A Brief Guide to Writing the SAT Essay

What the SAT Readers are looking for
Your SAT essay is scored by 2 Readers who will be looking for key aspects of your essay and giving you a grade between 1 and 4 on 3 main elements: Reading, Analysis, and Writing.

Your score will be expressed as 8/8/8 or 6/5/6 or 4/4/4 or some combination between 2 and 8 for each element.
READING- Did you understand the passage?
❖ Include the main idea of the passage (HINT- It’s in the instructions at the end of the
❖ Reference the Main Points of the Essay
❖ Don’t misrepresent the author
❖ Use quotations or paraphrasing as evidence in your essay
ANALYSIS-Can you identify the Rhetorical Strategies used?
❖ Identify 3 of the most important Rhetorical strategies used
❖ Explain why those rhetorical strategies are effective in persuasive writing
❖ Include relevant evidence
WRITING-Can you express your ideas clearly?
❖ Use standard essay structure with clear introduction, paragraphs and conclusion
❖ Write an effective introduction and conclusion
❖ Use a variety of sentence structures, neutral tone, formal style and diction
❖ Have very few grammar errors
What you have to work with
You will be given a passage that you are expected to analyze by identifying how the author has developed and presented his/her argument. You don’t have to explain whether you agree, but you do need to be able to identify common rhetorical structures that are used in persuasive writing. For this lesson we will be looking at David Zinczenko’s essay “Don’t Blame the Eater” which can be found here
Don’t Blame the Eater
The first 15 minutes of your time should be spent reading and annotating the passage. You will be identifying what the author is saying and how he/she is saying it. Sometimes students are unsure what they are looking for, and so the next page has a checklist of common rhetorical strategies.
Rhetorical Strategies Checklist
The larger categories (Logos, Ethos and Pathos) of rhetoric are a simple way of organizing the types of rhetorical strategies commonly found in persuasive essays. The following list is not definitive, but merely the most commonly used strategies. Full explanations of these strategies can be found at the end of this post.
Logos (Appeal to Logic)
 Statistics
 Factual Evidence (Examples)
 Reasoning (Logical progression of ideas)
 Analogy
 Comparison/Juxtaposition
 Challenging Assumptions
 Hypotheticals
Ethos (Appeal to Credibility)
 Credibility of the Author
 Credibility of a Contributor
Pathos (Appeal to Emotion)
 Diction
 Syntax
 Concession/Refutation
 Anecdote
 Rhetorical Questions
 Appeal to identity

