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How to Write an Argument Essay Step by Step


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How to Write an Argument Essay Step by Step

Updated on July 3, 2018

VirginiaLynne profile image
Virginia Kearney


Virginia has been a university English instructor for over 20 years. She specializes in helping people write essays faster and easier.

What is an Argumentative Essay?

Argument essays seek to state a position on an issue and give several reasons, supported by evidence, for agreeing with that position.

Finding Ideas to Write About

Argument essay topics can be found everywhere. Check the headlines of a newspaper, or just listen in on a conversation at Starbucks. Chances are, you will hear someone trying to persuade another person to believe in their claim about:

  • Is it true?
  • What caused this?
  • How important is it?
  • What should we do about it?

Stuck for an idea? Check out my Easy Argument Topics List.

How important are fathers? What makes a good father?
How important are fathers? What makes a good father? | Source

5 Types of Argument Claims

1. Fact: Is it true or not?

2. Definition: What does it really mean?

3. Value: How important is it?

4. Cause and Effect: What is the cause? What are the effects?

5. Policy: What should we do about it?

How to Write Your Thesis

Question/Answer format: To make your topic idea into a thesis you need to turn the topic idea into a question first. Examples:

  • Does divorce cause serious problems for the children? (fact)
  • What is “domestic violence?” (definition)
  • What are the causes of divorce? (cause)
  • How important is it for couples to avoid divorce? (value)
  • What can you do to make your marriage divorce-proof? (proposal)

Answer: Your question often can be the title of your paper, or it can be the last line of the introduction. Your answer to this question is your thesis.

Example: The most important way to make your marriage divorce-proof is to make sure you have carefully prepared for that commitment.

Refute Objections: You might want to put an introductory phrase in the first part of your thesis to show that you are refuting other ideas about the answer.

Example: While some people think there is no way to divorce-proof your marriage, studies have shown that there are fewer divorces when people carefully prepare for that commitment.

Roadmap: An additional way to make a strong thesis is to do a “Roadmap” which tells in just a few words the three or more main points you will cover.

Example: While some people think there is no way to divorce-proof your marriage, studies have shown that there are fewer divorces when people carefully prepare for that commitment by taking time to get to know the other person before becoming engaged, spending time with one another’s family and friends, talking about hot-button issues like finances, and getting extensive premarital counseling.

Are larger families happier? Does having children prevent divorce?
Are larger families happier? Does having children prevent divorce? | Source

Introduction and Conclusion

Introduction Ideas
Conclusion Ideas
Use a true story
What will happen if your solution is adopted or people accept your argument.
Scenario: imaginary story which illustrates the problem
Revise the scenario showing what will happen if the reader adopts your ideas.
Startling quotation, fact or statistic
Use a real-life example of how your idea works.
Explain the problem
Tell the reader what they need to think, do, feel or believe.
Describe vividly
Appeal to the reader’s emotions, character, or reason.
Frame story or flashback
Finish the frame story.
You can mix and match these ideas for your essay.

Outlining Your Paper

Argument essays are fairly straightforward in their organization. In your paper, you will need to do the following

  1. Interest the reader in the situation and make them think it is worth learning more about.
  2. Explain the controversy or problem clearly.
  3. Explain the sides of the debate.
  4. Tell them your side.
  5. Convince them that your side is the best one to take.
  6. Refute any objections they may be thinking about as they read.
  7. Urge the reader to adopt our point of view to do, think or believe something.

I. Introduction: Explain the subject, the controversy, and end with your thesis. Here are some tips:

  • Use the title to present your point of view. Often the title can be a question.
  • Think about your audience—what aspects of this issue would most interest or convince them?
  • Check out the introduction and conclusion chart for creative ways to introduce your paper.
  • Make sure you have a clear thesis which answers the question. The thesis should tell your position and is usually the last sentence of your introduction.

III. Body: Explains the reasons your audience should agree with your thesis. Your body needs to also refute objections or other points of view.

1. Reasons and support

  • Usually, you will have three or more reasons why the reader should accept your position. These will be your topic sentences.
  • Support each of these reasons with argument, examples, statistics, authorities or anecdotes
  • To make your reasons seem plausible, connect them back to your position by using “if…then” reasoning

2. Anticipate opposing positions and objections

  • What objections will your readers have? Answer them with argument or evidence.
  • What other positions do people take on this subject? What is your reason for rejecting these positions?

Conclusion: Make a final point which tells the reader what to think or do.

