Test Prep

How to Earn a Top Analysis Score on the SAT Essay


The second of the three scores given on the SAT Essay is Analysis (if you haven't yet, check out our advice on nailing the Reading score, the first score on the SAT Essay). To earn a top Analysis score, you'll need to show the College Board you understand how the author builds an argument. In the College Board's own words, you can demonstrate your knowledge by "examining the author's use of evidence, reasoning and other stylistic and persuasive techniques" and "supporting and developing claims with well-chosen evidence from the passage." Here are three steps to help you do just that.

Step 1: Identifying Stylistic Techniques

One of the most common things you'll encounter in an Essay source text is the rhetorical device. These devices can take many forms, but they all work to persuade the audience. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Imagery: Using language that appeals to our senses. This is most commonly thought of as visual representation of an object or idea, but imagery can create ideas that appeal to all five senses.
  • Diction: Choosing specific words.
  • Comparisons and Contrasts: Connecting or distinguishing between different ideas or examples.
  • Statistics, Quotes and Citations: Including information from outside sources to lend credibility to an argument.
  • Examples: Using specific instances to make an argument more concrete.
  • Structure: Ordering ideas to enhance the persuasiveness of an essay. For example, a problem is typically described before the solution is presented and argued for.

To keep track of the rhetorical devices you want to write about, use your pencil to identify them as they occur. Don't aim to pick out every little aspect of the source text; instead, focus on the most prominent ways the author supports their argument. Underline or circle the examples in the text and make brief notes about how each device is operating.

Step 2 – Describe Effect on Audience

You should write about your rhetorical devices in the body paragraphs of your essay. After you describe a stylistic technique used, you'll need to describe how the device affects the audience. Consider the three appeals of an argument: ethical, emotional and logical. For example, citing an authority increases the credibility of an author in the audience's mind. An image of a funeral scene will appeal to the audience's emotions of loss and sadness. And the explanation of the effects of a certain course of action will appeal to the audience's sense of logic. To effectively use these appeals, don't assume that your reader will make these connections on their own. You'll earn a better Analysis score if you explicitly and clearly explain how the devices you chose impacts the audience.

Step 3 – Connect to the Main Idea

After you identify and describe these devices, you'll need to link them back to the main idea. Remember, you're trying to show what makes the source text's thesis more compelling and believable. Connecting your evidential rhetorical devices to the main idea is essential to earning a high Analysis score.

For instance, your essay might include the following:

The image of a funeral in paragraph 2 appeals to the audience's emotions of loss and sadness. These negative emotions will lead the author's audience to want to avoid this loss and therefore be more inclined to follow the author's advice to get yearly checkups from their doctors.

By clearly connecting the device ("The image of a funeral") to an immediate effect ("appeal to … emotions") and the thesis of the source text ("get yearly checkups"), these two sentences show the steps that you'll need to follow to get a great Analysis score. You'll want to include more detail (for example, the parts of the image of the funeral that highlight the loss and sadness), perhaps even including short quotes. Just make sure you're always laying out the device, the effect and the thesis.

Picking apart a source text and showing you understand an author's argument is a bit like writing a recipe. You need to be direct and express yourself clearly, otherwise your analysis (or your brownies) will end up half-baked. For more help achieving a top SAT score, check out our book SAT Prep, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for additional study tips.