Posts tagged with: guest posts


What you should take away from this post:

  • You don’t have to use examples that support your point directly
  • You can also use reverse examples to support your point indirectly


  • Let’s say the point you want to make is that teens to need make their own decisions and face the consequences to become more mature
  • (Direct example) Teen makes own decision to go out with friends instead of studying, resulting in a poor grade. He learned to make the right choice the next year and earned an A, demonstrating his increased maturity.
  • (Reverse example) Teen was forced by parents to study instead of going out with friends. He earned an A on final, so the next year, parents thought the teen knew how to balance his life and let him make his own decision. He decided to go party and got a C on the next final because he was never given the chance before to learn from his mistakes and mature.

Examples don’t have to support your point directly. If you can provide an example that addresses the flip side, that’s just as good.

For instance, let’s say you want to argue that letting teens make their own decisions and face the consequences creates more mature young adults. To directly support this point/argument, your example might be a time when your parents allowed you to decide if you wanted to go on an overnight camping trip with your friends or study for your Chem final. You decided to go camping, which resulted in a C on your final because you didn’t study enough. The next year during your Bio final, you were again faced with a similar decision: go out with friends or stay home and study. This time, you stayed home to study and earned an A, clearly growing from your past experiences.

But I could support the same argument with what I call a reverse example. Rather than supporting your thesis directly, you’d be doing so indirectly. I might use an example where my parents DIDN’T let me make my own decision about camping or studying. As long as the outcome of your (reverse) example supports your thesis, you’re good. They made the choice for me and forced me to study. The next year, my parents believed I had learned how to balance work and play, so they let me make my own decision. Yet because I never had the chance to make my own decisions before or to learn from my own mistakes, I decided to go out partying with friends. Consequently, I earned a C. This shows what happens when adults DON’T let teens make their own decisions. This shows that teens will NOT grow to become mature adults. Basically, you’re just addressing the reverse side to argue the same point.


Peter Peng is a 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

© Copyright Iain Lees and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Sorting Through the Trash and Finding the Gems…

To be honest, this article has a lot of overlap with this one. But this post comes at it from another angle, so hopefully you can learn how to read critically a bit better. Okay, here’s a test. I use this same test with my one-on-one students. After they read a paragraph, I’ll ask them, “So what was that paragraph about?”

Usually, I am met with vague answers. If the paragraph mentioned flying frogs, then one student might tell me “frogs.” I’ll ask, “Okay, so what about them?” She might then go into more detail and say, “Frogs are dying in the rainforests because of high levels of pollution.” I’ll say, “Great, but is that the main point of the paragraph, or was that just one detail?” She’ll admit it was a small detail.

When I ask what a paragraph is about, I’m not asking you to tell me in your own words what each sentence said. I’m asking you to synthesize all the ideas in the paragraph, then determine the overall message or point. Don’t mention the small details to me. I’ll get bored to tears. Seriously, I’ve already read that passage a hundred times.

You have to be able to discern the difference between restating the passage (sentence-by-sentence) and understanding the main idea. If I ask you what the paragraph was about and you begin giving me a play-by-play breakdown, that tells me you don’t know which parts are minor details and which parts are main points.

This distinction is important because boiling a passage down to its essential element, the main point, is what many of the SAT questions focus on. If you’re so caught up in the details that you can’t figure out the main idea, then you won’t be able to answer any “so what?” type questions. So what was the effect of frogs dying in the rainforest? So what if rainforests are facing heavy pollution? Why do we care? Oh, because dying frogs are just one example of a faltering ecosystem whose collapse would mean the fall of many more ecosystems and the ultimate downfall of Planet Earth??! Hell yeah, that’s probably pretty significant!

But if all you distilled from the passage is that there are frogs and pollution, then you’re going to have a bad time answering those tricky SAT questions.

Trickier yet is the fact that occasionally, the main idea isn’t even ever directly stated in the passage. You won’t find a specific line that neatly summarizes the point of the passage. You have to piece together the main idea for yourself.

