of the author's opinion. (3-4 sentences).

We are forced to consider our comfortable abode as a frigid arctic dwelling, prompting the natural question of whether we really do need our hones cold enough to see our breath indoors. The natural conclusion, in turn, is that we do not. By employing effective visual imagery, Klinenberg takes the reader through another internal dialogue, resulting in stronger acceptance of his message.

 

Sample SAT essay body paragraph (3)

When he returns to his rebuke of wanton AC use, Klinenberg employs forceful vivid language to magnify his message. He emphasizes the blind excess of air conditioner use, comparing cooled homes to “igloos” circulating “arctic air.” Then, to underscore the unforeseen consequences of such behavior, he slides to the other extreme of the temperature spectrum, conjuring the image of “burning through fossil fuels in suicidal fashion.” This visual imagery shakes the reader from complacency. Most likely, the reader has been the beneficiary of AC use. “So, what’s the big deal?” By comparing malls to igloos and excessive energy use to suicide, Klinenberg magnifies the severity of the problem. We are forced to consider our comfortable abode as a frigid arctic dwelling, prompting the natural question of whether we really do need our hones cold enough to see our breath indoors. The natural conclusion, in turn, is that we do not. By employing effective visual imagery, Klinenberg takes the reader through another internal dialogue, resulting in stronger acceptance of his message.

 

body_whatdidyoudotoday

 

Conclusion (2-4 sentences)

Reiterate your thesis, using different words (1-2 sentences).

Overall, the passage effectively weaves quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language to rebuke the excesses of air conditioning. The reader leaves with the strong conclusion that perhaps a bit of moderation can do the world some good.

 

You may also choose to mention the examples you used if you have time and if it adds anything (1-2 sentences). In this case, the author of the essay chose not to.

 

Sample SAT essay conclusion

Overall, the passage effectively weaves quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language to rebuke the excesses of air conditioning. The reader leaves with the strong conclusion that perhaps a bit of moderation can do the world some good.

 

The Final SAT Essay Template

Here's what the final SAT essay template looks like (key structural words and phrases bolded):

In his commentary, Eric Klinenberg conveys a strong stance against the rampant and short-sighted utilization of air conditioning (AC) nationwide. He believes AC is a massive unnecessary energy drain, and he implores the reader to reconsider the implications of constant cool comfort. To buttress his argument, Klinenberg deftly employs quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language.

In his introductory paragraph, the author points to AC usage statistics to illustrate the grave magnitude of our hedonistic climate control. He shares that “Americans use twice as much energy…as we did 20 years ago, and more than the rest of the world’s nations combined.” These staggering statements immediately give the reader pause, forcing an internal dialogue about their significant. Clearly, in the past 20 years, the American population has come nowhere close to doubling - and yet, AC energy use has doubled. This can only mean utilization per person has skyrocketed. Furthermore, the American population can comprise no more than 10% of the world’s population (400 million to the world’s 6 billion) - and yet we use more AC energy than the rest of the world. This leads to another profound inference - each American may use almost 10 times more AC energy as the average non-American. These conclusions are grave and thought-provoking. By introducing incontrovertible data, Klinenberg empowers the reader to reason though her own arguments and formulate her own conclusions. The rhetorical consequence is that the reader independently and actively agrees with Klinenberg’s thesis, rather than being a passive unengaged audience member. By the virtue of her own logic, the reader is compelled to agree with Klinenberg.

Quickly after this data-driven introduction, Klinenberg effectively addresses potential counterarguments to his thesis. He acknowledges that there are clear valid situations for AC use - to protect the “lives of old, sick, and frail people,” “farm workers who work in sunbaked fields,” and “workers who might otherwise wilt in searing temperatures.” By justifying several legitimate uses of air conditioning, the author heads off his most reflexive critics. An incoming reader who has just absorbed Klinenberg’s thesis would naturally have objections - if left unaddressed, these objections would have left a continuous mental roar, obscuring the absorption of further arguments. Instead, Klinenberg quells the most common objection with a swift riposte, stressing that he is not a maniacal anti-AC militant, intent on dismantling the AC-industrial complex. With this addressed, the reader can continue further, satisfied that Klinenberg is likely to be somewhat well-reasoned and objective. Ultimately, this facilitates acceptance of his central thesis.