  • Why should the reader adopt your point of view?
  • You might use the anticipating objections in the conclusion.

Toulmin Argument Model

Toulmin Argument Model
Toulmin Argument Model | Source

3 Argument Strategies

There are three types of argument strategies: Classical, Rogerian and Toulmin.

You can choose one of these or combine them to create your own argument paper.

Classical Argument Strategy

This strategy that you feel strongly about and when you feel you have a good chance of convincing your audience to agree with you. Your audience may be uninformed, or they may not have a strong opinion. Your job is to make them care about the topic and agree with your position. Here is the basic outline of a classical argument paper:

  1. Introduction: announces subject, gets readers interest and attention, makes writer seem trustworthy
  2. Narration: gives background, context, statement of problem or definition
  3. Partition: states thesis or claim and outlines arguments
  4. Argument: makes arguments to support thesis and gives evidence (largest section of paper—the main body)
  5. Refutation: shows why opposing arguments are not true or valid
  6. Conclusion: Summarizes arguments, suggests solution and ties into the introduction or background.

Classical Strategy

Rogerian Strategy

Rogerian argument strategy attempts to persuade by finding points of compromise and agreement. It is an appropriate technique to use in highly polarized debates, but you must be sincere about willingness to compromise and change your point of view for the reader to take you seriously. Qualities of this strategy:

  • The author is Reasonable: Present your character as a person who understands and empathizes with the opposition. Often this means you state opposing position fairly and sympathetically. Example: it is not fair that animals are subjected to painful experimentation to help humans find new cures.
  • Common Ground: Establish common ground in beliefs and values you share Example: As the dominant species, we do have responsibilities.
  • Willingness to Change: Be willing to change views and show where your position could be modified. Example: It is a good idea to invest in trying to find ways to get information without using live animals in experiments.
  • Compromise: Direct your argument toward a compromise or workable solution. Example: let’s look for other ways to get information without using animals, but until we do, we probably need to continue experimentation.

Toulmin Strategy

Toulmin is another strategy to use in a highly charged debate. Instead of attempting to appeal to commonalities, however, this strategy attempts to use clear logic and careful qualifiers to limit the argument to things that can be agreed upon. It uses this format:

  • Data: Evidence presented. Example: Pornography on The Internet is bad for kids.
  • Claim: the thesis the author hopes to prove. Example: Government should regulate Internet pornography.
  • Warrant: The statement that explains how the data backs up the claim. Example: Government regulation works in other instances.
  • Backing: Additional logic and reasoning. Example: We have lots of other government regulations on media.
  • Qualifier: The short phrase (usually uses “typically,” “usually,” or “on the whole”) which limits the scope of the claim. Example: In most cases, the government should regulate pornography.
  • Exceptions: This further limits the claim by describing situations the writer would exclude. Example: Where children are not involved in pornography, regulation may not be urgent.

Questions & Answers

  • How do I start an argumentative essay on the topic, “Cleaning toilets should be a part of the school curriculum?”

    Start with a story which…
    Helpful 18
  • How do you write a thesis statement in an argumentative essay?

    For instructions and examples on easy ways to write a good thesis statement for an argument essay see: http://hubpages.com/humanities/Easy-Ways-to-Write-…

    For help in writing excellent topic sentences see: http://hubpages.com/academia/How-to-Write-a-Great-…

    Helpful 35
  • How can I connect the topic sentences?

    My most popular article, Easy Sentence Starters, ( http://hubpages.com/academia/Words-to-Use-in-Start…

    explains how to use transition words effectively to connect all of your ideas, including the topic sentences. What you need to do is to think about how each sentence relates to the other ideas and choosing the appropriate transition (adding, comparing, contrasting, or sequence).

    Helpful 8
  • Do argumentative essays have headings?

    I have been teaching my students how to add headings to all of their essays over the past five years because I think most of their writing for their careers will be in online environments. As anyone who does a Google search knows, being able to scan the headings of an article is very helpful so that you can figure out whether that article answers the question you are asking. Additionally, scanning headings (if they are written correctly) allows you to understand the main point of the article quickly and also to find the part you are most interested in reading. You can make headings by making a short version of your topic sentence in each paragraph. Generally, the shorter, the better. What I have found is that when my students use headings in their papers, it helps them to actually organize and write their information more clearly because making the headings helps them to realize their main points. If you’ve done a good job on your headings, a person should be able to read the title of your paper and all the headings and have a good grasp on what your article is about.

