Do's and Don'ts for Writing an Amazing SAT Essay

These simple SAT essay do's and don'ts can help you express yourself clearly and build your confidence on test day.

When it comes to the SAT essay, many students think big words will automatically lead to a big score. But that isn’t true. In fact, using words you’re not comfortable with can often lead to misuse and misunderstanding. And it’s just one important “don’t” you need to keep in mind when writing your SAT essay.

If you want to impress SAT essay readers/scorers, it’s much more important that you express your ideas clearly. Following these simple essay do’s and don’ts can help you do just that—and build your confidence on test day.

SAT essay do's

  • Do use a thesis. The last sentence or two of your first paragraph should make a claim about how effective the sample argument is. Did you find it convincing? Do you think it will convince other people?
  • Do use specific examples. And lay them out one at a time.
  • Do reference specific ideas in the sample argument. Use paraphrasing and direct quotes to point out significant ideas in the sample argument and respond directly to those ideas.
  • Do restate your thesis. Summarize your main points. You can wrap up with something clever or insightful, but don’t add new evidence.
  • Do leave time to edit. Readers know that this is a first draft, but saving five minutes at the end of your essay time to reread and revise your work is an essential part of putting your best foot forward.

SAT essay don’ts

  • Don’t restate the prompt. Your audience has the prompt in front of them.
  • Don’t repeat yourself. Your supporting examples and points should be distinct. There should be a reason for every word on the page.
  • Don’t say things like “I think,” “I believe,” “In my opinion,” etc. Just make your point. Your reader knows that your essay is written from your point of view. This is not to say you can’t include personal anecdotes—writing in the first person is acceptable. But you don’t want to waste time and space with these unnecessary statements.
  • Don’t push your sentence structure. This is not the place for grammatical experimentation. If you know how to use a semicolon, then go for it. If you’re not sure, don’t try it here.
  • Don’t need to pack your essay with big words. Words that seem like synonyms often have subtle differences in meaning, so only use words that you are comfortable with. Clearly communicating your ideas is much more impressive than using elevated language.

Got any SAT essay writing do’s and don’ts you want to share with us? Leave a comment, or share your crazy-good writing skills with us on Twitter.

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About Joe Kane

Joe Kane is a Senior Writing Coach for Wow Writing Workshop. When he’s not coaching students on college essays, or SAT and ACT writing prep, he can be found penning poems (and doing readings!) in Nashville. E-mail Joe at


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