SAT Essay

Overview of the SAT Essay

  • Some colleges require but now all

  • Read a short passage and explain how the author builds an argument in 50 minutes

  • Purpose

    • Show that you understand the text and can support your the ideas with evidence from the passage

    • Analyze the rhetorical strategies of the author and how the author builds an argument effectively

  • Types of texts

    • Speech

    • Editorial

    • Article (print or online)

  • Analysis

    • Rhetorical situation (purpose, audience, nature of the medium)

    • Provide evidence (types of evidence) that the author uses to support a claim

    • Stylistic elements (word choice, appeals, tone)

  • Essay scored on a 1-4 scale

    • 4=advanced

    • 3=proficient

    • 2=partial

    • 1=inadequate

Three Criteria for Assessing the Essay


How well your essay shows that you have understood the text using textual evidence (paraphrasing, direct quotations) to demonstrate your understanding


How well you explain how the author builds an argument to persuade the reader using evidence and reasoning to discuss the techniques of the author i.e. how is the author’s language persuasive?


How well you use language to craft the response e.g. essay’s organization, thesis, sentence variety, precise language, logical progression of ideas

Persuasive Techniques

  • Analysis Score: You need to use your understanding of persuasive techniques.

    • Offers insightful analysis of the text

      • Rhetorical situation (include in your introduction)

        • What is the rhetorical situation? Who is speaking and to whom and in what context with what purpose and claim?

        • Purpose

        • Audience

        • Nature of the medium

        • claim

      • The author’s use of evidence (could be a main point)

        • How what organizational patterns and types of evidence does the author use to build his argument?

        • Types of evidence (analogous, anecdotal, observations, statistics, quotes, testimonials, facts)

        • Organizational patterns (exemplification, illustration, description, narration, cause/effect, compare/contrast, problem/solution, process, classification, extended definition

      • Stylistic/persuasive elements (could be some of your main points)

        • Appeals (logical, emotional, ethical)

          1. logical appeal (cause/effect, problem/solution, facts, statistics, analogies, etc.)

          2. emotional appeal (imagery, anecdotes, loaded or poignant language)

          3. ethical appeal (appeals to audiences sense of ethics of right vs wrong)

          4. ethos (relies on the credibility of the author as an authority)

        • Tone/bias/author’s disposition or perspective

          1. What perspective is established?

            1. objective, neutral vs biased, opinionated

          2. tone: What tone is conveyed?

            1. harsh, critical, bitter, cautionary, indignant, hopeful, optimistic, solemn, thoughtful, reflective, etc.

        • Rhetorical tropes e.g. allusion, anecdote, rhetorical questions, metaphorical language, hyperbole, irony, paradoxical language, etc.

          1. What rhetorical techniques are used to further the claim? What is the effect on the reader?

Essay Rubric

Sample Prompts


Sentence Stems for Developing Your Thesis

Addressing a _______ audience in a ________ (identify type of text), ____________ develops his persuasive claim that ____________________ through ___________________________(techniques).

In (Name of Work), (Full Name of Author) (uses, employs, relies, utilizes),______________________ (technique) to argue that _________________.


In his New York Times editorial, Brooks challenges his audience to consider America's vulnerabilities, so the nation can come together in “solidarity” and emerge with a more inclusive consciousness.In order to develop his claim, the author relies on a sarcastic yet earnest tone; logical, ethical, and emotional appeals, as well as metaphorical and analogous language.

The Guardian’s editorial board argues that politicians need to stop legislation that harms the environment in order to protect the survival of humans in the long run. In order to develop his claim, the author includes a historical analogy to the Dust Bowl years, a critical and urgent tone as well as emotional, ethical, and logical appeals to convince his audience.

Rhetorical Situation (include in intro)


Why did the author write this text? And why did the author write this text in a certain way? What is the occasion for the text e.g. some specific incident or event? What is the intent of the piece: TO INFORM, TO NARRATE, TO PERSUADE, TO DESCRIBE? See for more information on different text types and their purposes.