    Helpful 6
  • How do I conclude my thesis?

    Conclude your thesis with…
show more
  • How do I start an introduction to a paper about abortion?

    The best sort of introduction to an emotional issue like abortion is a story. If possible, I suggest a real story, but it could also be a made-up story, which I call a “typical scenario” which would explain the problem and make it vivid for the reader. In this issue, it could be the story of a woman who finds herself in a crisis pregnancy. End the story with the question of your essay. Here are some possible questions:

    1. What should a woman in a crisis pregnancy do?

    2. How can we best help women who have crisis pregnancies?

    3. How can we best advise friends who have a crisis pregnancy?

    4. Is abortion ever a right choice?

    5. Should we change abortion laws, and if so, how should they be changed?

    My favorite book on this issue is called “Real Choices” by Frederika Matthews-Green. You don’t actually have to read the book because she writes on her blog about this issue also. What I like about her work is that she takes the issue in a different direction by interviewing many women who have had abortions to find out what they really thought at the time that they were facing this crucial decision and how their decision affected them afterward.

    Helpful 3
  • How do I come up with a title for my essay?

    The easiest way to find a good title is to use a short version of the question. The second way is to make a statement which shows your point of view. If you chose the second one, you might want to make the language more dramatic to showcase your point of view. Here are some samples using the topic of diet and obesity:

    1. What Causes Child Obesity?

    2. Parents, You are Responsible if Your Child is Fat

    3. What is the Best Diet?

    4. Should Sugar Be Banned in Schools?

    5. Children Need To Spend More Time Outside

    6. When is Too Young to Go on a Diet?

    Helpful 3
  • Where can I find information about United States students versus students of other countries?

    To get facts and statistics, you can go to the U.S. Department of Education website and look up the information you’d like to know. You can look up information from other countries on the Education sections of their government websites. If you want comparison information, you may need to go to an outside source like a non-profit which compares countries (such as the Pew Research Center: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/28/4-… or the United Nations statistics division.

    Helpful 3
  • When delivering a debate, should the quote come before the greeting?

    Both ways can be appropriate. What is most important is that you don’t just “drop” the quote on the audience and expect them to understand the point and relevance of your quotation. Use the quotation to make a point and explain why you are using it.

    Helpful 2


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  • profile image


    13 days ago

    Thanks for the information. It was really helpful.

  • profile image


    6 weeks ago

    Thanks for the ideas.

  • profile image


    2 months ago

    Thank you so much for priceless information.

  • profile image


    2 months ago


  • Kristina Heffter profile image

    Kristina Heffter 

    3 months ago from London, UK

    great article

  • profile image

    Kelly J 

    3 months ago

    excellent explanation! Thank you so much, this have been very helpful

  • profile image

    Alessa Maninang 

    3 months ago

    I am so grateful for this work. I believe as much as it has helped me,so will it help others.

  • profile image

    Houda samad 

    4 months ago

    This artical was really helpful for me because it shows the whole technique how to write an argumentative essay. In fact, everyone now could write one with such an ease and confidence.

    I want to thank you so much for this artical.

  • profile image

    Nick Celin 

    5 months ago

    Thank you……. this is the best information on arguments

  • profile image


    7 months ago

    Thank you…. This is very helpful

  • profile image


    9 months ago

    thanks this was the best information on arguments

  • profile image


    9 months ago

    Thank you for the detailed explanation and tips!

  • profile image

    Jem Basha 

    10 months ago

    It is really useful , thank u a lot .

  • profile image


    10 months ago

    This was very helpful. Thank you for this great guide for me. Also for my notes for my writing test.

  • profile image


    11 months ago

    Simple to pursue and put into practice

  • profile image


    11 months ago

    This was helpful thank you

  • profile image


    13 months ago

    This was great thanks

  • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

    Virginia Kearney 

    14 months ago from United States

    Hi Judith, I’m also a trained academic writer who has become more interested in popular writing. Some of the instructors that I work with have students write a paper in a particular style, but I prefer to view all of the argumentative techniques as part of our "bag of tricks." So, I think that to persuade, the most important thing is to, first of all, think about your audience carefully. Consider what they know and what they believe, including any "false beliefs" that they may hold about your subject. Then think about what it is that you actually want them to think, do, or believe after reading your work. Then look at the different strategies and decide which ones might work to convince that audience best. I have several different articles on persuasion that you might want to look at for ideas and examples.

