SAT Essay, Part 3: Three Tips for a Strong Thesis


Ship pointed in right directionNote: All posts on SAT essay prep are excerpts from the WriteAtHome SAT Essay Prep Workshop. In addition to the extensive lesson material, this course provides students four opportunities to compose practice essays that receive thorough feedback and evaluation from one of our trained writing coaches. For more information, check out our website.


A thesis is a single sentence that summarizes the overall point of your paper. Your thesis statement is the most important sentence in your essay. It’s the anchor, the fulcrum, the central point of your paper. Every good SAT essay has an identifiable thesis. Getting the thesis right is a giant step toward getting the whole paper right. It is like pointing the bow of a ship in the proper direction at the start of a voyage.

Keep the following tips in mind as you write your thesis statement:

1. Avoid formulas. It is a common practice for teachers to recommend a formula for thesis statements. The most popular formula includes the main idea and a list of three supporting points, like this:

Baseball should still be considered the national pastime because it was created in America, it reflects the melting pot of American culture, and it remains a captivating spectator sport.

We recommend avoiding this bland and simplistic approach. Writing that conforms too closely to a pattern like this will not impress most readers. They want to see that you can express yourself with originality and eloquence, not simply that you can conform to some predetermined formula.

2. Keep it simple. So, how should you write a thesis statement? We think it’s even easier than the “main idea +  3 supporting points” formula. Just leave out the list of supporting points. You’ll get to those eventually anyway – in the body of the paper. We think a good thesis simply and clearly states the point you are going to defend in your essay. Check out the following improvement on the previous example:

Football and basketball may have gained a larger audience, but baseball deserves to keep the title of America’s pastime.

This is stronger and tighter,without giving away too much of the paper. It encourages the reader to keep going as you explain your position. It also sounds natural rather than pre-packaged.

3. Don’t assume the reader knows the topic. A common mistake among teenage essay writers is to refer to the quote or topic as though the reader is already familiar with it. This is a problem not only in the thesis statement, but anywhere in the essay:

This may seem true at first glance, but look at what this quote is saying.

It is probable that the SAT readers will be well-acquainted with the passage and/or quotation you’ll have been given, but your paper must be able to stand alone.Write as though you have not been given a prompt at all — as though the idea for the paper simply occurred to you. Any reader should be able to understand your paper whether or not he has access to the prompt given in the test:

At first glance, it may seem true that knowledge is the key to success, but let’s examine the following words by Socrates…

Keep these three tips in mind and you are off to a great start on your SAT essay.

If you have additional suggestions for creating a great SAT essay thesis, please share them in the comments section below.


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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

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