Take this passage for example:

For many, Marilyn Monroe is an unmarred legend of success. She was the girl every other girl wanted to be. She was the girl every guy wanted to be with. Certainly the quintessential Hollywood star’s existence was legendary. Today, some fifty years after her death, signs of her glamour are evident. A life-sized statue of her exists at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland. Countless pieces of artwork have been created in her image, even making their way to home décor wall hangings at mega retailers like Target and Walmart. Recently, a biopic about Marilyn was released in select theaters. Today, Marilyn is immortalized as the tantalizing and seductive singer, actress, and model. She represents the pinnacle of stardom – a celebrity not only famous in her day but even decades later. It is hard to imagine Jessica Alba, Kristen Stewart, or other stars of today being remembered even ten years later. 

Those who knew Marilyn intimately, however, understand a darker story. Self-professed Marilyn fan and outspoken Hollywood historian James Reeves has been quoted saying, “She was diagnosed with bipolar disease and had trouble conceiving a child. If [people] only knew of Marilyn the Divorcee or Marilyn the Depressed. People focus so much on the success of Marilyn the Icon that they forget behind it all, behind the fame and glory, is a woman…a real woman, insecure, scared, beaten, yet hopeful just like the rest of them. And there is beauty in that too, flaws and everything.”

It can be inferred that, for James Reeves, fully appreciating Marilyn would require:

(A)realizing the scope of Marilyn’s lasting success in comparison to the stars of today
(B)recognizing that Marilyn’s professional success was a result of her personal turmoil
(C)reconciling Marilyn’s faults with her undeserved larger-than-life iconic status today
(D)understanding the tribulations of Marilyn the person and the triumphs of Marilyn the icon
(E)empathizing with Marilyn’s inability to overcome her personal demons

For many students, the obvious answer (remember, you should try to answer in your own words before looking at answer choices) might be “understanding Marilyn as a real woman, one with insecurities like everyone else.” That’s pretty much directly stated in the passage. And here’s the thing: it IS the right choice…if it existed as a choice.

But none of the answers were quite what we were expecting, so you have to infer the PURPOSE of the Reeves quote. Ask yourself WHY the author included that quote, what FUNCTION does the inclusion of the quote serve?

The correct answer is (D). The quote points out the fact that Marilyn had a troubled personal life and that “there is beauty in that too.” But the ROLE of the quote is to show that Reeves, a self-professed fan who knew Marilyn intimately as a historian, appreciated her both for her success and for her flaws. After all, he even says, “flaws and everything.” This is in stark contrast to the rest of the passage which talks about how people love Marilyn only for her success (no mention of flaws until the Reeves quote).

Take a minute to figure out why the remaining choices are wrong too. Remember, it’s better to identify the wrong answers than try to justify a “correct” answer.


  • Restating a Passage: giving a sentence-by-sentence recap in your own words (bad)
  • Summarizing a Passage: distilling a passage down to its main points (good)
  • Main points may not be directly stated; they may be inferred
  • Ask yourself what the ROLE/PURPOSE/FUNCTION of the passage is to figure out main idea


Peter Peng is a 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

I’ve touched upon inference questions in an earlier post (remember: ask yourself WHY something was written, not just WHAT is written). But logic-based inference questions get their own special article because they are a more specialized and advanced subcategory of inference questions. These questions truly test if you know WHY something was written. They don’t just ask what can be inferred or what a particular sentence suggests; those are reserved for the normal, easier inference questions.

These logic questions ask for things such as which of the following is most analogous or best represents the issue/event/phenomenon described in the passage. They require you to fully understand both the meaning and purpose of the passage, then apply that understanding to hypothetical situations. The SAT is checking whether you can accurately judge situations not discussed in the passage based upon logic directly derived from the passage.

Let’s take a look at a question from the OSSG (Official SAT Study Guide) 2nd Edition.

EXAMPLE — Logic-Based Inference Question
OSSG 2nd Edition
pg. 592 #20

The example passage is about bats. First off, notice what the question is asking: which of the following LEAST detracts. The ETS has been kind enough to capitalize that keyword for you, yet so many simply overlook it. Be very careful around LEAST, EXCEPT, and NOT questions. The right answer is the one that answers the question correctly, not necessarily the one that matches what the passage says.