  • profile image

    Judith Coche PhD 

    14 months ago

    Virgiia..thank you …clear and targeted language for the author of 4 books who wants to tell stories instead of more academic writing.

    What is the difference between an academically constructed argument and memoir/ trade book on psychological topics?

    Seems that Toulman is the style but need details….



  • profile image


    15 months ago

    this was very helpful. thank you.

  • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

    Virginia Kearney 

    19 months ago from United States

    Sisila-I wish you all the best. I have about 100 articles on Hubpages about writing. I encourage you to keep on learning!

  • profile image

    Sisilia R Toutai 

    19 months ago

    Hi Virginia,

    English is my second language and struggling with essay writing and an argument essay, I find your advise but time is very short for my assessment test tomorrow. I will try my best to focus on your advise and see if I can pass on this level for my future study. Many thanks for this very helpful article about argument essay.

  • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

    Virginia Kearney 

    2 years ago from United States

    Miranda–I’m so glad this article has helped you. It really comes from my experience in teaching students to write rather than from a textbook. My students have taught me a lot! Much luck to you on your courses.

  • MirandaStork profile image

    Miranda Stork 

    2 years ago from England

    Thank you for a really great hub! It’s now officially on my ‘favourites’ bar. I have to do a lot of argument essays at the moment for my course, and I sometimes have a tricky time working out how to structure them – this hub is going to help me so much with making my arguments clearer.

  • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

    Virginia Kearney 

    4 years ago from United States

    Honestly, Dragos–often the best way to get started is just to write down everything you know, then write down questions that occur to you. If you are doing a research paper, you can then start gathering information based on your questions. I often just start by Googling some of the questions. Often you won’t come up with research you can use in your paper, but it can jog you into having some good ideas. In an argument essay, what you really need is:

    a question

    an answer (your answer, plus what other people would answer)

    3 or more good reasons for your answer

    reasons why the other answers aren’t as good as yours

    That is basically what you are going to write about.

  • profile image


    4 years ago

    I pretty much know what has to go in an essay but I’m having a hard time planning my thoughts and writing down ideas on a topic.

  • Kathryn L Hill profile image

    Kathryn L Hill 

    6 years ago from LA

    I am so happy to see what you have brought to us! I hope everyone who is sittin’ around doin’ nothin’ and complaining about everything will discover these HubPages and join in on what was started during the golden ages of America. The wisdom that we have and the capability of transmitting it over the internet is SO AWESOME. Thank You

  • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

    Virginia Kearney 

    7 years ago from United States

    Thanks so much for reading! I work hard to try to make the process as easy as possible.

  • winphatak profile image


    7 years ago from Pune,India

    Wonderful and useful hub. It will certainly help improve my writing. Thanks.

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How to Write a Good Argumentative Essay

Technology in the Classroom


writing in education

essay writing

by Julie Petersen
Dec 09, 2016,


It doesn’t matter what courses you decide to take during college; your professors will probably expect you to write argumentative essays for most of them.

Argumentative writing is different from other types of papers (such as narrative, descriptive, or cause/effect). With this essay, you should investigate a topic from multiple angles. You’ll do that by collecting and evaluating evidence. Then, you’ll establish your position and support your thesis with undisputable facts.

The purpose of this type of academic writing is to convince the reader to consider your point of view.

How exactly do you write a powerful argumentative essay? You’re aware of the effect you should achieve, but how do you get there? We have some tips that will help you get better at argumentative writing.

Understand What the Assignment Calls For

Before you start doing the research and writing the essay, you need to understand this type of assignment. Your professor gave you general instructions, but they didn’t tell you how to write a great paper. These are the main things you need to understand before you start:

  • You need to support each claim with arguments, and each argument with facts. Argumentative writing calls for an in-depth research through reliable resources.
  • The thesis statement, positioned at the end of the first paragraph, should showcase your point of view. Each and every argument in the content should be directly related to this statement.
  • The logical flow has to be impeccable. You need to write an outline, which will allow you to stay focused and develop a clear discussion.
  • You have to reference all sources you use. Make sure to get informed about the proper style guide and stick to those guidelines when formatting references.

Specific Qualities You Need for Argumentative Writing

Professors value great argumentative writing upon three qualities:

Precision and focus of arguments

Before you start writing on a particular topic, make sure to craft an outline. Draft out the introduction points with the main thesis statement, the main arguments in the body paragraphs, and the point you’re going to make in the conclusion. This frame will keep you focused on the goal to provide precise arguments.


