SAT Essay Help: Body Paragraphs (page 5)
Each of your three body paragraphs has the same purpose: to support your thesis statement. They achieve that purpose, and your essay gets a higher score, when they also do the following:
- guide the reader with transition words
- show your command of written English, including grammar and vocabulary
- make each at least four sentences long, to bring your essay to one and a half to two pages total
- repeat the heartbeat words to remind the reader you are staying on topic
- use examples and evidence to back up your points
- use at least two types of sentence structures
You use transition words all the time. They help make your ideas clear and orderly, emphasizing, comparing, contrasting, locating in time and space, beginning, and concluding. They're listed here not because you need to learn them, but because you need to be aware of them as you write your SAT Essay.
Transition words literally guide your reader. They make it clear that you are moving from one point to another, that you're drawing a conclusion, and that you see how each piece of evidence fits in the context of your argument. They also make the point that you have planned your writing and are following that plan.
Transition words can be used to build that level of confidence that is so important in a persuasive essay. Move from your thesis statement to a sentence beginning with It follows that, and it will be clear to your reader that there is a strong and logical connection. The word nevertheless demonstrates that while there may be another way of thinking about one of your examples, your way is correct.
Transition words are especially important as you move from one body paragraph to another. Starting body paragraph two, for example, with Similarly means the point you are about to make reinforces and adds to the one in the previous paragraph.
The following are common transition words and their uses:
Showing location: above, along, amid, among, between, by, following, near, off, over, throughout
Showing time: after, afterwards, finally, first, later, meanwhile, next, now, second, simultaneously, soon, subsequently, then, third, until, while
Comparing: also, as, like, likewise, in the same way, similarly, while
Contrasting: although, but, conversely, despite, even though, however, nevertheless, on the contrary, though, yet
Emphasizing: again, especially, for this reason, in fact, to repeat
Concluding: as a result, because, finally, in conclusion, last, therefore
Adding information: additionally, along with, also, and, another, as well, besides, for example, for instance, in addition, moreover
Which Example Should You Use First?
Essays you write for your classes should typically start with your weakest example. It's more interesting to build up to the best, most important points. But with just 25 minutes to write your SAT essay, it makes more sense to start with your best example. If you do run out of time (and by using this book, your chances of doing that have lessened considerably), you'll be working on the least interesting example rather than the most.
Grammar and Vocabulary
Expanding your vocabulary before taking the test has always been a great idea: Using college-level words will impress your readers (part of your score is based on evidence of a varied and intelligent vocabulary), and many of the Critical Reading multiple-choice questions, including those involving passage-based reading, test vocabulary. But which words do you need to know?
Every SAT prep book and hundreds of websites have lists of SAT words. Some are a few hundred words while others list thousands. There is no way to predict which words the College Board will use on a particular test, and it's also unreasonable to expect that you'll learn thousands of new words between now and your test date(s). In the Appendix of this book, there is a list of 50 words that appear frequently on the SAT and definitely qualify as intelligent.
In addition to memorizing them, it's possible to plan ahead to use a few of them in your essay. Refer to the background sentences you wrote for your content topics in Chapter 2. Those are the sentences you'll be able to plug into almost any essay to set the scene for your topic. Check them for a word or words you can replace with more dynamic ones. Here are some examples:
Before inclusion of SAT words:
American inventor Thomas Edison (1847–1931) has been described as more responsible than anyone else for creating the modern world. In his research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, he invented the phonograph, made the electric lightbulb, and started the motion picture industry.
American inventor Thomas Edison (1847–1931) has been characterized as more responsible than anyone else for creating the modern world. In his research laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey, he invented the phonograph, devised the electric lightbulb, and pioneered the motion picture industry.
Before inclusion of SAT words:
On October 29, 1929, the United States stock market crashed. This event, along with bank failures, consumers' fears that kept them from making purchases, bad governmental policies, and even the environment came together to create a worldwide economic collapse. Recovery would take nearly a decade.
On October 29, 1929, the United States stock market crashed. This event, coupled with bank failures, consumers' trepidation that kept them from making purchases, protectionist governmental policies, and even the environment conspired to create a worldwide economic collapse. Recovery would take nearly a decade.
Check the background sentences you wrote in Chapter 2 on pages 21–26. Rewrite each below, substituting SAT words where appropriate (aim for at least two words per topic).
Length and Structure
Body paragraphs have four unique sections. As you write, be conscious of including each, and you will not only be able to quickly tie your example to your thesis, but also get the length that you're aiming for.
Part One: Answers the question, Why does this example support your thesis statement?
Part Two: Includes prepared background on your example.
Part Three: Answers the question, How does this example specifically support your thesis statement?
Part Four: Concludes by addressing the question from Part One.
