Preparing for the SAT Essay section

The SAT writing section consists of multiple-choice questions (35 minutes) and 1 essay writing (25 minutes). The essay sub-score contributes about 30% toward the entire writing section score, which will be placed on the College Board 200 to 800 scale.

2 readers will independently score your essay on a scale of 1 to 6, hence a combined score ranging from 2 to 12. These readers, who are experienced high school teachers and college professors, are extensively trained to score the essays using a holistic approach and the SAT essay scoring guide. (In holistic scoring, your essay will be read in its entirety rather than feature by feature, and will be scored based on the overall impression.)

Note however that you should not let loose on the conventions of standard written English. Pay attention to choice of words, syntax and mechanics, structure and style, in order to precisely communicate your point. Just remember, the first impression is the last impression.

Colleges will receive a copy of the essay along with the SAT scores. Therefore, your essay writing sub-score serves more than just part of your overall score. It indicates how effectively you communicate to others what you understand, develop ideas and express your viewpoint on the subject under timed conditions.

Here are some suggested tactics for you to practice writing with and apply during the tests.

Time Allocation:

  • Study the SAT essay topic carefully and understand what is asked of you.(1 minute)
  • Develop your thesis/point of view.(1 minute)
  • Collecting and sorting supporting evidence or arguments.(2 minutes)
  • Write an informal outline on the test booklet to organize your thoughts and group ideas.(2 minutes)
  • Start writing (17minutes) – introduction and conclusion will probably take 2 minutes each, so gauge the time available for the essay body.
  • Proofreading and correction. (2 minutes)

Total – 25 minutes

Outline – To efficiently use your time, get used to this approach and jot down ideas beside the bullet points:

Introduction (3 minutes)

Body (10 minutes)

Reasoning A

  • Support A1
  • Support A2

Reasoning B

  • Support B1
  • Support B2

Reasoning C

  • Support C1
  • Support C2

Conclusion (4 minutes)

Note: The SAT essay allows any style of writing. The outline listed here is for general reference only. You may not have time to write 5 or more paragraphs. Remember, it’s the substance that counts.

Paragraphs in an essay:


  • most important paragraph
  • identifies the topic
  • states the point of view or thesis
  • attention-catching comments
  • limits detailed information, save supporting evidence for the body of the essay

Body of the essay

  • presents strong evidence and illustrations, examples, observations
  • supports are organized in a logical and relevant sequence
  • the paragraphs though separate, must connect with the thesis and be coherent with each other
  • if you have to and/or are able to attack arguments against your view, introduce and refute them immediately
  • ends with the strongest point


  • second most important paragraph
  • it is not a summary
  • reemphasizes the thesis
  • does not repeat the introduction or lists what has been said
  • does not contain new evidence or arguments
  • may suggest how the point of view is applicable to other situations
Reminders on the essay:
  • Write forcefully, use clear active verbs
  • Vary sentence structures to make your essay interesting
  • Connect thoughts with Transitions: therefore, consequently, in addition etc.
  • Use effective vocabulary, choose words carefully
  • Eliminate jargon or cliches
  • Pay attention to spelling, punctuation, grammar and mechanics
  • Avoid wordiness and redundancy
  • Be precise, a good writing will consists about 300-400 words
  • Mind neatness and handwriting- you will write on 2 pages with 46 lines with pencil
  • Stay on target, do not discuss ideas that do not support your point of view

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