If, for example, you’re writing about the effects of air pollution on our environment, you cannot base your arguments on personal opinions. You’ll have to search for research studies that support those claims. The evidence is a crucial aspect of an argumentative paper. It’s what makes the reader believe that you have a point worthy of consideration.

Clarity and logical flow

This one is all about the style. It’s not okay to use big words just to make yourself sound smarter. When there’s a simple word for something, use that one. In addition, make sure the thoughts flow in a logical order, without any gaps that make the sections of the paper appear disconnected.

Developing the Essay through Stages

The argumentative essay usually comes in five paragraphs: introduction, three body paragraphs, and conclusion.

The introduction is the part that hooks the reader

Some professors read only this part before deciding if they should continue spending time with your paper. Think as a lawyer: you have a unique chance to present your case and hook the audience. You can start by defining the major terms and providing some background on the topic. Then, at the end of the introduction, you will state your thesis in a clear, single sentence. The thesis shouldn’t be an obvious fact. It’s something that you can argue and support with evidence.

For example, a statement like “Traffic is contributing towards greater pollution” is not a solid thesis, since you can’t really argue about it. “Although eco-friendly cars are polluting the air less than traditional engines, they do not have the potential to decrease the levels of air pollution.” Now, that’s something we can argue with research and statistics.

The three body paragraphs give you a chance to develop your argument

The last thing you should do is waste time with fillers. Do not repeat the same statements in different words. In the usual structure of an argumentative essay, you should show three claims; one at the beginning of each paragraph. Then, you’ll support those claims with arguments and facts.
Another alternative is presenting two claims supported with facts, and using the third body paragraph for showing and defying opposing opinions.

The conclusion cements your thesis

In the conclusion, you should restate your thesis statement and remind the reader how important this issue is. You connect all threads into a logical ending, which leaves the reader with an impression that they have learned something new. The conclusion should be logical and based on all arguments you presented throughout the body of the paper.

Submit Clean Writing

If you submit a paper that is poorly written and riddled with mistakes, it doesn’t matter how good your argument is. Your grade will be poor. Professors read all day long and so common errors like passive voice, over-reliance on adverbs, and poorly constructed sentences drive them crazy. Run your paper through an editing tool like ProWritingAid before you even think of handing anything in.

You also might enjoy these posts from our archive:

  • 10 Free Writing Apps and Tools
  • Our Blunders, Your Gain. What the team at Our Write Side wish they had known about blogging before they began.
  • 6 Best Editorial Tools for Writers & Editors
  • 10 Top Tools for Bloggers – Save Time, Stay Organized, and Create Content that Rocks
  • How your personal blog can generate income through the ProWritingAid affiliate program

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About the Author:

Julie Petersen is a freelance writer and a blogger. She shares her experience with students on her educational blog askpetersen.com . Follow Julie on Twitter

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    Choose Your Test

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    SAT Essay Tips: 15 Ways to Improve Your Score

    Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Jan 30, 2018 6:00:00 PM

    SAT Writing ,

    SAT Essay



    Whether you’ve never written an SAT Essay or didn’t get the score you wanted on your last test, you can benefit from knowing more: both about the essay itself, and what really matters when the graders are reading your essay.

    To introduce you to what you’ll have to do, we’ve gathered up these 15 tips to master the SAT essay. If you can reliably follow all these points, you’ll be able to get at least a 6/6/6 on the SAT essay—guaranteed.


    The Challenge

    The SAT Essay is a very short assignment. You only get 50 minutes to read a 650-750 word passage, analyze the devices the author uses to structure her/his argument, and write a full-fledged essay—and it can pass in a flash if you don’t have a method for attacking it.

    Writing an SAT essay requires a very specific approach that’s unlike the essays you’ve been writing for English class in school. The goal of this strategy is to cram in as many as possible of the desired components in the 50 minutes you’ve got. In this article, we give you 15 key tips for the SAT essay.

    The first five tips in this article relate to what the College Board tells us about what’s a good essay. The next five are truths that the College Board doesn’t want you to know (or doesn’t make explicit). And the last five tips for SAT essay writing show you how to build an SAT essay, step by step.


    What the College Board Does Tell You: 5 Tips

    The College Board explains the main components of the successful SAT Essay in its scoring criteria. Here they are, condensed:


    #1: Give a Clear Thesis

    The SAT essay rubric states: “The response includes a precise central claim.”