So the first thing you need to do is to straighten out the question itself, figure out what it’s truly asking for. In other words, ask yourself what would something that detracts very little from the author’s argument look like? Probably something that firmly supports the author. If none of the choices directly support the author, then look for the second best thing: the choice that doesn’t oppose the author, basically a choice that bears no relationship to the author’s argument. And if all choices oppose the author, then look for the third best thing: the choice that opposes the author to the least extent or degree.

Of course to answer the question, you first have to understand what the author’s argument is. Let’s go to the passage for that, pg. 591. Read lines 25-42 carefully.

Again, there are two levels of understanding:
1.WHAT something says (superficial first level)
2.WHY something was said (deeper second level)

WHAT is said:

  • Typically humans sleep at night.
  • Our “normal” time is daytime, when we are awake.
  • Anything that doesn’t follow our “normal” schedule is up to no good…scary…make us feel vulnerable & defenseless.
  • Bats operate outside our “normal” schedule because they are awake at night.
  • This makes bats frightening to humans.

WHY it is said:

  • To provide the logical framework we need to answer the question.
  • The logic of the author’s argument is simple:
    • “Normal” daytime hours = humans feel safe
    • Abnormal nighttime hours = humans feel threatened

So look at the answer choices and see if any support the logic above. Anything? Sadly no.

A)WRONG. If many people work at night, then by the author’s logic, these people would scare most other people. But we all know some night owl folks and probably aren’t scared of them. You may even be a night owl yourself, studying for the SAT late into the night. Are you scary? Probably not. So this definitely opposes the author’s logic that night dwellers are scary.

B)WRONG. The author says night animals are scary. Yet, the choice says owls (nocturnal animals) don’t cause fear. This is the opposite of the author’s claim/logic, so B is wrong.

C)WRONG. The author says daytime animals are nice and safe. Predators are pretty scary stuff, yet they are awake during the day? Da hell? Opposes author’s logic, so C is wrong.

D)WRONG. Bats have positive qualities?! Not according to the author’s logic that bats = nighttime = negative/threatening. So this is wrong too.

E)RIGHT. Okay, who cares if our dreams come from our personal lives? That doesn’t have anything to do with the author’s claim that day = nice/safe and night = bad/scary. Sure, this choice doesn’t support the author’s claim, but it also doesn’t detract. Since all of the other choices heavily detract, E is the best choice as the only answer that doesn’t detract.

EXAMPLE — Logic-Based Inference Question
OSSG 2nd Edition
pg. 579 #17

This example is about the decreasing involvement of women in business. The question asks which of the following would most directly support the author’s viewpoint (that women are becoming less and less involved in business).

Try it out yourself first, then check out the explanations below.

A)WRONG. Both raising status and assuming greater responsibilities have nothing to do with women becoming less involved in business. Note: “greater responsibilities” by itself doesn’t specify greater responsibilities in business. Since this choice is unrelated, it does not support the author.

B)WRONG. Writing novels has nothing to do with running businesses, so this choice doesn’t support the author’s claim.

C)WRONG. Working in factories shows MORE involvement in business, not less. Definitely does not support author; in fact, this choice directly opposes the author’s view.

D)RIGHT. If married couples aren’t running business together (jointly) anymore, then either the men or the women are becoming less involved in business. While the choice doesn’t specify if women are the ones becoming less involved, this is the only choice that presents the possibility of women retreating from business.

E)WRONG. Academic institutions have nothing to do with running businesses. This is unrelated, hence unsupportive. Not detracting, but not supportive either.


Peter Peng is a 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

This is Part 5 of a multi-part series on how to write a stellar SAT essay. Check out the other parts here: [part 1part 2part 3, part 4]

Things You’ll Learn From This Post:

  • Paragraph 3 is identical to Paragraph 2 w/ one exception (transition)
  • There needs to be transition between paragraphs
  • “Like” and “Addition” transitions
  • Transitions are still topic sentences, so relate them back to your thesis

We’re onto Paragraph 3 now. It’s exactly the same as Paragraph 2 with one exception. You still start with a topic sentence, but because this is your second example paragraph, you need to seamlessly transition between the end of Paragraph 2 and the beginning of Paragraph 3.