Consider the following:

– what the author said and the diction used

– what the author did not say

– how the author said it and the alternative ways it could have been said

-what the intended effect is e.g. to reflect, to call to action

2) Audience

Who is the target audience? How does the text’s language and rhetoric suit the audience? Are there groups excluded from the intended audience? Is there more than one intended audience?

  • Age

  • Gender

  • Location

  • Education

  • Socioeconomic status

  • Beliefs, Values, Attitudes (special interest groups)

3) Nature of the Medium

What are the characteristics that define the text? Consider the differences in the variety of texts such as newspaper articles, magazine ads, editorials, blogs, etc. What modes of writing are included: expository, narrative, descriptive, argumentative? Does the author adhere to the conventions of the genre or stray from them? What is the impact of the medium and how the message is received? Consider the text type.

Author's Disposition or Perspective

Tone/bias/author’s disposition or perspective

How does the author present his or her disposition or inherent mindset on the topic(s)? Is there an inherent bias in the author?Does the bias distort the truth in some way? What influences may have impacted the delivery of the message such as historically, politically, socially, or economically? Is there a clear tone? What tone shifts are seen through the text?

What perspective is established?

objective, neutral vs biased, opinionated

tone: What tone is conveyed?

harsh, critical, bitter, cautionary, indignant, hopeful, optimistic, solemn, thoughtful, reflective, etc.

Bias in the media can occur through:

  • Selection & Omission--choosing to tell only parts of the story

  • Placement-- where the story appears in the newspaper or during news hour or on a website

  • Headlines-- often crafted to catch attention and sell papers rather than report facts

  • Word Choice and Tone--using sensational and emotional words to dramatize the events

  • Photos/Captions/Camera Angles --making one person look good and another bad, for example

  • Names & Titles --calling a person a “bad guy” instead of by his name, for example

  • Statistics & Crowd Counts--dramatizing numbers for effect

  • Source Control--using information or sources that only show or support one side of a story

  • You also want to consider the source: Is it a more liberal (left-leaning) source or a conservative (right-leaning) source or is it more in the center. Check out for a chart.


Does the rhetorical text use Logos, Ethos or Pathos?


How does the author use strong, connotative language that incites a reaction making an emotional appeal (pathos)?

emotional appeal (imagery, anecdotes, loaded or poignant language)


How does the author use a logical appeal (logos) through facts, statistics, examples, organizational strategies, etc?

logical appeal (cause/effect, problem/solution, facts, statistics, analogies, etc.)


How does the author create an ethical appeal (ethos)through his or her experience and credibility in order to gain the trust of the audience?

ethical appeal (appeals to audiences sense of ethics of right vs wrong)

ethos (relies on the credibility of the author as an authority)

Author's Use of Evidence & Organizational Patterns

Types of Evidence

  1. Analogical Evidence

    1. How does the author compare two things that are similar in order to show the reader parallels and make a point to support his/her argument? What is persuasive or enlightening about using analogies to support an argument?

    2. How can the use of an analogy draw an insightful connection between a well known phenomenon to a less known phenomenon?

  2. Anecdotal Evidence

    1. How does the author use anecdotes to tell a story in order to prove a point?

    2. How does the author’s storytelling of anecdotes coupled with statistical or testimonial effective help build an argument?

  3. Observations

    1. How does the author use his or her own observations to form conclusions and support his/her argument?

  4. Statistics

    1. How does the author use numbers and percentages from verified sources to support his claim using reasoning? How do these statistics lend credibility to his/her argument?

    2. Are the statistics being dramatized or manipulated for a specific effect?

    3. How valid are the statistics in supporting the argument?

  5. Quotes or Testimonials

    1. How does the author use quotes from leading experts and authorities in order to support his/her position?

  6. Facts

    1. Are there facts that can't be disputed and can be accepted as true? How do these facts help support the argument?

Organizational Strategies

When analyzing an author’s style for a non-literary text such as an editrial, determine what organizational patterns he or she uses:

  • Exemplification: specific examples, brief

  • Illustration: examples in more detail

  • Description: concrete, sensory diction

  • Narration: use of stories e.g. anecdotes

  • Cause/effect: clear reason/result

  • Compare/contrast: similarities/differences

  • Process: how to do something...

