SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

The Most Reliable SAT Essay Template and Format

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Oct 17, 2015 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 there's the essay. Or, more accurately, "To start with, there's the essay." Because the first thing you'll do on the SAT is write an essay in 25 minutes flat.

How can you even begin to write an essay in 25 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? Lightning Round!

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 your thesis - try to ease into it with a general statement relating to the prompt before you get into the meat of your thesis statement. In your introduction, it's also good to briefly mention the examples you'll be using in your essay to support your thesis.

 

2. A Clear Thesis Statement

I've separated this out as its own point because it’s so important. You must express a point of view on the assignment; otherwise, you're not answering the essay question correctly.

I highly recommend taking a position one way or the other on the prompt, even if you think the truth is more in between the two extremes. The SAT essay is not designed to get you to reveal your inner beliefs. It is designed for you to demonstrate that you can back up a point of view with clear and coherent reasoning. Take this example prompt, for instance:

"Is it necessary to make mistakes even when it harms others?" 

A bad thesis leaves you unclear on what the author's position is::

Sometimes people make mistakes, but they learn from them, so it’s good.

This thesis doesn’t take a point of view. It's just a (poorly punctuated) sentence about the topic in general. Compare to a good thesis for the same prompt:

It is necessary to make mistakes, even when those mistakes end up hurting others.

The above thesis takes a point of view on the prompt that is very clear. 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 history, literature, pop culture, personal experience, or any other area you can think of. 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 write a book report about what happened in Animal Farm or the highlights of your high school football career - 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 specific examples and call it a day. In EACH example paragraph, you must not only include details about the example but also include an explanation of how each example supports your thesis. For instance, if you were using the 1977 movie "The Day The Music Died" as an example in your essay, you would have to not just describe what parts of the movie were relevant to your thesis, but also explain why the movie supports your thesis.

 

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 example you present), and a conclusion. Your thesis statement (your point of view on the prompt) should go in both your introduction and your conclusion, with slightly different wording. And even if you're just using one example to support your point, 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:

Is it necessary to make mistakes even when it harms others?

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 use the examples 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.

 

Introduction (2-5 sentences)

Begin with a general statement about the topic that draws reader in; this statement should provide some context for what you’ll be discussing in the essay. It can be omitted if you’re short on time (1-2 sentences).

The only way to learn is through making mistakes and learning from those errors. While with hindsight it may be possible to judge whether or not an action was a mistake, and if it was necessary to make that mistake, it's not possible to know all of this beforehand.

Next comes the all-important thesis statement that includes a clear position on the issue (1 sentence).

I believe that it is necessary to make mistakes, even when those mistakes end up harming others.

End your introduction by mentioning the examples you’ll be using in the essay. You can be very specific (e.g. "World War II") or more vague (e.g. "events in history") here - the important part is that you'll be supporting your opinion with proof (1 sentence).

This thesis is supported by events in history as well as by my friend's experiences.

Sample SAT essay introduction:

The only way to learn is through making mistakes and learning from those errors. While with hindsight it may be possible to judge whether or not an action was a mistake, and if it was necessary to make that mistake, it's not possible to know all of this beforehand. I believe that it is necessary to make mistakes, even when those mistakes end up harming others. This thesis is supported by events in history as well as by my friend's experiences.

 

Example 1 (5-7 sentences)

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

The use of atomic weapons by the United States in World War II is the epitome of a harmful, but necessary, mistake.

In this case, I linked this body paragraph to the introduction by explaining how my example relates to the thesis: it is an example of a harmful but necessary mistake.

 

Next, provide relevant information about the example (3-4 sentences).

In 1984, the D-Day invasion of the beaches at Normandy had quelled the German forces, but the Pacific war raged on between the United States and Japan. President Truman faced the difficult decision of whether or not to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. Either choice had harmful consequences, so Truman naturally made the decision that would benefit America the most: he ordered atomic bombs be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many scholars and human rights activists have since condemned Truman’s actions as a mistake because of the atrocities that resulted from these bombs caused, and no country has since used atomic weapons on humans.

