Capstone College and Career Advising

New Skills Needed for the Redesigned SAT

July 27th, 2015 by

Hone Analysis Skills for Success on the Redesigned SAT Essay

By: Brian Witte

Writing home task

The essay question will not ask for your personal option of the provided passage or require you to provide personal stories.

One often discussed characteristic of the redesigned SAT is its increased focus on comprehension and analysis rather than rote memorization and recollection.

This is especially true of the new essay section. Beginning in the spring of 2016, its emphasis will shift from the current argument-based format that asks students to justify their opinion of a given prompt. Instead, students will be required to critically analyze an extended passage.

Every essay prompt on every redesigned SAT will pose essentially the same question, though the specific selection will differ. The question, broadly, deals with "How does the author of the passage build his or her argument?"

Fortunately, students will now have 50 minutes to write their responses, which is double the current time allowance. If you plan to take this optional SAT section – which is scored separately – here are five tips to help you hone your analysis skills for success on the redesigned essay. 

1. Ensure you understand the task: The revised essay section will not ask whether you agree or disagree with the provided passage. Nor will it ask you to evaluate the selection by sharing anecdotes from your own life.

You will be required to demonstrate your understanding of the argument, as well as how the author develops his or her claim. You can offer your opinion of how well the author achieves his or her goal, but be prepared to support this opinion with evidence.

Before your test date, be sure to familiarize yourself with sample questions. Doing so can limit your anxiety and uncertainty about this new format.

2. Identify the author's evidence: Understanding the term evidence within the context of the SAT is crucial to your success. In the sample question linked above, you are asked to explain how the author uses facts and examples to support his central thesis, which is that a decline in literacy can have harmful effects.

One fact that the author cites is a survey from 2002 on the decline of interest in literature among American youth. Here, you might decide to cite the author's own use of citation – for instance, that the study was conducted by a reputable agency. This is an example of an author appealing to authority. The reader of the essay is more likely to be persuaded if he or she first believes that the writer's research is valid.

When you first read the passage, simply note what the author cites as evidence. Surveys, subject experts and statistics are some of the types of support that an author might call on. You do not have to address each type, but you should show that you are aware of them. 

3. Highlight the purpose of this evidence:  In the survey discussed above, declining interest in literacy was not shown to be harmful in and of itself. Instead, the survey was used to establish that a decrease in literary interest is real. To make the passage persuasive, the author needs to prove two things: that the decline is real, and that it has a negative impact.

Its negative impact becomes clear in other pieces of evidence: in the importance of creative thinking at the highest levels of business, for example, or in decreased levels of civic knowledge. The crux of the author's argument is that declining literary interest can be directly tied to these disadvantages, and it is your job to highlight this link.

4. Write clearly and concisely:  Remember that you must communicate this analysis in an essay of your own. Start with a strong topic sentence that restates the objectives given to you.

An example may be, "In 'Why Literature Matters,' Dana Gioia argues that the decline of reading will have a negative impact on American society."

Continue with a general statement about the kinds of evidence and reasoning that the author uses. The remainder of your essay can consist of paragraphs that discuss individual pieces of evidence. Include relevant quotations from the source material, and be sure to explain why each piece of evidence is important. After discussing this evidence, explain how it combines to form a coherent, persuasive argument.

In your conclusion, restate your topic sentence as your closing sentence: "Dana Gioia has crafted a persuasive argument that relies on multiple lines of evidence. He connects these pieces with a clear chain of cause and effect that goes beyond simple correlation."

5. Polish your response:  Although the revised essay section focuses on your analytical skills, the details of grammar, syntax and vocabulary will still matter. As you have been told to do so in most classes and on most other tests, leave enough time to reread your work and to make any necessary corrections.