    What this means is that your essay needs to make a clear argument that the reader can easily identify. All you have to do to create your “precise central claim” is to identify the main idea of the passage and list the methods the author uses to support it.

    Fortunately, the SAT provides you with the passage’s main idea, so you don’t have to go hunting for it yourself. I’ve bolded the claim in this (fake) sample prompt so you can see this for yourself:

    Write an essay in which you explain how Sam Lindsay builds an argument to persuade her audience that more works of art should feature monsters. In your essay, analyze how Lindsay uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of her argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.

    Your essay should not explain whether you agree with Lindsay’s claims, but rather explain how Lindsay builds an argument to persuade her audience.

    Now, here’s an example of a thesis statement for an essay responding to this prompt:

    In the article “Monsters Monsters Everywhere,” Sam Lindsay uses personal anecdotes, vivid language, and appeals to emotion to persuade her audience that more works of art should feature monsters.

    It’s fine to copy the exact words describing the author’s central claim from the prompt into your thesis statement—in fact, this guarantees that the graders will see that your thesis is there and on-topic.


    #2: Include Both an Introduction and a Conclusion

    The SAT essay rubric states: “The response includes a skillful introduction and conclusion.”

    Including an introduction paragraph in your essay is absolutely essential to getting a Writing score above a 4 (out of 8). The introduction paragraph introduces the reader to what you’ll be talking about and allows you to set up the structure for the rest of the essay. Plus, an introduction can be a pretty good indicator of the quality for the rest of the essay—a poorly constructed introduction is often a warning that the essay that follows will be equally discombobulated.

    It’s best to have both an introduction and a conclusion, but if you’re running short on time and can only have one, definitely pick the introduction. The main reason for this is that a good introduction includes your thesis statement. For the SAT essay, your thesis (or your “precise central claim”) should be a statement about what devices the author uses to build her/his argument.

    Introductions can be tricky to write, because whatever you write in that paragraph can then make you feel like you’re locked into writing just about that. If you’re struggling with the introduction paragraph, leave yourself 10 blank lines at the beginning of the essay and jump into writing your body paragraphs. Just make sure you remember to go back and write in your introduction before time’s up!


    #3: Use Effective Language and Word Choice

    There are a couple of parts of the Writing score section on the SAT essay rubric that pertain directly to style.

    The SAT essay rubric states this about a perfect-Writing-score essay: “The response is cohesive and demonstrates a highly effective use and command of language.”

    For most of us, “command of language” is an area that takes a long time to develop, so unless your language skills are really rough or you’re prepping at least a year ahead of time (or both), you’ll probably get more out of focusing on the other components of the essay.

    The SAT essay rubric also states: “The response has a wide variety in sentence structures. The response demonstrates a consistent use of precise word choice. The response maintains a formal style and objective tone.”

    This basically boils down to: don’t be repetitive and don’t make grammar mistakes. In addition, you should avoid using first person statements like “I” or “My” in the essay, along with any other informality. You’re writing the equivalent of a school paper, not an opinion piece.


    Bad (Too informal):

    “I think that Sam’s super persuasive in this article cause she’s just so passionate. It made me feel kinda bad that I don’t really monster it up in my everyday life.”


    Good (Formal):

    “Lindsay’s passionate defense of how drawing monsters ‘allows us to laugh at our personal foibles’ causes her audience to put themselves in her shoes and empathize with her position.”


    Finally, try to use different words to describe the same idea—don’t use “shows” 15 times. Take the chance to show off your vocabulary (if, and only if, the vocabulary is appropriate and makes sense). This component is the biggest reason why revising your SAT Essay is essential—it’s fast and easy to change repeated words to other ones after you’re finished, but it can slow you down during writing to worry about your word choice. If you’re aiming for a top score, using advanced vocabulary appropriately is vital.


    #4: Only Use Information From the Passage

    All the relevant information is in the passage, so avoid getting drawn into the topic and using your outside knowledge—you want to be sure to show that you’ve read the passage.

    In real life, there are many ways to support a thesis, depending on the topic. But on the SAT, there’s one kind of correct support: specific details drawn from the passage you’re asked to analyze. We’ll show you more below.


    #5: Focus Your Essay on Relevant Details

    You don’t have to mention every single detail that makes the argument effective. In fact, your essay will be more coherent and more likely to score higher in Analysis if you focus your discussion on just a few points. It’s more important to show that you’re able to pick out the most important parts of the argument and explain their function that it is to be able to identify every single persuasive device the author used.