 

Finally, explain how example supports your thesis (1-2 sentences).

Without the knowledge gained from the harmful mistake made by Truman, however, we would not have learned about the true extent of the horrors of atomic war (such as the slow lingering deaths caused by radiation poisoning). The knowledge gained from Truman’s harmful mistake led to greater restrictions on the development of and access to nuclear technology, which have made the world safer for all.

 

Sample SAT essay body paragraph (1):

The use of atomic weapons by the United States in World War II is the epitome of a harmful, but necessary, mistake. In 1984, the D-Day invasion of the beaches at Normandy had quelled the German forces, but the Pacific war raged on between the United States and Japan. President Truman faced the difficult decision of whether or not to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. Either choice had harmful consequences, so Truman naturally made the decision that would benefit America the most: he ordered atomic bombs be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many scholars and human rights activists have since condemned Truman’s actions as a mistake because of the atrocities that resulted from these bombs caused, and no country has since used atomic weapons on humans. Without the knowledge gained from the harmful mistake made by Truman, however, we would not have learned about the true extent of the horrors of atomic war (such as the slow lingering deaths caused by radiation poisoning). The knowledge gained from Truman’s harmful mistake led to greater restrictions on the development of and access to nuclear technology, which have made the world safer for all.

 

Example 2 (5-7 sentences)

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

Another example that supports the idea that it's necessary to make mistakes, even when they’re harmful, comes from my friend Dayquon.

 

Provide relevant information about the example (3-4 sentences).

He loves hanging out with friends and family, but he is often crippled by self-doubt when it comes to talking to new people, since he worries that he might say something stupid or do something to offend someone. Dayqon’s so anxious about saying a possibly harmful thing that he ends up avoiding any party where he might have to talk to people he doesn’t know.

 

Explain how this example supports your thesis. Optional: link back to your previous example in your explanation of this one to add to the coherence of essay (1-2 sentences).

While his concern for the feelings of others is admirable, Dayquon's desire to avoid making harmful mistakes in conversation ends up preventing him from meeting potential new friends and living life to the fullest. The only way Dayquon will move forward with his life is by taking a risk and going to parties where he doesn’t know everyone; if he accidentally offends someone with something he says, then he can apologize, learn from that mistake, and do better in the future.

 

Second sample SAT essay body paragraph:

Another example that supports the idea that it's necessary to make mistakes, even when they’re harmful, comes from my friend Dayquon. He loves hanging out with friends and family, but he is often crippled by self-doubt when it comes to talking to new people, since he worries that he might say something stupid or do something to offend someone. Dayqon’s so anxious about saying a possibly harmful thing that he ends up avoiding any party where he might have to talk to people he doesn’t know. While his concern for the feelings of others is admirable, Dayquon's desire to avoid making harmful mistakes in conversation ends up preventing him from meeting potential new friends and living life to the fullest. The only way Dayquon will move forward with his life is by taking a risk and going to parties where he doesn’t know everyone; if he accidentally offends someone with something he says, then he can apologize, learn from that mistake, and do better in the future.

 

Example 3 (Optional)

Same format as Example 2.

Only include a third example if you think it’s strong and will help (rather than detract from) your point. In this case, I think my two examples are strong, and also I didn’t have the time/space to write a third example, so I won’t include one.

 

body_whatdidyoudotoday

 

Conclusion (2-4 sentences)

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

No one wants to make a mistake that ends up harming others, but these mistakes are necessary if we are to learn how to do better in the future.

 

Mention the examples you used if you have time and if it adds anything (1-2 sentences).

As can be seen from the results of Truman’s mistake in World War II and Dayquon’s avoidance of conversations with new people, making harmful mistakes is necessary if progress is to be made.