When he returns to his rebuke of wanton AC use, Klinenberg employs forceful vivid language to magnify his message. He emphasizes the blind excess of air conditioner use, comparing cooled homes to “igloos” circulating “arctic air.” Then, to underscore the unforeseen consequences of such behavior, he slides to the other extreme of the temperature spectrum, conjuring the image of “burning through fossil fuels in suicidal fashion.” This visual imagery shakes the reader from complacency. Most likely, the reader has been the beneficiary of AC use. “So, what’s the big deal?” By comparing malls to igloos and excessive energy use to suicide, Klinenberg magnifies the severity of the problem. We are forced to consider our comfortable abode as a frigid arctic dwelling, prompting the natural question of whether we really do need our hones cold enough to see our breath indoors. The natural conclusion, in turn, is that we do not. By employing effective visual imagery, Klinenberg takes the reader through another internal dialogue, resulting in stronger acceptance of his message.

Overall, the passage effectively weaves quantitative data, acknowledgment of counterarguments, and vivid language to rebuke the excesses of air conditioning. The reader leaves with the strong conclusion that perhaps a bit of moderation can do the world some good.

 

This essay contains some inferences about what the reader may experience (e.g. that the reader is shaken from complacency by the image of suicidally burning through fossil fuels). It also has some minor grammatical and spelling errors.

Since there is no way to survey the mind of every reader and see how the majority of them react to the author's arguments, however, graders will go along with any reasonable inferences about how a reader would react to the author's argument. As far as grammatical, spelling, punctuation, or sentence structure issues, the rule is even simpler: if the error doesn't make your essay too difficult to read and understand, the people who score your essay will ignore these errors.

 

body_looklfet
Oops! by Terry Whalebone, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped and resized from original.

The essay graders will not fault you for factual inaccuracies or minor grammar/punctuation/spelling errors.

 

SAT Essay Format: A Quick Recap

To summarize, your SAT essay should stick to the following format:

  • Introduction (with your thesis) - 2-5 sentences
    • Start with a statement about what the author of the passage is arguing.
    • Thesis with a clear statement about what argumentative techniques you'll be examining in the essay.
  • Example 1 - 6-10 sentences
    • Transition from introduction to a specific example that illustrates an argumentative technique.
    • Brief description of when the author uses that technique and how they employ it.
    • Explanation for why that example strengthen's the passage author's argument
  • Example 2 - 6-10 sentences
    • Transition from previous paragraph to a specific example that illustrates a second argumentative technique.
    • Brief description of when the author uses that technique and how they employ it.
    • Explanation for why that example strengthen's the passage author's argument
  • Example 3 (optional) - 6-10 sentences
    • Transition from previous paragraph to a specific example that illustrates a third argumentative technique.
    • Brief description of when the author uses that technique and how they employ it.
    • Explanation for why that example strengthen's the passage author's argument
  • Conclusion - 2-4 sentences
    • Restate your thesis (in different words) and mention the examples you used to support it in your essay.

 

bodythreeACs.jpg 

 

What’s Next?

Worried about putting this template into practice? Watch us write an SAT essay, step by step, to learn how to do it yourself!

Can you write a killer SAT essay in less than a page? Find out how SAT essay length affects your score here.

Want to make sure you're not leaving any stone unturned in your SAT essay prep? Read our 15 SAT Essay tips to improve your score.

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? 

Check out our best-in-class online SAT prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your SAT score by 160 points or more.

Our program is entirely online, and it customizes what you study to your strengths and weaknesses. If you liked this SAT Essay lesson, you'll love our program. Along with more detailed lessons, you'll get your SAT essays hand-graded by a master instructor who will give you customized feedback on how you can improve. We'll also give you a step-by-step program to follow so you'll never be confused about what to study next.

Check out our 5-day free trial:

Improve Your SAT Score by 160+ Points, Guaranteed

Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Laura Staffaroni
About the Author

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.



Get Free Guides to Boost Your SAT/ACT
100% Privacy. No spam ever.

You should definitely follow us on social media. You'll get updates on our latest articles right on your feed. Follow us on all 3 of our social networks:

Twitter and Google+



Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!