    Think about it as if you were asked to write a 50-minute essay describing the human face and what each part does. A clear essay would just focus on major features—eyes, nose, and mouth. A less effective essay might also try to discuss cheekbones, eyebrows, eyelashes, skin pores, chin clefts, and dimples as well. While all of these things are part of the face, it would be hard to get into detail about each of the parts in just 50 minutes.


    body_thenewdancecraze.jpg” The New Dance Craze .” ©2015-2016 by Samantha Lindsay . Used with permission.

    And this is the eye, and this is the other eye, and this is the…other eye…and the other eye…and the other…wait…what’s going on here?


    What the College Board Doesn’t Tell You: 5 Secrets

    Even though the SAT essay has clearly stated, publicly-available guidelines, there are a few secrets to writing the essay that most students don’t know and that can give you a major advantage on the test.


    #1: Read the Prompt Before the Passage

    Why? Because the prompt includes the description of the author’s claim. Knowing what the author’s claim is going into the article can help keep you focused on the argument, rather than getting caught up in reading the passage (especially if the topic is one you’re interested in).


    #2: Your Facts Must Be Accurate…But Your Interpretation Doesn’t Have to Be

    A big part of the Analysis score for the SAT essay is not just identifying the devices the author uses to build her argument, but explaining the effect that the use of these devices has on the reader. You don’t have to be completely, 100% accurate about the effect the passage has on the reader, because there is no one right answer. As long as you are convincing in your explanation and cite specific examples, you’ll be good.

    Here’s an example of an interpretation about what effect a persuasive device has on the reader (backed by evidence from the passage):

    Lindsay appeals to the emotions of her readers by describing the forlorn, many-eyed creatures that stare reproachfully at her from old school notebook margins. The sympathy the readers feel for these forgotten doodles is expertly transferred to Lindsay herself when she draws the connection between the drawn monsters and her own life: “Often, I feel like one of these monsters—hidden away in my studio, brushes yearning to create what no one else cares to see.”

    Now, you don’t necessarily know for sure if “sympathy for the doodles” is what the author was going for in her passage. The SAT essay graders probably don’t know either (unless one of them wrote the passage). But as long as you can make a solid case for your interpretation, using facts and quotes from the passage to back it up, you’ll be good.


    #3: You Should Write More Than One Page

    This has always been true for the SAT essay, but for the first time ever, the College Board actually came out in The Official SAT Study Guide and explicitly said that length really does matter. Here’s the description of a one-paragraph, 120-word-long student response that received a Writing score of 2/8 (bolding mine).

    “Due to the brief nature of the response, there is not enough evidence of writing ability to merit a score higher than 1. Overall, this response demonstrates inadequate writing.” (source: The Official SAT Study Guide, p. 176 )

    You’ll have one page for (ungraded) scrap paper that you can use to plan out your essay, and four pages of writing paper for the essay—plan on writing at least two pages for your essay.


    #4: Be Objective When Reading the Passage

    Being able to stay detached while reading the passage you’ll be writing the essay about can be tricky. This task might be especially difficult for students who were used to the old SAT essay (which pretty much made it mandatory for you to choose one side or the other). You’ll have to practice reading persuasive essays and gaining objectivity (so that you are able to write about how the argument is constructed, not whether it’s good or bad).

    A good way to practice this is to read news articles on topics you care deeply about by people who hold the opposite view that you do. For instance, as a composer and violist/violinist, I might read articles about how children should not be encouraged to play musical instruments, since it holds no practical value later on in life (a view I disagree with vehemently). I would then work on my objectivity by jotting down the central ideas, most important details, and how these details relate to the central ideas of the article.

    Being able to understand the central ideas in the passage and details without being sidetracked by rage (or other emotions) is key to writing an effective SAT essay.


    body_alwayswearahelmet.jpg” Always Wear a Helmet .” ©2015-2016 by Samantha Lindsay . Used with permission.

    Don’t let the monster of rage distract you from your purpose.


    #5: Memorize and Identify Specific Persuasive Techniques

    Once you’re able to read articles objectively (as discussed in point #4 above), the next step is to be able to break down the essay passage’s argument. To do this successfully, you’ll need to be aware of some of the techniques that are frequently used to build arguments.