Logical Fallacies and Poorly Constructed Arguments
It is possible that the SAT will provide you with a passage that presents a poorly argued essay, that is, one that has logical fallacies. If so, a student who identifies a logical fallacy and uses one paragraph to write about why the author is using weak argumentation could score 4/4 on the Analysis portion of the test. Common Logical Fallacies include Loaded Words, Slippery Slope, Straw Man, Bandwagon, Circular Reasoning, Either/Or, and Ad Hominem.
Don’t Blame the Eater-What Rhetorical Strategies are used?
Rhetorical Questions (Paragraphs 1 and 6)
Credibility of the Author (Paragraphs 2-4)
Personal Anecdote (Paragraph 3)
Statistics (Paragraphs 5, 6, 8)
Factual Evidence (Paragraphs 5, 6, 8)
Logical Reasoning (Paragraph 7)
Comparison (Paragraphs 9 and 10)
Key Step 2- PLAN
This essay has much more material to write about than you have time to write, and so you need to decide what aspects are the most important and organize your essay. Think first -write second. Spend 5-10 minutes organizing and planning what you will write. This will make it easier to write the essay, and you will spend less time in the middle figuring out what you want to say.
So, let’s look at the list and decide what we will use and what we need to leave behind.
Rhetorical Questions (Paragraphs 1 and 6)- Students frequently gravitate to rhetorical questions because they are easy to identify and easy to write about. BUT, just because they are easy, doesn’t mean you should choose them. In this passage, the rhetorical questions are not the most important rhetorical structures and so we won’t use them.
Credibility of the Author (Paragraphs 2-4)Personal Anecdote (Paragraph 3)- These two go together, and while they do support the argument, they are not the most effective elements. However, they present the author as an authority on how/why kids are eating so much fast food. So we will use them but early in the essay.
Statistics (Paragraphs 5, 6, 8)
Factual Evidence (Paragraphs 5, 6, 8) These two go together. It would be a mistake to write 2 paragraphs (one about each) because it really is the same thing, but this is the strongest evidence in the passage.
Comparison (Paragraphs 9 and 10) The comparison of fast food to tobacco is strongly persuasive because it has a strong logical and emotional appeal, and because it comes at the end , we will use it at the end of our essay as well.
We can break down the structure of an SAT essay, and if you follow the structure, you will find writing is easier and faster.
Introduce the Main Idea and summarize the argument. If you remember the marking scheme, 1/3 of your score is based on your ability to read and understand the given passage. In order to gain full marks, you need to demonstrate that you understood the passage. You can do so by providing a brief (1-2 sentence) summary of the passage. Then you need a path that presents the rhetorical elements you will discuss in the body. Make sure you include the title of passage and the author’s full name. After the first mention of the author’s full name refer to him/her by his/her last name. If you are unsure about the gender of the author, check the essay instruction where you will often find a reference to he/she/him/her.
David Zinczenko believes that consumers are not to blame for the increase in obesity in the United States. Instead he contends that the Fast Food Industry bears responsibility and should expect to be sued by obese and ill consumers. In “Don’t Blame the Eater” Zinczenko utilizes personal anecdote to establish his credibility, factual evidence to support his position and comparison to emphasize the danger posed by the fast food industry.
You should have 3 body paragraphs for this essay. Not because there is something magical about 3 (no matter what Schoolhouse Rock says), but because 3 is enough to present a reasonable amount of evidence and to write enough to reach the 450 word mark. Of course, if you get stuck, you can write 2 body paragraphs and a conclusion, but don’t expect that essay to get a top score. Writing 4 body paragraphs is fine as well, but frequently the paragraphs are not well explained and amount just a topic sentence and an example without analysis.
Topic Sentence
Example/Paraphrase (1 sentence)
Analysis/Explanation (2-3 sentences)
Repeat Example and Analysis if possible
Connection to Main Idea and/or Transition to next point (1 sentence)
Zinczenko begins the essay by establishing his credibility through personal anecdote to connect with the reader and show that he understands the issue on a personal level. Zinzenko in paragraphs 2 and 3 tells the reader that he was a “latch-key kid” who relied on fast food meals while his parents worked, ultimately weighing 212 pounds by the time he was 15 years old. His story shows that he understands how this type of weight gain happens, and so he is not critical of teens who have become obese due to fast food consumption. The use of personal anecdote allows the reader to trust that the author is writing from a place of knowledge; this makes it easier for the reader to be persuaded by the author’s position. While Zinczenko begins the essay with a personal appeal, he is much more persuasive through his use of factual evidence.
Zinzenko relies on statistics and other factual evidence to demonstrate that the fast food industry is to blame for American’s obesity epidemic. In paragraph 5, he recounts how prior to 1994 “only 5 percent of childhood cases [of diabetes] were obesity-related,” but today “Type-2 diabetes accounts for at least 30 percent of all new…cases.” This statistic is important because it shows an obvious increase in just one of the obesity related diseases. Additionally, in paragraph 8, Zinczenko presents the calorie counts of some fast food such as “chicken salad…containing 150 calories; the almonds and noodles that come with it (an additional 190 calories) are listed separately.” This evidence demonstrates how the fast food industry attempts to fool consumers into believing that they are eating healthily, when in fact they are consuming more calories than expected. This is the basis of Zinczenko’s argument. The fast food industry uses deceptive practices to appear less damaging that it really is and this damage has resulted in obesity related diseases.
The use of comparison solidifies Zinczenko’s argument. He compares the fast food industry to the tobacco industry to demonstrates how dangerous and damaging this type of food is. The author points out how the tobacco industry was once advertised and presented as perhaps not the best choice, but certainly not a damaging one. However the fact that the fast food industry spends a billion dollars a year advertising its products to children who are not as aware of the dangers these products pose suggests that the fast food industry may be hiding something. This comparison is effective because readers can make the connection between how tobacco used to be marketed (until the direct connection to cancer was made) and how fast food is still marketed as a viable choice and the increase in obesity related diseases.
Conclusions are necessary. You must have a conclusion in order to have a complete essay, and you must have a complete essay to achieve a top score. Fortunately, conclusions don’t have to be overly complex. The conclusion should restate the thesis/path of your essay and then you can use a stock phrase or include a call to action, refutation or expansion.
In summary, Zinczenko writes persuasively by using personal anecdote, factual evidence and an apt comparison to demonstrate that the fast food industry is at least partially to blame for the increase in obesity related diseases. The use of these rhetorical elements creates an effective argument and persuasive essay.
In summary, Zinczenko writes persuasively by using personal anecdote, factual evidence and an apt comparison to demonstrate that the fast food industry is at least partially to blame for the increase in obesity related diseases. We must challenge the fast food industry’s deceptive labeling and marketing of fat, sugar and salt laden food as a healthy choice for children.
In summary, Zinczenko writes persuasively by using personal anecdote, factual evidence and an apt comparison to demonstrate that the fast food industry is at least partially to blame for the increase in obesity related diseases. While some might say that people need to take personal responsibility for their food choices, Zinzenko contends that the industry’s deceptive practices and marketing make that difficult especially for children.
In summary, Zinczenko writes persuasively by using personal anecdote, factual evidence and an apt comparison to demonstrate that the fast food industry is at least partially to blame for the increase in obesity related diseases. Industries including fast food, tobacco, auto, and cosmetics for too long have not been held accountable for the effects of their products on the population, and consumers need to question more how these products are affecting their lives.
1. Don’t merely summarize the essay. The bulk of your essay should be analyzing what the author has said.
2. Don’t include whether you think the essay is persuasive. This is not an opinion essay.
3. Don’t forget to explain why an element is persuasive
4. Don’t forget the conclusion. Watch your time, and if you are running out, finish up whatever body paragraph you are writing and add a conclusion.
1. Write at least 450 words (well over 2 pages, over 3 is better) there have been studies that show longer essays score higher. There is a bit of correlation rather than causation happening here, but readers are biased towards longer essays. A student who can write more, knows more and thus is probably a better student.
2. Use Essay structure. Leave a blank line in between your paragraphs to make it absolutely clear that you have an introduction, several body paragraphs and a conclusion. Don’t bother indenting (you really should only do one or the other).
3. Use a variety of sentence structures. Have a simple sentence for emphasis. Have a couple of complex sentences with opening and closing modifiers. Use a semi-colon (properly please).
4. Include transitions and markers. Use a variety of transition words and paragraph markers to add clarity to your essay.
5. Use adult/ college level vocabulary. Be as specific as possible in your language.
6. Include quotations that are properly punctuated
Explanations of Commonly used Rhetorical Strategies
Logos is logical appeal. That is the use of reasoning to make a convincing argument. A Logical argument can be built on a number of structures and devices.
1. Statistics
Perhaps the easiest to identify. Statistics are numbers used to suggest factual information. But beware statistics are open to interpretation.
2. Factual Evidence (examples)
Factual evidence occurs when the author offers examples of something or provides proof
3. Reasoning
Reasoning is the use of a logical progression of ideas to come to a conclusion
4. Analogy
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.
5. Comparison
Comparison is when the author compares limited aspects of 2 or more things.
6. Juxtaposition
Juxtaposition is like comparison, but instead focuses on differences
7. 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.
8. Hypotheticals
Hypotheticals are the weakest for of logical argument because they rely on imaginary situations. However, in limited circumstances they can form the base of a larger argument.