Something as simple as “Another situation where…” or “(Your example) is another event that (supports your thesis)” are okay. They are better than no transition at all.

But we’re not happy with “okay” around these parts. We want things to be spectacular!

There are many ways to transition, but here are a couple tried and true favorites. No need to get fancy, just enough to show you can transition. Abrupt changes are bad. Smooth is good, like Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal.

The “Like” Transition (moving between the same aspect of your thesis):
Let’s say you’re writing on the power of words to move people to great action. The first example you give is King George VI giving a powerful and rousing speech that inspired the English people to be brave and fight in World War I. The second example you give is simply another example of how someone used words to inspire action. For example, maybe the president of a club at your school gave a speech that made everyone pitch in. You are talking about the same aspect of your thesis – that words have the power to move people to action. In these situations, use the “like” transition.

e.g. “In the same way that King George VI’s speech riled a nation to arms, the president of my school’s community outreach club used passionate and deliberate words to inspire our club to fundraise over $5,000 for the homeless orphans of L.A.”

Remember, the transition is also a topic sentence. That means it needs to relate back to your thesis, so go ahead and give your thesis a nod. I did that above with “[someone] used passionate and deliberate words to inspire…[action].” Because, remember? I’m trying to argue in my essay that words are powerful and can get people to do something.

The “Addition” Transition (moving between different aspects of your thesis):
Let’s say one of your body paragraphs talks about how spending time in nature is important because it helps people observe phenomenon they would not otherwise pay attention to, which can lead to great discoveries about our universe. To support this point, you brought up the example of Isaac Newton and his observation of gravity as an apple fell and hit his head.

Let’s say your next paragraph has nothing to do with the importance of taking time to observe things in nature. Instead, you want to bring up a completely new aspect about the importance of nature, like how it gives people an opportunity for philosophical reflection and to work through life’s issues without violently punching through a wall like my roommate did in college. Weird guy. Don’t be like him. If only this guy, let’s call him Jimmy, had spent some time outdoors instead of cooped up at the library or lab studying all the time…maybe he could have prevented this explosion. He could have gotten in touch with his emotions and realized he was being irrational.

Here’s one way to transition between these two unrelated examples:

e.g. “Beyond giving people pause for observation, which has led to some of the universe’s greatest discoveries, spending time in nature also allows people to work through emotional issues, reflect, and gain perspective, which can reduce anger and adverse consequences.”

These two types of transitions (“like” and “addition” transitions) should serve 99% of you writers, so use them when appropriate.

Do not, I repeat DO NOT, spend too much time fretting over transitions. Throw something in and leave it. Even if it doesn’t sound perfect or how you want to word it, leave it. You have more important matters to tend to than worry about a transition (like deep analysis). The fact that you have a transition is enough. Remember, SAT graders are not looking for perfection in 25 minutes, only evidence that you know there should be a transition.

Peter Peng is a 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

There are two levels to understanding a sentence:

  1. What it actually says (superficial first level)
  2. What purpose/role/function it serves (deeper second level)

Remember back in elementary school when we played the most annoying game on earth…the Why Game? I do. I vividly remember how I used it to torture my friends, family, and teachers. Basically, I would ask them a question and then ask “why?” to every response they gave.

Me: Dad, where do babies come from?
Dad: Well, when a man and a woman love each other very much…they get together and have a baby.
Me: Why?
Dad: Because they love each other very much.
Me: Why?
Dad: Because, son, they enjoy spending time together.
Me: Why?
Dad: Well, because they care deeply about one another and would sacrifice everything.
Me: Why?
Dad: Because that’s what true love is.
Me: Why?
Dad: Because you’re annoying! Grrr!
Me: Why?
Dad: I don’t know. You tell me!
Me: Why?
Dad: ARGHHHHH! (A wild Hatred-mon has appeared! Quick, throw a Pokeball to capture this rare Pokemon.)

