How to summarize the prompt in the SAT essay writing section
If you write the SAT essay, you need to do three things well:
- summarize the essay prompt to prove you understand it;
- analyze how the author persuades readers; and
- write your response in excellent, stylish English.
I recommend that you summarize the essay prompt in one sentence to open your essay response. After that you need to summarize the rest of the essay. How?
The SAT prompt is usually five or six paragraphs long. One of those paragraphs might be a hook; if so, the hook needn’t be mentioned unless the hook highlights the author’s style. If so, include it in your summary.
The thesis is given to you in the paragraph following the SAT essay prompt, in the paragraph which gives you directions. You need to know the thesis to know what the author’s point is, what he or she is trying to persuade you, the reader. When you know what the thesis means, look for information in the prompt which backs up the thesis—not the tiny details, but the big ideas.
Sometimes the organization of the essay itself can help you summarize it. In Dr. Martin Luther King’s essay, “Three Ways of Meeting Oppression,” King has one introductory sentence. The next sentence, in the same paragraph, names the first way of meeting oppression, acquiescence. Several sentences later, King says acquiescence is not a good way. In another paragraph, King names the second way of meeting oppression, violence. A few sentences later he explains why this is also not a good way. Near the end of his essay, he names the third way of meeting oppression, nonviolent resistance, which he supports. Summarizing the main ideas of this essay prompt is easy.
Unfortunately, most SAT prompts are not written with the organization so clear. But the prompts are organized. You need to figure out how. Once you understand the organization, you can spot the main supports for the essay thesis. Not always, but most of the time, each body paragraph contains a main support. And most of the time, those supports are near the beginning of each paragraph.
If we look at The Declaration of Independence, it is clearly broken down into four distinct parts. The first section introduces the idea that the colonies are breaking away from Great Britain and that the world deserves to know why. The second section identifies the philosophical legitimacy of such a break. The third section names grievances the colonial people have against King George III. The last section declares the independence of the 13 colonies. Naming the four parts, as I just did, is sufficient to show that you understand the main ideas of the document.
How can you become quick and accurate in identifying the main ideas of an essay prompt? Practice. Read an essay a day from your newspaper. If you don’t subscribe, go to your media center daily and read a column or editorial. Analyze its contents for structure. What is the thesis? What are the main points backing up the thesis? Practice writing them down quickly, in five to seven minutes.
If you go into the essay portion of the SAT without practice, you likely will do poorly. But if you practice, knowing what is expected of you, your chances go way up.