  • Problem/Solution: describes a problem and its implications and then provides a solution

  • Classification: how something is classified e.g. science

  • Extended definition: how to define an abstract concept e.g. patriotism, democracy, love, faith, etc.

Rhetorical Tropes: The use of language employed for a persuasive effect.

Rhetorical tropes

    • How do rhetorical tropes and schemes affect how the text is read?



(historical, literary, pop cultural metaphorical reference)



Rhetorical question

(asking ? for effect)


(adjectives or nouns to used to describe another noun- accentuates a dominant characteristic for effect)


(softer word instead of a harsh one)


(understatement, form of irony)


(exaggeration, form of irony)


(situation is not expected. Verbal irony occurs when someone says something that is exaggerated or understated for an effect)


(contrasting ideas next to each other)


(direct/implied comparison between two things)


(A pastiche imitate the author’s style in a respectful way by changing an aspect of the story: point of view, ending, change protagonist from male to female, setting, etc. You also could imitate the author’s style and language with a new topic.)


(an imitation of the style of a writer or artist with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect or ridicule)


(metaphor giving human qualities to nonhuman entity)


(using negative constructions to emphasize a point)


(recurring element which contributes to theme/purpose)


(story in which people, events, or things often have symbolic meanings)


(something that seems contradictory but is actually true)


Parenthetical Asides (authorial intrusion)

Author interjects with her/his opinions to add humor or ridicule with dashes or with parenthesis


(words, sounds, or ideas used more than once to enhance the rhythm, or create emphasis)


(similar constructions help audience to compare/contrast parallel subjects or to emphasize a point. Writers will use similar phrases and clauses to balance a sentence)


(two opposing ideas presented in a parallel manner; the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas through syntax EX “She is my happiness!—she is my torture, none the less!”)


(the regular repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases or clauses e.g. “We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds….”)

Word Choice


  1. FORMAL: elevated, learned, pretentious, ornate, flowery, archaic, scholarly, pedantic, elegant, dignified, impersonal, elaborate, sophisticated, formal, cultured, poetic, abstract, esoteric (hard to understand), colorful, eloquent, euphonious

  2. INFORMAL: candid, detached, plain, simple, straightforward, informal, conversational, concrete

  3. COLLOQUIAL: abrupt, terse, laconic, simple, rustic, vulgar, slang, jargon, dialect, simple


  1. Denotative language: authentic, actual, apparent, literal, journalistic, straightforward, concrete, precise

  2. Connotative language: poetic, lyrical, symbolic, metaphoric, sensuous, grotesque, picturesque, abstract, whimsical, euphemistic, figurative, obscure, allegorical, suggestive, idyllic, emotive


  1. POSITIVE TONES: cheerful, eager, lighthearted, hopeful, exuberant, enthusiastic, complimentary, confident, cheery, trusting, optimistic, loving, passionate, amused, elated, sympathetic, compassionate, proud, wistful, longing, romantic, humorous

  2. NEGATIVE TONES: bitter, angry, outraged, accusing, incensed, turbulent, furious, wrathful, inflammatory, irritated, disgusted, indignant, irate, caustic, condescending, cynical, pompous, satiric, critical, grotesque, melancholic, mournful, apprehensive

  3. NEUTRAL TONES: objective, nostalgic, candid, restrained, detached, instructive, learned, factual, informative, authoritative, disinterested, judicial, impartial, frank, aloof, calm, imploring


  1. Visual Imagery: Something seen in the mind’s eye

  2. Auditory Imagery: language that represents a sound or sounds

  3. Olfactory Imagery: language representing the sense of smell

  4. Gustatory Imagery: a taste

  5. Tactile Imagery: touch, for example, hardness, softness, wetness, heat, cold

  6. Organic Imagery: internal sensation: hunger, thirst, fatigue, fear

  7. Kinesthetic Imagery: movement or tension