By Jeffrey Mortensen

The SAT Essay Section can be one of the most dreadful parts of the SAT test-taking experience.

Not only is your student given a boring, broad topic they probably don’t care about, but they’re also expected to take some sort of stance on the topic, supporting their position with relevant historical examples and references to books they probably didn’t enjoy reading in school.

Whether or not your child enjoys writing SAT essays, they’re going to have to write one at some point.

Luckily for you, we’re here to make the whole experience a little more bearable.

Here are our tips to help your student improve their SAT essay!

Be neat and tidy

College Board claims that SAT essays are in no way scored based on the test-taker’s neatness and penmanship, and that each grader must take however much time is needed to ascertain what you’ve written…but let’s be real here.

Neatness counts!

Think of it this way.

If you had to sit around all day reading hundreds of essays on the same topic, you’d probably be more inclined to give higher scores to the more legible essays, for making it easier on you as a reader.

On the other hand, you’d probably be very annoyed if you had to get through an illegible essay, and odds are, you’re not gonna be in a high-score-giving sorta mood if you’re annoyed.

So, moral of the story? Your student needs to write legibly! Don’t annoy SAT graders!

Use the 5 paragraph structure

I’m personally not a fan of this simplistic writing style, but, as it turns out, SAT essay readers love it.


  • It’s easy to follow.
  • It gets the point across succinctly and clearly.

So when your student is outlining their essay on the exam, they should be sure to start with…

  1. A broad introductory paragraph containing the thesis of their essay,
  2. Followed by three body paragraphs, each providing evidence/examples to support their thesis,
  3. And lastly, a concluding paragraph to wrap things up.

Check out the 5 paragraph diagram below to get a refresher on this writing style!

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Cite specific examples

This one’s SUPER important.

Your student needs to make sure that they provide specific examples in their body paragraphs.

These examples can be just about anything, including:

  • Literary examples
  • Historical examples
  • Personal anecdotes
  • Popular culture references

They just need to make sure their examples are specific and not broad.

(Notice how I keep repeating the word “specific?”)

Check out this “example chart” to get a better idea of what specific examples look like!

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Here’s an idea!

Have your student prepare an “arsenal” of examples that they feel fairly knowledgable and confident about. 

Maybe they talk about their favorite book or TV show, or maybe they can bring up a historical moment on which they did a project in high school.

The SAT essay prompts are so broad that your student can probably make the same 3 examples work for any prompt.

Go for length!

It may sound a bit silly, but several studies have concluded that, on average, students who write longer SAT essays tend to receive higher essay scores, despite the fact that College Board claims that length is not a part of their criteria.

No joke!

Why would a longer essay receive a higher score?

Well, no one really knows, but odds are, the graders look at super short essays and figure the writer simply doesn’t have much to say…and mark them off on ideas and content.

So, tell your student to make sure they fill in every line with good, relevant information to receive full credit for ideas!

I’m not saying that they should ramble on forever and say the same thing over and over for the sake of writing a longer essay–the SAT readers will catch on to this and penalize you for it.

Instead, they should focus on including as much relevant information as possible without being repetitive.

Refute the opposing conclusion

Here’s a tip that’s sure to make your essay stand out from the rest!

Instead of simply providing evidence for their argument, your student should also include examples that disprove the opposing argument.

This can be a difficult task, but if done right, it will transform your child’s good essay into an awesome essay.

In order to accomplish this, your student should:

  1. Start by formulating their own thesis.
  2. Then, create an alternative thesis that is opposite of their original thesis.
  3. Then,  think of all the reasons that the alternative thesis is wrong.

And, BAM! Your student has themselves an A+ essay.

Use correct grammar

Correct grammar will make your student’s essay come across as more sophisticated, and more palatable to the reader, and will ultimately earn them BIG POINTS on their essay!

(Check out our numerous articles and resources on SAT grammar tips.)

To check for grammar in your student’s (practice) essays, check out PaperRater, a free resource that proofreads essays for grammar and spelling.

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Here’s a big tip for your student: try to use active verbs when writing an essay.

For example, instead of saying “he was being sad,” your child should just say, “he was sad.”

Choose more sophisticated words

This one’s a little tricky because it requires balance.

Your student doesn’t want to load up their essay with big words and seem pretentious–the grader will catch on to what they’re doing, and penalize them for it.

Instead, they should try “sprinkling” a few higher-level vocabulary words here and there.

Maybe they can throw in a “placate,” or a “ubiquitous,” but don’t you DARE let your student use the word “antidisestablishmentarianism.”

Another quick vocabulary tip for your student:

Avoid overly broad, low-level vocab words such as “things” or “many.” 

Your child should only use words like these if they want the grader to mark them off on word choice!

Also, they should avoid using the words in the speech bubble below.

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Practice makes perfect!

This is probably the most obvious tip, but PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!

Seriously. Your child can read every SAT essay guide they want, but the only way they’re really going to master the art of SAT essay writing is by obtaining some practice prompts (via internet, SAT prep book, or some other medium) and writing essays over and over and over again.

So what are you waiting for? Go check out some practice prompts!


With these awesome tips and hints your student is sure to do well on their SAT essay! When they’re writing/preparing for their essay, be sure to remind them to:

  1. Outline
  2. Be neat and tidy
  3. Use 5 paragraph structure
  4. Shoot for a long essay
  5. Cite specific examples
  6. Refute the opposing conclusion
  7. Use correct grammar
  8. Use high-level vocab words
  9. Practice, practice, practice!

Good luck! I’m sure your student will have no trouble getting that perfect score!

Got any other awesome essay-writing tips? Share with us in the comments below!


Author bio: Jeffrey Mortensen is a content writer for Student-Tutor. When he’s not studying business at University of California – Berkeley, he’s churning out fantastic blog articles to help demystify the college process. You can read more of his work here.