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How Many Paragraphs Should The Sat Essay Be

How do you feel about five paragraph essays? Personally, I can’t stand ‘em. They’re like oatmeal—yeah, it gets the job done, but it’s pretty bland and grey. I’d much rather have something else for breakfast… something meatier or more colorful.

So you might be surprised then, that I recommend using the standard five paragraph format to write your SAT essay. There’s one important caveat to that, though: make it four paragraphs, not five.

The structure of an SAT essay

The five paragraph essay is usually structured like this:

Introduction Paragraph

-Introduction to topic

-Thesis sentence

-Preview of examples (Optional)

Body Paragraph 1

-Statement of reason


-Analysis of example


Body Paragraph 2

-Statement of reason


-Analysis of example


Body Paragraph 3

-Statement of reason


-Analysis of example


Conclusion Paragraph

-Summary of reasons (Optional)

-Paraphrase of thesis

-Closing thought

That third body paragraph is crossed out to represent how you should write your SAT essay. You only have 25 minutes to finish the thing—some of which should be spent planning—so getting three well fleshed-out, articulate body paragraphs down on paper probably isn’t going to happen. It’s possible, but not worth stressing over. You’re better off focusing on making the first two body paragraphs as eloquent as possible.


How can I make my SAT essay stand out?

Okay, so there’s a problem with the five four paragraph essay; everybody writes that. And since your essay is going to go through the hands of an SAT essay grader in a matter of minutes, a lot of people think that looking like all of the other essays is a bad idea.

Yes, you do want to stand out. But be prudent about how you stand out. Having an unconventional structure is risky—there’s a greater chance that you’ll lose sight of the topic or start repeating yourself.

Instead, try to get the reader’s attention with more interesting language. Use metaphors, incorporate high–levelvocabwords, and vary the structures of your sentences. If your standard essay is oatmeal, those are the fruits and flavors you can use to make a much more interesting meal out of your writing.

Four paragraph persuasive essays are good because…

A) they keep you focused. If each paragraph has a specific goal (e.g. providing a thesis or an example), then you can keep your sights on that individual piece of the puzzle, rather than constantly trying to see the whole picture. If you don’t focus in on the pieces, you’re bound to sacrifice some clarity.

B) you have practice writing them. Your English teachers and History teachers probably have all asked you to write persuasive essays in this format before. And practice, as you’re aware, makes perfect.

C) they’re easy to plan for. Because they’re so structured, they should only take a moment or two to map out. If you decide to create your own custom structure, planning it might take a bit more time and thought. Instead, create a thesis, ask yourself how you got to that thesis, then conjure up a couple examples for those reasons. At that point, your outline is finished… no need to worry about the order of paragraphs or anything like that.

Bland essays can still be high-scoring essays

If your grammar, vocabulary, and argument are all strong enough, even the most oatmeal-ish essay can score a six. The SAT is not the place to experiment with format. Save that for your classes.


About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!

How to Write a Great Body Paragraph on the SAT Essay

Get a higher SAT Essay score with our exclusive SAT & ACT Essay course, available for instant download!

If you’re taking the SAT Essay, optional for test-takers but required or encouraged by a great number of colleges and universities throughout the United States, chances are you’re not terribly excited about the 50-minute timed writing assignment. Many of my students confess to me that they don’t understand the SAT Essay task and have trouble knowing what to write about. If you’re the type of student who dislikes writing essays, this is a good article for you! In it, I will explain just why a logical structure is not only essential to a good SAT Essay, but makes writing the essay a breeze.

Why does following a logical, organized structure help both the essay reader AND essay writer? Because readers will have no trouble following your thoughts when you present them in a manner that makes clear at a glance your main claims, supporting evidence, and analysis thereof. And because when YOU know how to structure an essay, you’ll NEVER run into the problem of not knowing what to say next. In fact, you’ll be writing right up until time is called!

Review of the SAT Essay Task

Before we talk about how to write a great SAT body paragraph, let’s recap the essay task. When you get the essay prompt, you’ll notice that it’s a speech, essay, or article by someone else, most likely a persuasive text. Your job is to 1) identify the argument, 2) identify the rhetorical devices the author employs, and 3) explain how the author advances his or her argument through the use of rhetorical devices and persuasive strategies.

To do well, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with common rhetorical devices–know their names and definitions, and know how to spot them when they occur.

You’ll also want to ensure that you write a great SAT intro paragraph. Good SAT Essay intro paragraphs serve to hook the reader, introduce the author, paraphrase the author’s argument, and preview the rhetorical devices and persuasive strategies you’re going to analyze.

How to Structure an SAT Essay Body Paragraph

Once you learn this formula for writing SAT Essay body paragraphs, you’ll be well on your way to finishing your essay! I’m going to assume that you know common rhetorical devices and that you’ve written a great intro. After you’ve written the end of your intro, when you’ve previewed the three or so rhetorical devices and persuasive strategies that you’re going to analyze, you’re ready to begin your first body paragraph.

The SAT Essay body paragraph should follow this structure, which I’ll explain with examples:

  • Sentence 1: Topic sentence
  • Sentence 2: Specific example / quote
  • Sentences 3-4: Analysis of specific example / quote
  • Sentence 5: Specific example / quote
  • Sentence 6-7: Analysis of specific example / quote
  • Sentence 8: Specific example / quote
  • Sentence 9-10: Analysis of specific example / quote

Of course, this structure need not be set in stone. In general, though, it’s wise to have more analysis than quoted material, and it’s wise to provide at least three examples. Let’s examine this SAT Essay structure in detail:

Sentence 1: Topic sentence.

Example: To set up his argument that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is worth protecting and preserving for future generations, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter makes liberal use of vivid imagery.

Notice that we’ve narrowed the focus of this first body paragraph? We’ll be discussing Carter’s use of imagery here.

Sentence 2: Specific example quoted

Carter devotes the first three paragraphs of his article to describing in vivid detail the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s beauty, writing of the “never-setting sun,” the “windswept coastal plain,” and the “brilliant mosaic of wildflowers,” among other things.

Sentences 3-5: Analysis

In so doing, he establishes that the Refuge has a “timeless quality” and is a place of astonishing natural beauty. The reader finds himself or herself imagining the refuge and perhaps wanting to visit, making Carter’s reveal in the fourth paragraph that the Refuge is under threat from oil drilling all the more dire, as the Refuge’s “timeless” beauty risks destruction.

Rinse and repeat!

Now You’ve Got the SAT Essay Body Paragraph Structure Down

And that’s basically it! Notice that each paragraph needs a topic sentence and should contain two to three quoted examples, which you’ll then go on to analyze. Topic sentence, quote, analysis, quote, analysis, quote, analysis, new paragraph, repeat…

See how formulaic the SAT Essay can be? You’ll never ask yourself what to write next!

The main work to do is to identify rhetorical devices, underline examples of those devices to use as quoted material–and, of course, to think of what analytical statements you’ll make!

* * *

That’s it! If you really want a higher SAT Essay score, make sure to get our Complete SAT Essay & ACT Essay course. It’s filled with SAT essay secrets from a veteran tutor, available nowhere else!

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