5 Ways to Improve Your Score on the SAT Essay

By Chris Lele

1. Understand the New Instructions

Many of us love expressing our opinion. That worked well on the old SAT, in which you were asked to provide your own viewpoint on an issue. But with the new SAT, you do not — I repeat do not — want to express your opinion on the issue.

What you do want to do is to analyze how the author tries to persuade his or her audience. The specific instructions for doing this are always included with every SAT prompt but can be summed up as follows:

How does the author use…

  1. Evidence (facts or examples)
  2. Reasoning to develop ideas
  3. Word choice and appeals to emotion

2. Read Example Essays from All Score Ranges

What does such an essay look like? Well, before you go penning a response to an SAT prompt, you should read practice essays available online (for free) and in the College Board’s Official SAT study guide. Here you’ll see the difference between essays that get a perfect score and an abysmal score, and everything in between.

Pick up on the way high-scoring essays address the instructions listed under the first point in this post. Notice, too, the way these students craft their sentences and organize their paragraphs. You’ll also get a sense of the range of SAT essay topics.

3. Learn How to Impress the Graders

This flows very well from the last sentence in the preceding point. The graders are looking for something very specific: a standard five-paragraph essay, in which you have a clear intro, three body paragraphs (likely addressing three different ways in which the author tries to persuade his/her audience), and a clear conclusion.

Using fancy words, playful turns at humor, or a creative introduction won’t win you any points — you’re actually likely to lose points. Instead, state clearly the main way the author builds his/her argument in a short intro paragraph.

4. Improve Your Writing

This is both obvious, yet tough. Unlike tweaking your organization, something you can literally do overnight, improving your use of words and the sophistication of your sentences can take months to hone. Yet, it is totally worth it, and not just from an SAT essay standpoint, mind you, but writing well is currency — opening doors, in college and well beyond.

One way to do this is to mirror the writing in the higher scoring essays (see point #3 above). You can also pick up useful writing guides like The Elements of Style by Strunk and White or for something a tad less traditional, William Zissner’s On Writing.

5. Practice, Practice, and Practice

Knowing how to write a good essay is not the same as actually writing a good essay. You have to apply the principles with the clock running and an official essay prompt in front of you.

Indeed, this is likely the toughest part about improving: doing timed writing exercises. But there are official prompts waiting for you, a total of six in the College Board Official Guide. And ETS will be releasing two prompts from recent SAT test dates. So, what are you waiting for?

About Chris Lele
For the last ten years, Chris has been helping students excel on the SAT, ACT, and GRE. In this time, he’s coached 5 students to a perfect SAT score. Some of his GRE students have raised their scores by nearly 400 points. He has taken many GMAT students from the doldrums of the 600s to the coveted land of the 700+. Rumor has it he does a secret happy dance when his students get a perfect score. You can read Chris’s awesome blog posts on the Magoosh High School Blog, and study with his lessons using Magoosh SAT Prep.


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