The Dreaded Analysis portion of the SAT Essay

6/2/6, 7/3/8, 4/2/4, 8/4/8…

Look familiar? these are SAT essay scores of accomplished students who don’t know how to analyze the rhetorical structures on the SAT Essay.

According to the College Board the Analysis portion of the Essay should “demonstrate an understanding of how the author builds an argument by examining the author’s use of reasoning and persuasive techniques and supporting claims with well-chosen evidence from the passage.”

There are 2 parts to this.

a) Show that you understand how authors create persuasive arguments

b) Identify and present evidence of those persuasive techniques

So, you need to be able to identify the most prominent persuasive elements and then write about how the author uses those elements to build his or her argument.

STEP 1–Identify the Rhetorical devices used

What follows is not an exhaustive list of rhetorical devices you might encounter on the new SAT Essay, but this is a good starting point. I have split them into the larger categories of Logos, Ethos and Pathos, but some of these devices fall into more than one category, so don’t get too hung up on that.



Perhaps the easiest to identify. Statistics are numbers used to suggest factual information. But beware statistics are open to interpretation.

Factual Evidence (examples)

Factual evidence occurs when the author offers examples of something or provides proof.


Reasoning is the use of a logical progression of ideas to come to a conclusion.


Analogy is used when the author makes an extended comparison between 2 things which are alike in many respects to suggest that they may be alike in other respects.


Comparison is when the author compares limited aspects of 2 or more things.

Challenging Assumptions

Challenging Assumptions occurs when the author wants to present a radical argument, but in order to do so, old ideas must be removed first.


Hypotheticals are the weakest form of logical argument because they rely on imaginary situations. However, in limited circumstances, they can form the base of a larger argument.


Credibility of the Author

Authors establish their credibility through experience, education, past actions and even just charisma.

Credibility of Contributor (person or group)

This is the same as credibility of the author except that the author is using someone else’s credibility to build the argument. When this is referred to a appeal to authority it can become a logical fallacy because we are merely trusting someone in authority.



Diction is also referred to a word choice. English has a vast vocabulary and many words have specific connotations in addition to their denotations. Those connotations carry emotional weight. For Example, thin versus emaciated. Thin has a positive connotation (when speaking about people), but emaciated has a negative connotation.


Syntax is the structure of sentences. Certain sentences due to their constructions are inherently more persuasive than others.


Concession happens when the author concedes to the oppositions points and agrees they are valid.

Refutation is the anticipation of an attack and an explanation why the opposition’s point of view is invalid. These strategies are persuasive because they create the sense that the author has considered all sides of the issue and thus is giving an less biased point of view.


Anecdotes are short descriptions of events that are designed to set up a point or evoke a feeling in the reader.

Rhetorical Questions

Rhetorical Questions are questions posed to the reader that have an obvious or intended answer.

Appeal to Identity (we)

Appeal to Identity can involve more than one rhetorical strategy, but at its heart it creates a sense of belonging with the reader through appeal to experience, the use of collective pronouns (we, us), the use of 2nd person (you), and flattery.

STEP 2–Explain them correctly in your essay

Too frequently, students write something like to following as their analysis.

In paragraph 3, Miller uses statistics such as “15%” and “30,000,000” to prove his point. Statistics are very convincing to the audience.

ARGH! Nope. First, eliminate the word “prove” from your essays. Authors don’t prove anything in an essay, they support arguments, present persuasive evidence, or demonstrate logic, but they don’t prove anything. Next, don’t assume that the reader or audience is convinced. You can’t know this. Also your job isn’t to analyze a reaction, but to analyze what did the author do.

Try this

In paragraph 3, Miller bolsters his argument that the self-published e-book market is growing and a viable opportunity for many authors. He uses statistics such as “15% of uploaded books” and “30,000,000 sales” to support his position. These statistics provide support for his argument because they present tangible data that is more persuasive than mere opinion.

The focus remains on what the author did, not on how the reader will respond, and evidence from the given essay is integrated.

Some students have used templates to help them improve their analysis score. College Panda’s SAT Essay book has a serviceable template you can follow, and you can download his e-book from Amazon for less than $10.

College Panda’s SAT Essay


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  1. Why should one use a template? The examiner is likely to recognize templates and give lower marks

    • I’m not saying you should use a template. But some students feel more confident using one. The markers are not looking for unique work, and they read hundreds of essays that are written about the same issue. At the end of the day, most of the essays all sound the same and the rough template is not going to stand out as identifiable. The template just gives you a structure to use and won’t help much if you can’t write well on your own.

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