SAT Essay, Part 5: Three Tips for Supporting Your Position

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Bricks and TrowelThis is the fifth part of our series on preparing for the SAT essay. All of these articles are excerpts from the curriculum for WriteAtHome’s new and popular SAT Essay Prep course.

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Your thesis contains the point of your essay – what you think about the issue given you in the essay prompt. Now you’ve got to defend your opinion. You need to give clear and persuasive reasons for thinking the way you do.

The body of your paper will consist of several paragraphs that contain illustrations, examples and/or reasons for your thesis. An effective paper is not only clear, but convincing. Every sentence of every paragraph in your essay’s body should be designed to win your reader to your side.

Constructing the body of your essay should be as simple as this general rule: One paragraph for each supporting point. That means if you have three supporting points, you’ll have three paragraphs in the body of your paper (add an introduction and a conclusion – that  makes five paragraphs).

We suggest that you shoot for precisely this: three strong supporting points for your thesis. It’s not written in stone, but the rule of three is pretty well understood in the realms of art, rhetoric and composition. Fewer than three points will seem weak (unless they are particularly strong points), and more than three will leave you with too little time to complete the essay (Remember, you’ve only got 25 minutes!).

What if you can only come up with two supporting points? Basically, it would be better to include two and get your essay done well, than to waste so much time coming up with a third point that you don’t finish the essay. So if you have two supporting examples, go for it.

If your brain cranks out four or more good supporting points, quickly decide on the best three (and leave the other for a future doctoral dissertation). This is a loose rule also, of course. If you can concisely defend your opinion with four winning points within the time limitations, don’t hesitate. You’re just normally better off with three and staying safe.

Understand this: We are recommending that you defend your thesis with three concise supporting points. But this is not an eleventh commandment. It is certainly possible to score high on an essay with one strong, vividly expressed supporting illustration. There really is no single right way to compose an essay.

Whether you come up with one, two, or three supporting points, keep in mind these three descriptive words: clear, specific and memorable.    

1Clear: Don’t make your readers stretch to see the relationship between your supporting example and the thesis you are trying to defend. The point should be obvious and stated clearly.

2Specific: E.B. White advised aspiring writers, “Don’t write about man, write about a man.” Good illustrations are not vague and general. They include names, places and details. Don’t write about something that happened “many years ago;” write about something that happened in the 1960s. Don’t write about teachers; write about Mrs. Wilson, your 3rd grade teacher. Don’t write about scientists; write about Albert Einstein.

3Memorable: The best illustrations are surprising, emotional, or vivid. They are in some way remarkable. Making your supporting points memorable may not be as hard as you think, however. The fact that you remember them well enough to include them in your paper is a good hint that they already are memorable!

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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian Wasko

Brian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.

View all posts by Brian Wasko

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