The SAT Essay – How Many Paragraphs Do I Need?

One of the most common questions about the SAT essay is, “How many paragraphs do I need to write to get a good score?” Well, that answer again depends on various factors.

When writing your SAT essay, the first consideration is what exactly you consider a good score. Good is a relative concept (and one of those abstract, overused words you should omit from all your college writing). Those shooting for 9’s on their essays will have different paragraph lengths from those shooting for 6’s or 12’s, but we discuss goal setting so often at The Right Path that it would be like beating a dead horse (Notice the cliche – another thing to stay away from in your SAT essay) so we will not go into detail about that here.

Basically, when writing the SAT essay, you should try to follow the 3-5 rule. That is 3 to 5 sentences in 3 to five paragraphs. That means you begin with a well written introduction. Follow that up with one to three solid examples to back up your point of view. Finally, a conclusion is an absolute necessity for you to achieve your highest score.

The most important thing about the paragraphs in your SAT essay though is that you demonstrate that you understand the topic, can choose a point of view, and defend that point of view with relevant examples. While three really well written examples in a perfect five paragraph essay would be amazing, most students are not able to accomplish this in a 25 minute time period. The scorers recognize this and would prefer to see that you write one though hopefully two logically planned, smooth flowing, well thought out examples than three or more shoddy, half-developed ones.

So whatever your goal score, be certain to write at least three well developed paragraphs in your SAT essay. Remember to include an introduction, one very well developed example, and a solid conclusion to attain your highest score. If you can add more examples, by all means do, but do not fall into the trap of throwing in half-developed ideas to make your paper look longer. Your high school English teachers probably don’t fall for that, and the expert essay scorers trained by the College Board definitely will not. 🙂


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