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How to Write a Great Body Paragraph on the SAT Essay

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If you’re taking the SAT Essay, optional for test-takers but required or encouraged by a great number of colleges and universities throughout the United States, chances are you’re not terribly excited about the 50-minute timed writing assignment. Many of my students confess to me that they don’t understand the SAT Essay task and have trouble knowing what to write about. If you’re the type of student who dislikes writing essays, this is a good article for you! In it, I will explain just why a logical structure is not only essential to a good SAT Essay, but makes writing the essay a breeze.

Why does following a logical, organized structure help both the essay reader AND essay writer? Because readers will have no trouble following your thoughts when you present them in a manner that makes clear at a glance your main claims, supporting evidence, and analysis thereof. And because when YOU know how to structure an essay, you’ll NEVER run into the problem of not knowing what to say next. In fact, you’ll be writing right up until time is called!

Review of the SAT Essay Task

Before we talk about how to write a great SAT body paragraph, let’s recap the essay task. When you get the essay prompt, you’ll notice that it’s a speech, essay, or article by someone else, most likely a persuasive text. Your job is to 1) identify the argument, 2) identify the rhetorical devices the author employs, and 3) explain how the author advances his or her argument through the use of rhetorical devices and persuasive strategies.

To do well, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with common rhetorical devices–know their names and definitions, and know how to spot them when they occur.

You’ll also want to ensure that you write a great SAT intro paragraph. Good SAT Essay intro paragraphs serve to hook the reader, introduce the author, paraphrase the author’s argument, and preview the rhetorical devices and persuasive strategies you’re going to analyze.

How to Structure an SAT Essay Body Paragraph

Once you learn this formula for writing SAT Essay body paragraphs, you’ll be well on your way to finishing your essay! I’m going to assume that you know common rhetorical devices and that you’ve written a great intro. After you’ve written the end of your intro, when you’ve previewed the three or so rhetorical devices and persuasive strategies that you’re going to analyze, you’re ready to begin your first body paragraph.

The SAT Essay body paragraph should follow this structure, which I’ll explain with examples:

  • Sentence 1: Topic sentence
  • Sentence 2: Specific example / quote
  • Sentences 3-4: Analysis of specific example / quote
  • Sentence 5: Specific example / quote
  • Sentence 6-7: Analysis of specific example / quote
  • Sentence 8: Specific example / quote
  • Sentence 9-10: Analysis of specific example / quote

Of course, this structure need not be set in stone. In general, though, it’s wise to have more analysis than quoted material, and it’s wise to provide at least three examples. Let’s examine this SAT Essay structure in detail:

Sentence 1: Topic sentence.

Example: To set up his argument that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is worth protecting and preserving for future generations, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter makes liberal use of vivid imagery.

Notice that we’ve narrowed the focus of this first body paragraph? We’ll be discussing Carter’s use of imagery here.

Sentence 2: Specific example quoted

Carter devotes the first three paragraphs of his article to describing in vivid detail the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s beauty, writing of the “never-setting sun,” the “windswept coastal plain,” and the “brilliant mosaic of wildflowers,” among other things.

Sentences 3-5: Analysis

In so doing, he establishes that the Refuge has a “timeless quality” and is a place of astonishing natural beauty. The reader finds himself or herself imagining the refuge and perhaps wanting to visit, making Carter’s reveal in the fourth paragraph that the Refuge is under threat from oil drilling all the more dire, as the Refuge’s “timeless” beauty risks destruction.

Rinse and repeat!

Now You’ve Got the SAT Essay Body Paragraph Structure Down

And that’s basically it! Notice that each paragraph needs a topic sentence and should contain two to three quoted examples, which you’ll then go on to analyze. Topic sentence, quote, analysis, quote, analysis, quote, analysis, new paragraph, repeat…

See how formulaic the SAT Essay can be? You’ll never ask yourself what to write next!

The main work to do is to identify rhetorical devices, underline examples of those devices to use as quoted material–and, of course, to think of what analytical statements you’ll make!

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That’s it! If you really want a higher SAT Essay score, make sure to get our Complete SAT Essay & ACT Essay course. It’s filled with SAT essay secrets from a veteran tutor, available nowhere else!

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