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Articles / Preparing for College / How to Earn a Top Writing Score on the SAT Essay

How to Earn a Top Writing Score on the SAT Essay

Rob Franek
Written by Rob Franek | Dec. 21, 2020
How to Earn a Top Writing Score on the SAT Essay


There are three factors on which your SAT Essay will be scored: Analysis, Reading and Writing. Getting a top score means mastering the requirements of all three sub-scores, so read on to learn how to fulfill the requirements of the Writing portion.

Pay Attention to the Details

SAT Essay graders don't know you and only have a few minutes to spend on each essay, so being polished helps your essay stand out as it makes the grader's reading experience easier. One way to do this is by paying attention to the little things.

While you aren't explicitly graded on penmanship, an essay that is difficult to read will not get top marks. Simply put, your graders don't have time to decipher messy handwriting, and they won't be inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt. Make sure the rest of your essay looks neat, too; clearly capitalize each sentence, indent your paragraphs, and use appropriate punctuation throughout.

Use the SAT Essay Template

An essay template is a plan for what each sentence will accomplish. It lets you focus on the ideas in your essay instead of trying to figure out what to discuss next. Because the task of the SAT Essay is always the same (explain how the author of the source text makes their argument), your essay can have the same structure each time. To make the most of your limited time to write this essay while also demonstrating the effective organization that graders are looking for, we recommend the tried-and-true five-paragraph essay form.


Your introductory paragraph needs to do three things:

1. Describe the text. This is where you'll describe the author, context and main idea of the text. This can be done in one sentence.
2. Paraphrase the argument. This is where you'll show your grader that you understand the text by concisely summing up the main points and the overall message of the text.
3. Introduce the examples you will be discussing in the body paragraphs. You will establish a framework in your introduction that you should then follow for the rest of the essay.

Body Paragraphs

The three body paragraphs will focus on different appeals or style elements the author uses to effectively communicate their argument. These will be the longest paragraphs of your essay. Each body paragraph will need to do the following:

1. Introduce (first body paragraph) or transition to (later body paragraphs) the rhetorical device being discussed in this paragraph. Name and explain the rhetorical device. Describe where it is in the text, and use short, relevant quotes to show you understand the text and the rhetorical device. Do not rely on long excerpts from the passage: You need to use your own words to explain what's going on.
2. Identify the effects of the author's rhetorical choices. Explain how these rhetorical devices make the reader think or feel. Describe how the effect works – don't just simply say, for instance, that the imagery makes the reader feel sad. What elements of the imagery make the reader sad?
3. Connect the effects of the author's rhetorical choices to the author's main idea. This can be one sentence that concludes the paragraph by tying the device analyzed directly to the thesis. Do not leave this up to your reader – you need to demonstrate that you understand how the devices you chose contribute to the author's main point.


Even though it's likely to be a shorter paragraph than the others, it's important that you have a conclusion. An essay that ends in the middle of a thought will seem unfinished and get a lower score. Be sure to leave two to five minutes to write a conclusion.

1. Restate the goal of the source text.
2. Briefly paraphrase the elements you discussed in your body paragraphs.

Keep in mind that this is not a place where you want to introduce a broader context or contradict yourself. Powerfully end your essay and hammer your points home!


Ideally, you should leave yourself a couple of minutes at the end to review your essay and correct any obvious errors. Read carefully and slowly! If you run out of time, don't sweat it. Graders understand that you're writing under timed conditions and will keep that in mind when assigning your scores.

Before you take the actual SAT, be sure to put this template and your attention to detail and proofreading skills to the test with a sample essay. You may be surprised with how your Writing score (and essay writing experience!) improves with just a little practice. For more test prep support, check out our book, SAT Prep, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Written by

Rob Franek

Rob Franek

College Admissions and Test Prep Expert

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