Well, it’s time to bring back the Why Game! Except this time, it’s going to annoy the correct answers right out of those revolting SAT Reading Comprehension questions. Just keep asking why, why, why, and why of them all!

As your SAT field instructor, I would be remiss not to tell you that the number one issue that snares charming young agents like yourselves is not understanding the POINT/PURPOSE/REASON the author wrote a particular sentence. In other words, you might understand what was written but not why it was written.

Good writers pick their words carefully. Words are their weapon of choice. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword…or so claimed English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839 in his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy. Okay, that total nerd moment was uncalled for, but enlightening you with such useless facts brings me great joy, so hah.

Anyways, for writers, words are everything. We eat, breathe, and s**t words. We turn ideas into words, emotions into words, events into words, words into even better words. That’s what we do. Every little word has meaning, a reason to exist in our article. And the key to unlocking what we mean is understanding WHY we wrote it. You need to understand the purpose of each sentence in order to decode our message. Reading between the lines is all about realizing that implied purpose.

People say you can’t read too deeply into an email or text because you can’t read emotion on a screen; you have to see or at least hear their voice. That’s the biggest load of beetle dung I’ve ever heard. Good writers can absolutely convey precise emotion, attitude, and intonation through words on a page alone. It’s the bad writers who fail at that task, or the weak readers who fail at catching the emotions.

The first level of understanding is LITERALLY spelled out for you, word for word. To pass the first level of understanding, simply restate in your own words exactly what the sentence said. It’s absolutely essential you know what it’s literally saying, but unfortunately, harder questions on the SAT not only ask you to understand what’s being said but also WHY.

So ask yourself this: what is the FUNCTION of that sentence or paragraph? Does it emphasize a certain point brought up earlier? Does it oppose that point? Does it provide a specific example of that point or claim? Is it simply making a claim? Is it serving as a transition between ideas? You need to be able to connect one idea to another idea.

Succeeding at understanding WHY will help you tremendously with “inference” questions. These usually begin with something like, “It can be inferred that…”

By definition, “inference” means that something is not directly stated in the passage. That would be too easy. This isn’t an open book test where you’re simply look for an answer choice that matches the facts you read. This is SAT Critical Reading, which, I know…surprise…is asking you to think critically (in other words, to infer) why something that was written.

If you think for a moment about your own writing, I bet even you use one of the most basic forms of inference. Your organization of ideas is inferred. You don’t come right out and tell us, “First, I’m going to make a claim. Next, I’ll give you an example of that claim. Here it is now.” No, you expect us to reasonably infer that you’re giving this example because it supports your previous claim. You don’t have to explicitly tell us that’s your reason.

Check out this type of inferred organization in action:

e.g. The one who selflessly helps others will achieve more in his personal life than the narcissist who looks only after himself. Even if the selfish man achieves more in the immediate time being, the selfless man will surely surpass him by generating more goodwill. Like many others, my grandfather, a poor baker during World War I, had little money for his family. But as a baker, he had access to one of the few things more important than money — food. He could have selflessly hoarded the bread for himself, which his family desperately needed, but instead, he shared it freely with his neighbors. This hurt his family in the short run, but after the war, many of the neighborhood families remembered my grandfather’s act of kindness and repaid him in ways much more valuable than a few loaves of bread.

Why did I start mentioning my grandfather? What purpose does my grandfather’s story serve? You won’t find the answer directly in the passage anywhere. That’s because it’s inferred that my grandfather is serving as an example of my claim. The claim, of course, is that the “selfless man will surely surpass [the selfish man] by generating more goodwill.”

Here are some common beneath-the-surface reasons for writing something:

  • show how the author feels about an issue
  • reiterate/emphasize something
  • contradict or criticize something
  • agree with or advocate something
  • highlight or draw attention to something
  • make a claim
  • expound on or clarify a claim
  • provide an example of a claim
  • add additional details to progress the story
  • help transition between thoughts
  • provide details about a particular event or phenomenon
  • create suspense in the story/article/passage/essay
  • ask a rhetorical question
  • inject humor
  • better create a visual image of the scene for readers
  • provide a call to action (inspire readers to take action and do something)

Sometimes, even thinking about why a sentence is worded the way it is becomes revealing. The particular wording of a single phrase or adjective might betray the latent or underlying intentions behind the author’s sentence.