 

Sample SAT essay conclusion:

No one wants to make a mistake that ends up harming others, but these mistakes are necessary if we are to learn how to do better in the future. As can be seen from the results of Truman’s mistake in World War II and Dayquon’s avoidance of conversations with new people, making harmful mistakes is necessary if progress is to be made.

 

One SAT Essay Template to Rule Them All

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

The only way to learn is through making mistakes and learning from those errors. While with hindsight it may be possible to judge whether or not an action was a mistake, and if it was necessary to make that mistake, it's not possible to know all of this beforehand. I believe that it is necessary to make mistakes, even when those mistakes end up harming others. This thesis is supported by events in history as well as by my friend's experiences.

The use of atomic weapons by the United States in World War II is the epitome of a harmful, but necessary, mistake. In 1984, the D-Day invasion of the beaches at Normandy had quelled the German forces, but the Pacific war raged on between the United States and Japan. President Truman faced the difficult decision of whether or not to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. Either choice had harmful consequences, so Truman naturally made the decision that would benefit America the most: he ordered atomic bombs be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many scholars and human rights activists have since condemned Truman’s actions as a mistake because of the atrocities that resulted from these bombs caused, and no country has since used atomic weapons on humans. Without the knowledge gained from the harmful mistake made by Truman, however, we would not have learned about the true extent of the horrors of atomic war (such as the slow lingering deaths caused by radiation poisoning). The knowledge gained from Truman’s harmful mistake led to greater restrictions on the development of and access to nuclear technology, which have made the world safer for all.

Another example that supports the idea that it's necessary to make mistakes, even when they’re harmful, comes from my friend Dayquon. He loves hanging out with friends and family, but he is often crippled by self-doubt when it comes to talking to new people, since he worries that he might say something stupid or do something to offend someone. Dayqon’s so anxious about saying a possibly harmful thing that he ends up avoiding any party where he might have to talk to people he doesn’t know. While his concern for the feelings of others is admirable, Dayquon's desire to avoid making harmful mistakes in conversation ends up preventing him from meeting potential new friends and living life to the fullest. The only way Dayquon will move forward with his life is by taking a risk and going to parties where he doesn’t know everyone; if he accidentally offends someone with something he says, then he can apologize, learn from that mistake, and do better in the future.

No one wants to make a mistake that ends up harming others, but these mistakes are necessary if we are to learn how to do better in the future. As can be seen from the results of Truman’s mistake in World War II and Dayquon’s avoidance of conversations with new people, making harmful mistakes is necessary if progress it to be made.

 

This essay contains factual inaccuracies (e.g. World War II did not end in 1984). It also has some  minor grammatical and spelling errors (I may or may not have spelled my friend's name wrong in the third sentence of the third paragraph).

Since there is no time to check the accuracy of every fact, however, graders are instructed to ignore such factual errors (even if one of the graders is a history teacher who specializes in World War II). The same thing goes for grammatical, spelling, punctuation, or sentence structure issues: if they don't make my essay too difficult to read and understand,  the people who score my essay must 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 general statement about the prompt to draw the reader in (optional if you're low on time)
    • Thesis with a yes-or-no answer to the question raised in the prompt.
    • Briefly introduce the examples you'll be discussing in the essay.
  • Example 1 - 5-7 sentences
    • Transition from introduction to a specific example that supports your thesis.
    • Brief description of a specific example.
    • Explanation for why that example supports your thesis
  • Example 2 - 5-7 sentences
    • Transition from previous paragraph to a specific example that supports your thesis.
    • Brief description of a specific example.
    • Explanation for why that example supports your thesis
  • Example 3 (optional) - 5-7 sentences
    • Transition from previous paragraph to a specific example that supports your thesis.
    • Brief description of a specific example.
    • Explanation for why that example supports your thesis
  • Conclusion - 2-4 sentences
    • Restate your thesis (in different works) and mention the examples you used to support it in your essay.

 

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.

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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.



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