This is part 2 of a multi-post series on writing the 25-minute SAT essay, a paragraph-by-paragraph, sentence-by-sentence breakdown. Basically, these posts will construct a full-fledged essay template.
Paragraph 2 — Example 1/Analysis (approx. 7-10 sentences):
Paragraph 2 is your first body paragraph. This is where you analyze your first example, but for now, let’s just focus on the first sentence of the paragraph, your topic sentence.
Sentence 1: topic sentence that states you’re going to use specific example #1 to support the point you claim in your thesis; make this a rehashing of your thesis…a mini thesis essentially.
Naturally, in order to write this topic sentence, you need to know what your example is. If you’ve cared to follow my introduction advice (which you should), then you’ve already listed your examples in the last sentence of the intro. It is imperative that you have these examples ready to go before you even begin writing the intro. Outlining your essay before you begin is absolutely necessary. That is not a suggestion; it’s a command. Trust me…I hated outlines too, but it’s really necessary here because if you mess up your organization, you won’t have time to erase and rewrite.
Writing a topic sentence involves uniting two things in holy matrimony:
Thesis (first sentence of intro)
List of examples (last sentence of intro)
*Note: I use the term “sentence” loosely because maybe you spent more than one sentence to accomplish the task. Don’t constrain yourself to strict sentence counting…this ain’t blackjack.
You’re going to marry those two parts together to form your topic sentence for this first body paragraph. It’s pretty easy. Follow me here.
Thesis: “Although questioning authority may come off as irreverent and rebellious, such an action can actually be beneficial when it allows people to understand the motives and reasons behind the wishes of an authority.”
List of examples: “In both history and my personal life, subordinates who have asked authority to clarify its intentions have helped generate tremendous success. In the Battle of Stony Gate during the Arctic War in 1873 and in a recent championship volleyball match against my high school team’s rival, victory was won because people were willing to question authority.”
Now the fun part…you get to play Dr. Frankenstein. Ready for the magic of recombination? (Cue the maniacal mad scientist laughter).
Topic sentence: When the soldiers questioned General Hendrick’s decision during the Battle of Stony Gate, they were able to better understand his strategy, which allowed them to win the battle. ß Zzap! It’s alive! Congrats, it’s a kicking, breathing topic sentence.
If you really want to be impressive, add some texture and detail. Be more specific.
Topic sentence: When the soldiers questioned General Hendrick’s decision to charge the opposing army despite commanding a far smaller army during the Battle of Stony Gate, they merely wanted to understand Hendrick’s strategy. Understanding Hendrick’s plan allowed the soldiers to work together more cohesively and actually win the battle.
*Note: Don’t worry that there are actually two sentences. Focus on achieving the purpose/function of the topic sentence rather than counting how many periods you’ve used.
See how I explain a bit on how questioning authority was beneficial (my thesis)? I don’t just say it was beneficial. I don’t just say it was beneficial because it allowed the soldiers to understand the general’s strategy. I take it all the way home. I go as far as saying it was beneficial because it allowed the soldiers to understand the strategy and work together more cohesively to win the battle. If the thought gets too long, break it up into two or three sentences.
The more specific you can be, the better. That goes for pretty much everything…from your thesis to your list of examples to your topic sentences to your analysis.
The topic sentence is the easy part. The hard part is deep analysis, which is basically a bunch of sentences that connect your example to your main point (the thesis). Make this commentary explicit, logical, and specific. We’ll get down and dirty with deep analysis in the next post.
Peter Peng is an SAT/ACT tutor and college admissions essay consultant based in the greater Los Angeles area. He is currently working on a book entitled The SAT Decoded and can be reached at email@example.com.