Here's an example:
Perspective is an emotional viewpoint; it is an individual's belief about what is going on around him. One strong component of perspective, especially during troubled times, is hope. When you have hope, your plan for the future includes improvement of the current situation, and that belief makes it possible to go on. Pablo Picasso's mural Guernica, which he painted for the 1937 World's Fair in Paris, depicts hope amid the horrors of war. In the hands of a dying soldier is a flower in full bloom. At the top of the mural is a lightbulb surrounded by rays like the sun. The flower and the lightbulb help to keep the violence and tragedy of armed conflict in perspective. They point to the future with hope, and therefore help lessen the pain of the present.
Did you notice the following?
- Three sentences were needed to make the connection between the example and the thesis.
- The background sentences (see page 36 in Chapter 3) were modified.
- Heartbeat words planning and perspective were used four times.
- Specific details (the flower and the lightbulb) were used.
- Transition words (amid, especially, therefore) help guide the reader.
- Sentence structure is varied: Some are short and simple while others are made up of a few phrases and clauses.
Examples and Evidence
Your SAT Essay score will be based in part on how well you use appropriate examples and evidence to support your position. It's not enough to agree that planning for the future helps you keep your daily life in perspective. You must say more precisely how and/or why.
Here's what the previous example paragraph would look like without examples:
Perspective is an emotional viewpoint; it is an individual's belief about what is going on around him. One strong component of perspective, especially during troubled times, is hope. When you have hope. your plan for the future includes improvement from the current situation, and that belief makes it possible to go on. Pablo Picasso's mural Guernica, which he painted for the 1937 World's Fair in Paris, depicts hope. When you have hope, you can keep the problems of daily life in perspective.
The reader is left wondering why the writer chose Guernica as an example. What about the painting specifically shows hope? It's a great start, but using the details of the flower and lightbulb take the author's point of view from questionable to authoritative.
Show Versus Tell
It's relatively easy to tell a story: Picasso's Guernica is known as one of the most powerful pieces of antiwar art. But it's more interesting to show: With its stark, black and white images of the violence and brutality of combat—a radical departure from the glorified and heroic images of the past—Picasso's Guernica is known as one of the most powerful pieces of antiwar art. It's the details and evidence in the second sentence that take it from merely telling the readers something to showing them in detail.
As you practice, ask whether you're merely telling a story or if you're developing strong examples and showing with detail and evidence why they support your thesis.
Here's another example:
One way to keep the events of daily life in perspective is to work on current problems to lessen their impact on the future. In other words, planning to have a better future can help us deal with the issues we face today. For example, the news about climate change isn't good. The Earth has become about one degree (Fahrenheit) warmer in the last century, and every day we hear more bad news about the effects of global warming. But people are doing something about these effects. Knowing that efforts like these are being made helps to put the negative news in perspective.
This paragraph does a few things well: It has a strong link to the assignment, sentence structure is varied, an appropriate background sentence and heartbeat words are used, and the length is appropriate. But the examples and evidence are missing. Here the problem is corrected:
One way to keep the events of daily life in perspective is to work on current problems to lessen their impact on the future. In other words, planning to have a better future can help us deal with the issues we face today. For example, the news about climate change isn't good. The Earth has become about one degree (Fahrenheit) warmer in the last century, and every day we hear about how the polar ice caps are melting and that warmer ocean temperatures are causing stronger and more frequent hurricanes. But people are doing something about these effects. Their efforts include reducing greenhouse gas emissions and searching for cleaner forms of energy. Some scientists are even working on geo-engineering, which would allow us to manipulate the Earth's climate. Politicians are debating what needs to be done, and many, including the 186 leaders who signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, are committing financial resources to researching solutions. Knowing that efforts like these are being made helps to put he negative news in perspective.
One of the last things you'll probably be thinking about on testing day is varying your sentence structure. But it's important. Of the five areas on which your score is based, one is varied sentence structure, so you can be sure readers are looking for it.
Note the difference between the following two examples:
President Richard Nixon was elected in November of 1968. He defeated George McGovern four years later. McGovern was against the Vietnam War. The 1972 election was a landslide.
President Richard Nixon was elected in November of 1968. Four years later, he was reelected in a landslide, defeating the anti-Vietnam War candidate George McGovern.
Instead of four short sentences that follow a noun-verb pattern, the second example has one short sentence and one long one that includes clauses (four years later and in a landslide) to break the pattern. A section in Chapter 7, Punctuation of Complex Sentences (page 96), explains how to use punctuation to vary sentence structure. Pay careful attention and consciously and correctly use semicolons, colons, parentheses, and dashes to create more complex sentences (colons and dashes add a tone of authority that can help assert your point of view more strongly).
After reviewing the section on Punctuation of Complex Sentences, go to the background information you wrote in Chapter 2. Rewrite it, including at least one simple and one complex sentence. By practicing how to do this now, you're much more likely to include a variety of sentence structures in your finished essay.
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