How to Pump Up Your Analysis for the SAT Essay


After some practice, most students are able to write an organized, coherent SAT Essay that demonstrates their understanding of the prompt’s article, thus getting Reading and Writing domain scores in a respectable 6-8 range. What really gets students, however, is how exactly they are supposed to analyze the author’s rhetorical strategies. Today, we’ll get right into how to make your SAT Essay analysis stronger.

First and foremost, it is important to understand the purpose of the SAT Essay’s analysis. Instead of an English paper, for which you may analyze, say, why an author uses an image with regards to a theme or character, the analysis in the SAT Essay is meant to describe how the author’s rhetorical strategies persuade the audience.

One problem that students encounter with their analysis is that there simply is not enough. They do identify a part of the text worthy of their commentary, but the commentary ends up being short or doesn’t say enough to provide the fullest thought on why an author does one thing or another to persuade his audience. Let’s go into how to make the analysis as full as possible!

For this example, I will use the Paul Bogard essay from College Board’s sample Essay site. In the article, Bogard argues that we need to conserve natural darkness and reduce our light pollution. He provides several reasons for doing so, most of which relate to improving human health, preserving ecosystems, maintaining creativity, and saving money. There are many different elements of the article that you can analyze, including word choice and structure, but for the sake of this walkthrough, I’ll analyze the author’s evidence.

PART 1: GATHERING MATERIAL

When analyzing the evidence an author uses to support his argument, first ask yourself if the author does any of the following:

1. Cite statistics or use numbers? Bogard does! Here are all the cases:

--“when 8 of 10 children born in the United States will never know a sky dark enough for the Milky Way”

--”Some examples are well known—the 400 species of birds that migrate at night in North America, the sea turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs—and some are not, such as the bats that save American farmers billions in pest control and the moths that pollinate 80% of the world’s flora.”

--”the amount of light in the sky increases an average of about 6% every year.”

2. Mention organizations? Bogard does! Here are all the cases:

--”Already the World Health Organization classifies working the night shift as a probable human carcinogen, and the American Medical Association has voiced its unanimous support for “light pollution reduction efforts and glare reduction efforts at both the national and state levels.”

--”Computer images of the United States at night, based on NASA photographs, show that what was a very dark country as recently as the 1950s is now nearly covered with a blanket of light.”

3. Talk about one of his own experiences? Bogard does! Here are all the cases:

--”At my family’s cabin on a Minnesota lake, I knew woods so dark that my hands disappeared before my eyes. I knew night skies in which meteors left smoky trails across sugary spreads of stars.“

--”Those of us over 35 are perhaps among the last generation to have known truly dark nights. Even the northern lake where I was lucky to spend my summers has seen its darkness diminish.”

Phew! Well it appears that Bogard is really big on putting different kinds of evidence and sources into his article. Once we’ve identified these areas, we need to figure out how to actually write about them.

PART 2: INCORPORATING MATERIAL INTO YOUR ESSAY

Let’s look at the numbers. How exactly do we weave the different statistics and numbers that Bogard mentions into analysis? Here is an example [your body paragraph should include at least one other example]:

Throughout his article, Bogard uses significant data and statistics to make his audience understand the importance of maintaining natural darkness. For example, Bogard states early in the article that “8 of 10 children born in the United States will never know a sky dark enough for the Milky Way.” By stating that most children born in the U.S. will not know true darkness, Bogard reveals how widespread the problem of light pollution really is, thus making his audience see that the problem is worthy of their attention. Not only that, by focusing his statistic on children, he is able to get the audience to care even more about light pollution because he makes the audience feel bad that a future generation will miss something that so many others have experienced.

Let’s look at the analysis one more time by breaking it down into parts:

Part 1: By stating that most children born in the U.S. will not know true darkness,

[The student simply recaps what Bogard says in the article.]

Part 2: Bogard reveals how widespread the problem of light pollution really is,

[The student addresses the impact of what Bogard says; this is the first half of the analysis.]

Part 3: thus making his audience see that the problem is worthy of their attention.

[The student explains why this impact matters (how it relates to audience); this is the second half of the analysis.]

Part 4: Not only that,

[Student transitions to second point regarding the same example.]

Part 5: by focusing his statistic on children,

[The student simply recaps, again, what Bogard says in the article.]

Part 6: he is able to get the audience to care even more about light pollution

[The student addresses the impact of what Bogard says; this is the first half of the analysis.]

Part 7: because he makes the audience feel bad that a future generation will miss something that so many others have experienced.

[The student provides reasoning for why Bogard’s statistic has the previously mentioned impact; this is the second half of the analysis.]

This one example has SEVEN components of analysis. Now imagine that you are writing a full essay, which includes three body paragraphs (each of which should have at least two examples). If you do the math (3 x 2 x 7), that’s 42 total components of analysis, give or take, that should appear in your SAT Essay.

That’s a lot, but that’s what’s necessary to get an “8” Analysis domain score. If you find yourself only getting “4” or “5” on a consistent basis, consider breaking down your analysis sentences and seeing if they go the extra mile to not only identify what the author does but also explain the impact and why the impact is important for persuading the audience. At the very least, you should be saying three things every time you write an analysis or commentary on the example in your body paragraph:

1. Recap what author says.

2. State the impact of what author says.

3. State why the impact of what author says is important.

...“By doing X [1], the author is able to show Y [2], which allows the audience to see Z [3].”

If you have more questions on how to build your analysis in your SAT Essay, or if you have other questions related to the Essay, then consider our test-prep programs and services that can help sharpen your writing focus just in time for the big test day. No analysis should be weak, so pump it up with the right stuff!

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