Tips from an Irvine SAT Online Tutor: SAT Essay Help: Sentence Complexity

The SAT essay is a timed, 50-minute essay that is optional on the current SAT tests. Students opt to take the test to show colleges their reading, writing, and analysis ability – all of which are important skills for success in college-level classes.

The essay itself gives a persuasive passage about some cause or issue, and the student's job is to analyze and discuss the argument that the author is making. The essay is graded by evaluating the student's reading skills (based on their understanding of the passage and use of evidence in their essay), analytical skills (based on which persuasive elements in the argument that they identify, explain, and support), and their writing skills (based on grammar, organization, style, and sentence structure).

Writing Skills

The best way to study and prepare for the essay is by practicing writing essays and getting feedback on them. Unfortunately, it is difficult to significantly improve things like your grammar and style over a short period of time. You have developed these over the course of your entire education, so they require more individualized and intensive work to improve.
However, your organization and sentence structure are more concrete criteria that we can give more generic advice to improve. Let's talk about sentence structure.

Sentence Structure

The SAT readers are grading your writing ability partly on how your essay demonstrates a variety of appropriately used sentences. Luckily for students, SAT readers must be very objective in their grading since the test is standardized and taken on such a large scale. What does this mean for you? It means that the readers are basically counting the different types of sentences they see to help them give you a grade. More sentences, better grade.

Here are the different types of sentences that a reader could be looking for in your essay:


Long Sentences

Sentences should vary in length. If you tend to write long sentences, consider throwing in some short ones to break it up. Long sentences tend to be compound, complex, or compound-complex.

Short Sentences

See above. All short sentences is more of a problem than all long sentences. Consider learning and practicing incorporating more compound or complex sentences into your essay. Short sentences tend to be simple sentences.

Michael C. is currently a private math, science, and standardized test tutor with TutorNerds in Irvine and Anaheim.