Always ask yourself why!

Peter Peng is a 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

This is Part 4 of a multi-part essay series. Check out those other parts first, if you haven’t already.
[part 1, part 2, part 3]

Deep analysis avoids claim and summary as much as possible. If you make a claim, you back it up with examples and reasoning. If you give a summary, you also explain the purpose of telling us that summary.

If you make a claim, then you have to tell us why you believe that, then you have to tell us so what if it’s true (in other words, why should we care?) If you make a summary, you have to tell us the purpose or role of that summary in your overall argument.

One of the telltale signs of weak writing is the repetition of the same claim in different words. Take, for example, an essay trying to argue for placing stricter regulations on factory pollution output to save our planet.

This weak writer might say something like:

Pollution is bad. Not only does it hinder our breathing, but it also hurts the world. We will not have a place for our children at the current rate of pollution, so pollution is a serious concern. We must pass laws to ensure that factories, cars, and other pollutant-producing agents do not continue to harm our planet. If we stop pollution, then we can have a clean, safe earth to enjoy. 

Think long and hard about what that paragraph actually said. In a nutshell, it told us in no less than five ways that pollution is bad and that we need to stop it. Every sentence is a claim. Not once did this writer explain WHY he feels pollution is bad or HOW it is hurting our world.

Sure, he claims that we will not have a place for our children with such high levels of pollution, but did he explain why not? No. He expects the reader to make the connection himself that pollution leads to ecosystem death which leads to an impoverished earth with little natural resources left for our children. This writer completely omitted that crucial link, that critical middle step that connects his claim to true analysis.

He is betting on his readers already agreeing with him that pollution is damaging the world, so he is in effect, singing to the choir. But what happens if his reader is the pro-factory businessman who argues that if we stop pollution, then you can kiss your iPhones and fancy laptops goodbye? Maybe the truth is we need some pollution in order to advance our world technologically.

Here’s how I would go about fixing things:

Pollution is a serious concern to the future well-being of our planet because pollution is throwing our ecosystem out of balance. As factories pump out millions of pounds of toxic gases each year, the natural protective ozone lining in our atmosphere has eroded, which allows damaging radiation waves to infiltrate our world. While the radiation may feel subtle and slow, just looking at the last ten years will reveal a much different story. In South America, the radiation caused as a direct result of pollution has killed off thousands of acres of natural forests. Without sustainable vegetation for the herbivores to consume, the population of these animals has dwindled tremendously. As a result of these diminished numbers, the carnivores are also left scrambling for food (the herbivores). Ultimately, pollution has caused many forms of life that depend upon one another to die out.

Furthermore, pollution has adversely impacted natural processes that living organisms need to survive. Normally, plants are able to convert sun energy into energy for themselves to grow, but the increased radiation has actually stopped photosynthesis from occurring altogether in some species of plants. This leads to widespread plant death, which not only affects the plants, but also the animals that depend on them. Not only this, but the loss of such tremendous amounts of plants means there are fewer plants to filter out the toxic CO2 gases that animals breathe out. There are also fewer plants to give off life-sustaining oxygen. Clearly, pollution creates a long chain effect of damage, so we must place safeguards in place to curb such damage to our world.

Notice the difference here. I actually explain HOW pollution damages our world by describing how pollution ripped a hole in the ozone layer, which allowed radiation to enter our atmosphere, which in turn destroyed vegetation and animals. I explain that because of pollution, the entire ecosystem has lost its balance. I even describe how radiation caused by pollution stops photosynthesis from happening, but I didn’t stop there. Because so what if photosynthesis stops? I actually take it all the way home by saying that photosynthesis failure means the death of animals, loss of CO2 filters, and decrease of oxygen production. Only after all of that do I make a final summary claim, but even this final summary claim explains HOW pollution hurts us (it creates a long chain effect of damage).

