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Four Paragraph Sat Essay Prompt

This post has been updated with current, accurate content for the new SAT that premiered in March 2016 by Magoosh test prep expert David Recine!
 
 
You know how much first impressions count for? The people who read and grade your SAT essay (there will be 2 of them) are going to see a couple of things immediately. First, there’s the length and the handwriting, but those only count for so much. Almost immediately, the reader will get to your introductory paragraph.

What you put in that intro is going to be a significant chunk of their first impression, so you’ve got to make sure it’s good.

I’m going to give you a formula to follow for a clear and focused introduction to your SAT essay. No, it won’t guarantee you a high score, but if you follow it, you’ll have fewer choices to make, and that’s a good thing.

In the New SAT’s essay prompt, you will write a response to an opinion piece, either an historical piece of writing (such as an essay by past political leader), or a recently-written editorial about a modern issue. The example opening paragraph below will be based on an article about the benefits of exposing young children to technology. Before you look at the example sentences below, review the article and essay prompt on the official SAT website here.

 

First sentence – identify and describe the source article

In your opening, you want to immediately identify the reading passage you’re responding to. Name the author, other relevant information such as when the source was written or where it was published, and very briefly describe the source’s content. This demonstrates fundamental reading comprehension. It also makes the purpose of your essay clear—you are analyzing a specific piece of writing.

In “The Digital Parent Trap,” an op-ed for Time Magazine, author Eliana Dockterman asserts the many benefits of exposing children to multimedia technology via computer, Internet and mobile platforms.
The name of the author and the purpose/subject of the article are essential. Include the title and publishing venue for the article if possible. (Sometimes a really long title may not fit well into a sentence, and the publishing venue can also be unwieldy or difficult to correctly determine.)
 

Second sentence – Explain more about the writer’s purpose and beliefs

Note that in the first sentence above, the brief description of the article’s content appeared at the very end. This placement allows the end of the first sentence to transition smoothly to the second sentence. The second sentence will expand on the ideas from the end of the previous sentence, giving more details about the article’s content, and what the author is trying to do.

Dockterman challenges the traditional beliefs that electronic media is bad for children, saying that exposure to electronic media actually benefits children cognitively, developmentally, and educationally.

Notice the way that this sentence summarizes all key points from the source article, and lists them in the order they appeared. Dockterman first mentions conventional bias against exposing children to electronic entertainment, and then challenges this bias by listing three benefits of mobile technology for children. It’s best to have the second sentence follow the sequence of ideas in the article, as this is the easiest, most straightforward way to give a summary.
 

Third sentence – Characterize the argument and give your opinion of it

Now that you’ve given a good description of the article and its content, it’s time to actually analyze the article. Think about your own feelings on what you just read, in terms of writing quality. What does the argument look like, structurally? And how well-constructed is the argument?

The author’s argument unfolds clearly as she provides evidence that anti-tech bias exists and is incorrect.

Be careful when you write this third sentence. You may agree with what the author has written, or you may have a difference of opinion. But the focus of the sentence should be your opinion of the author’s writing skill, not your feelings on the rightness or wrongness of the author’s claims. Try to keep this sentence relatively simple and focused.
 

Fourth sentence – Give the reason for your opinion

Once you’ve stated your opinion on the quality of writing in the article, you need to justify your characterization of the argument. In this case, sentence four will need to explain more about why the Time Magazine article in question “unfolds clearly,” how the author “outlines biases,” and why the author’s evidence is “believable.”
Citing statistics, scholarly research and quotations from experts, Eliana Dockterman credibly demonstrates all of her key assertions.
 

Fifth sentence – Preview the body of your essay

The fifth sentence is optional, but I advise including it more often than not. By previewing what you’ll cover in the body of the essay, you provide a strong transition between your introduction and the rest of your written piece. The New SAT essay format is more complex than the previous format, and it helps to have a lot of transitions to hold everything together.
Through an impressive array of external sources, the author crafts a multifaceted argument that adults should allow children to use technology and electronic media.

By mentioning an “array” of evidence and a “multifaceted argument,” this sentence indicates that the rest of the SAT essay will analyze multiple pieces of evidence and different aspects of Dockterman’s rhetoric. This helps prepare the reader (in this case SAT scorer) for the sophisticated full written analysis that will follow the introduction.

 

Practice this intro structure before the day of your SAT

The best way to remember any system is to use it, so make sure you try this structure out a few times. If you have it down pat on the day of your SAT, it’ll make your life a lot easier.

 

About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.


Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!


How do you feel about five paragraph essays? Personally, I can’t stand ‘em. They’re like oatmeal—yeah, it gets the job done, but it’s pretty bland and grey. I’d much rather have something else for breakfast… something meatier or more colorful.

So you might be surprised then, that I recommend using the standard five paragraph format to write your SAT essay. There’s one important caveat to that, though: make it four paragraphs, not five.

The structure of an SAT essay

The five paragraph essay is usually structured like this:

Introduction Paragraph

-Introduction to topic

-Thesis sentence

-Preview of examples (Optional)

Body Paragraph 1

-Statement of reason

-Example

-Analysis of example

-Transition

Body Paragraph 2

-Statement of reason

-Example

-Analysis of example

-Transition

Body Paragraph 3

-Statement of reason

-Example

-Analysis of example

-Transition

Conclusion Paragraph

-Summary of reasons (Optional)

-Paraphrase of thesis

-Closing thought

That third body paragraph is crossed out to represent how you should write your SAT essay. You only have 25 minutes to finish the thing—some of which should be spent planning—so getting three well fleshed-out, articulate body paragraphs down on paper probably isn’t going to happen. It’s possible, but not worth stressing over. You’re better off focusing on making the first two body paragraphs as eloquent as possible.

 

How can I make my SAT essay stand out?

Okay, so there’s a problem with the five four paragraph essay; everybody writes that. And since your essay is going to go through the hands of an SAT essay grader in a matter of minutes, a lot of people think that looking like all of the other essays is a bad idea.

Yes, you do want to stand out. But be prudent about how you stand out. Having an unconventional structure is risky—there’s a greater chance that you’ll lose sight of the topic or start repeating yourself.

Instead, try to get the reader’s attention with more interesting language. Use metaphors, incorporate high–levelvocabwords, and vary the structures of your sentences. If your standard essay is oatmeal, those are the fruits and flavors you can use to make a much more interesting meal out of your writing.
 

Four paragraph persuasive essays are good because…

A) they keep you focused. If each paragraph has a specific goal (e.g. providing a thesis or an example), then you can keep your sights on that individual piece of the puzzle, rather than constantly trying to see the whole picture. If you don’t focus in on the pieces, you’re bound to sacrifice some clarity.

B) you have practice writing them. Your English teachers and History teachers probably have all asked you to write persuasive essays in this format before. And practice, as you’re aware, makes perfect.

C) they’re easy to plan for. Because they’re so structured, they should only take a moment or two to map out. If you decide to create your own custom structure, planning it might take a bit more time and thought. Instead, create a thesis, ask yourself how you got to that thesis, then conjure up a couple examples for those reasons. At that point, your outline is finished… no need to worry about the order of paragraphs or anything like that.

Bland essays can still be high-scoring essays

If your grammar, vocabulary, and argument are all strong enough, even the most oatmeal-ish essay can score a six. The SAT is not the place to experiment with format. Save that for your classes.

 

About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.


Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!


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