Ethos is the establishment of credibility or believability in order to be persuasive.
1. Credibility of the Author
Authors establish their credibility through experience, education, past actions and even just charisma
2. 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.
Pathos is the appeal to emotion. Humans are emotional beings and we are easily persuaded by our emotional state. An author can be persuasive just by making the reader “feel” something.
Stylistic elements fall under pathos because they tend to affect how the reader “feels” about an argument.
1. Diction
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.
2. Syntax
Syntax is the structure of sentences. Certain sentences due to their constructions are inherently more persuasive than others.
3. Concession/Refutation
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.
4. Anecdote
Anecdotes are short descriptions of events that are designed to set up a point or evoke a feeling in the reader.
5. Rhetorical Questions
Rhetorical Questions are questions posed to the reader that have an obvious or intended answer.
6. 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.
Logical Fallacies
Loaded Words
Loaded words is the use of connotative language to sway the listeners emotions
Slippery Slope
Slippery Slope suggests that if one small change is made it will automatically lead to disastrous consequences
Straw Man
Straw Man fallacy occurs when an argument is misrepresented or exaggerated in order to make it easier to attack.
Bandwagon occurs when a course of action is done by many and there for is right or acceptable
Circular Reasoning (begging the question)
The conclusion is presented in the premise
Presenting a situation as having only 2 possible points of view
Ad Hominem
Attacking an opponent’s personal qualities in order to undermine his/her argument


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