Deep analysis follows a simple structure:
   Claim  How/Why?        →        So What/Who Cares?
 Summary         →          So What/Who Cares?

  • Claim: Pollution is bad.
  • How/Why (is it bad?): It created hole in ozone layer, which allowed radiation to enter and kill off plants, which killed off animals. Radiation caused by pollution also hindered photosynthesis, which stopped CO2/O2 exchange.
  • So What/Who Cares?: So if we don’t stop pollution, our world is going to crap.

Remember, the summary is where you simply describe what happened. A summary does not tell us why this detail or event is important. Therefore, you MUST tell us the reason you wanted us to know about this detail or event, this summary. You must tell us the role/purpose of your summary. In other words, the so what/who cares.

TRY IT OUT – Deep Analysis

Classify the following as 1) claim, 2) summary, or 3) analysis.

  1. Parents who shelter their children are doing a service by protecting these kids from harsh experiences that may permanently emotionally scar them.
  2. The most successful people in life are those who can identify and leverage the skills of others rather than those who learn to possess such skills themselves.
  3. Sharing knowledge and working as a team is more effective than working as an individual.
  4. The bee colony exhibits a remarkable team effort in which no individual bee survives alone; each bee is part of a hive mind.
  5. This hive mind allows individuals of the colony to share experiences, skills, and knowledge, thereby creating a stronger unit.
  6. Competition with rivals incentivizes people to work faster and harder.

Write your own analysis for the following claims on another sheet of paper:

  1. It is important to obey authority.
  2. Competition rather than collaboration is a more effective motivator and results producer.
  3. The journey to achieving a result is more important than the accomplishment itself.

Good luck, friends!

Peter Peng is a 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


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.

If you haven’t checked out part 1 on the introduction paragraph, jump on over there first.
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

You know the 5-paragraph essay format you learned way back when? Use it. Or at least use a 4-paragraph essay where you cut out one of the body paragraphs.