    The SAT essay prompt does mention a few of these techniques (bolding mine):

    As you read the passage below, consider how Lindsay uses

    • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
    • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
    • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.

    It’s certainly possible to wing it and go into the test without knowing specific names of particular persuasive devices and just organically build up your essay from features you notice in the article. However, it’s way easier to go into the essay knowing certain techniques that you can then scan the passage for.

    For instance, after noting the central ideas and important details in the article about how more works of art should feature monsters, I would then work on analyzing the way the author built her argument. Does she use statistics in the article? Personal anecdotes? Appeal to emotion?

    I discuss the top persuasive devices you should know in more detail in the article ” 6 SAT Essay Examples to Answer Every Prompt “.


    How to Get All the Necessary Components in 50 Minutes: 5 Step-By-Step Strategies

    When you write an SAT essay, you only have 50 minutes to read, analyze, and write an essay, which means that you need a game plan going in. Here’s a short step-by-step guide on how to write an effective SAT essay.


    #1: Answer the Prompt

    Don’t just summarize the passage in your essay, or identify persuasive devices used by the author—instead, be sure to actually analyze the way the author of the passage builds her argument. As The Official SAT Study Guide states ,

    “[Y]our discussion should focus on what the author does, why he or she does it, and what effect this is likely to have on readers.”

    College Board makes a point of specifying this very point in its grading rubric as well—an essay that scores a 2 (out of 4) or below in Analysis “merely asserts, rather than explains [the persuasive devices’] importance.” If you want to get at least a 3/4 (or a 6/8) in Analysis, you need to heed this warning and stay on task.


    #2: Support Your Points With Concrete Evidence From the Passage

    The best way to get a high Reading score for your essay is to quote from the passage appropriately to support your points. This shows not only that you’ve read the passage (without your having to summarize the passage at all), but also that you understand what the author is saying and the way the author constructed her argument.

    As an alternative to using direct quotations from the passage, it’s also okay to paraphrase some of what you discuss. If you are explaining the author’s argument in your own words, however, you need to be extra careful to make sure that the facts you’re stating are accurate—in contrast to scoring on the old SAT essay, scoring on the new SAT essay takes into account factual inaccuracies and penalizes you for them.


    #3: Keep Your Essay Organized

    The SAT essay rubric states: “The response demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay.”

    The main point to take away from this is that you should follow the standard structure for an SAT essay (introduction-body-body-conclusion). Using a basic four- to five-paragraph essay structure will both keep you organized and make it easier for the essay graders to follow your reasoning—a win-win situation!

    Furthermore, you should connect each paragraph to each other through effective transitions. We’ll give you ways to improve your performance in this area in the articles linked at the end of this article.


    #4: Make Time to Read, Analyze, Plan, Write, and Revise

    Make sure you allocate appropriate amounts of time for each of the steps you’ll need to take to write the essay—50 minutes may seem like a long time, but it goes by awfully quick with all the things you need to do.

    Reading the passage, analyzing the argument, planning your essay, writing your essay, and revising are all important components for writing an 8/8/8 essay. For a breakdown of how much time to spend on each of these steps, be sure to check out our article on how to write an SAT essay, step-by-step .


    body_watchyourself.jpg” Watch Yourself .” ©2015-2016 by Samantha Lindsay . Used with permission.


    #5: Practice

    The more you practice analysis and writing, the better you’ll get at the task of writing an SAT essay (as you work up to it a little at a time).

    It’s especially important to practice the analysis and writing components of the essay if you are a slow reader (since reading speed can be difficult to change). Being able to analyze and write quickly can help balance out the extra time you take to read and comprehend the material. Plus, the time you put into working on analysis and writing will yield greater rewards than time spent trying to increase your reading speed.

    But don’t forget: while it’s okay to break up the practice at first, you also really do need to get practice buckling down and doing the whole task in one sitting.


    What’s Next?

    This is just the beginning of improving your SAT essay score. Next, you actually need to put this into practice with a real SAT essay.

    Looking to get even deeper into the essay prompt? Read our complete list of SAT essay prompts and our detailed explanation of the SAT essay prompt .

    Hone your SAT essay writing skills with our articles about how to write a high-scoring essay, step by step and how to get a 8/8/8 on the SAT essay .


    Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? 

    Check out our best-in-class online SAT prep program . We guarantee your money back if you don’t improve your SAT score by 160 points or more.

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    Laura Staffaroni

    About the Author

    Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master’s degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.

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