Of course there are other formats that can get you a nice score on this essay, but if you don’t already know them, now is not the time to learn or practice unfamiliar writing models…not with this much riding on the line. If you’re already familiar with other formats, then I’m guessing you don’t really need my help. You are probably already an excellent writer, and scoring a 10-12 should be a cakewalk for you.
For the rest of you, stick to the 5-paragraph essay structure, which let me remind you goes like this:
Paragraph 1: Thesis + Introduction
Paragraph 2: Example 1/Analysis
Paragraph 3: Example 2/Analysis
Paragraph 4 (optional): Example 3/Analysis, or alternatively, shoot down objections to your viewpoint
Paragraph 5 (optional): Conclusion
Many 4 or 5 paragraph essays following this template have received perfect 12s, including my own where I followed this exact format. Even if you are an excellent writer who knows other formats, the 5-paragraph format is a tried and true format that can get you a perfect score. Why risk other writing models that may or may not work for you?
I say paragraphs 4 and 5 (conclusion) are optional because I’ve seen so many, and I really mean MANY, essays get perfect 12s with only two examples. I’ve also seen many perfect scores with no conclusion whatsoever. You could be mid-sentence with your last sentence when time is called and still earn a 12 if your holistic impression is that good.
However, I wouldn’t make both paragraphs 4 and 5 optional. Try to write at least one of them. A third example (paragraph 4) is only optional if you can’t come up with another example or are running out of time.
Today, I want to focus on the introduction, a short but crucial little guy that not only sets the tone of your essay but also helps you organize your thoughts. A strong intro forces you to think specifically, which is a good thing.
Paragraph 1: Thesis + Introduction (2-3 sentences)
Sentence 1: make your first sentence your thesis where you pick a clear side. Your thesis must be specific.
Cut out the fluffy intros. Just cut…them…out. And don’t just say, “I believe questioning authority can be a good thing sometimes.” Notice how many weak qualifying words are in that sentence. I believe? Well duh, Sherlock. We know you believe it because you wrote it. Sometimes? Give me a break. Almost nothing in life is 100% absolutely the case all the time.
 “Questioning authority can be a good thing.” ß stronger, but we can
do better still.
“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.” ß much better.
Notice the level of specificity that single sentence contains. THAT’S what a thesis is all about, baby. That’s what a powerhouse statement does – provides an instant and powerful impact straightaway. We don’t need some lousy, generalizing introductory remarks. Just tell us what you think.
This thesis is potent because it accomplishes many things:
·  Takes a clear side. We know this author believes that questioning authority is good in certain situations. (The prompt probably asked, “Can questioning authority ever be good?”) Notice how the author did not say, “Sometimes questioning authority can be good, while other times it can be bad.” Such a statement doesn’t pick a side at all. Even if you truly can’t pick a side honestly in your heart, just pick one for the essay. You want to EXPLICTLY state your side (that means directly spell it out). Don’t imply it.
·  Addresses opposing view. He shows that he understands potential concerns of the other side (that questioning authority might be irreverent or rebellious). By not simply ignoring such objections to his own stance, this author demonstrates he has considered the big picture, not just his own side. Mature writing always takes other viewpoints into consideration. You don’t need a whole paragraph shooting down arguments from the other side – though you can in the fourth paragraph if you have time – but at least give some credence to the other side.
·  Narrows the scope of the topic. Picking a clear side isn’t about saying whether questioning authority is good or bad. It’s about defining a specific situation when questioning authority is good or bad. He believes it’s good but takes it a step further by saying it’s good “when it allows people to understand the motives and reasons behind the wishes of an authority.” This effectively narrows the scope of his essay to one about understanding motives/reasons. This scope is much more manageable for a 25-minute essay and allows much more in-depth analysis. Remember, the smaller your scope and the more you write on that smaller scope, the more detailed and strong your argument becomes.
·  Makes it clear what we can expect from this essay. Do you honestly have any doubt what this guy is going to be writing about?
·  Uses skillful diction. He doesn’t just say something is “good” but chooses a more appropriate and precise word: “beneficial.” Showcasing your command of precise language and vocabulary just makes you sound smarter, more eloquent.
·  Demonstrates an ability to compose advanced sentences. This thesis is not something simple with a single clause. It has two clauses: “Although questioning authority…blah blah” and “It allows people to…blah blah.” Dual sentence constructions are pretty potent stuff. And powerful writing will earn you that high score. Don’t forget to vary your sentence structures throughout the rest of the essay though. Mix longer dual construction sentences with short and sweet single construction sentences. Varying the lengths helps with readability and flow.
Sentence 2 (optional): expound on your thesis from the other angle.
If your thesis is about how questioning authority is beneficial in order to understand the motives/reasons behind an authority’s wish, then perhaps mention how upset people get at following blind orders. Tell us what sorts of unspeakable evils might happen if people don’t know the reason they are being forced to do something. Your thesis claimed that understanding motives makes questioning authority beneficial. Sentence 2 would explain a situation when NOT understanding motives creates a bad situation, the opposite of beneficial. So approach your viewpoint from two angles that are actually the same viewpoint. Ever heard the joke, “Heads I win, tails you lose?” Well, in both cases – heads or tails – you win the coin toss. Same thing here with sentence 2.
Sentence 3:briefly state your examples that you’ll use to support your thesis.
You should have spent a few minutes outlining your essay before you’ve even written your thesis, so you should already know what examples you’ll use. State them here. Something like this:
“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.”
Okay, I know that’s two sentences…but stop nitpicking. Sentence 3 is meant to serve the purpose of briefly stating your examples. If it takes more than exactly one sentence to accomplish, then so be it. It’s fine.
A Word on Making Stuff Up
By the way, I totally made up that battle and war, but it probably sounded real, didn’t it? It’s fine to make stuff up so long as it sounds believable. To be honest, I never really make up stuff in my essays because real examples are easier to analyze. There are more specific and concrete details to pick from.
If you’re someone who can come up with a believable fake fact, then you’re also probably someone who could write well using real examples. Why not go with the more direct route and just use real examples? Why date controversy? The risk in making stuff up is that these examples often lack concrete details.
You know how you can easily tell when someone’s lying? You ask them a bunch of simple but specific questions rapid fire and watch for his reaction. Enforcers at the popular nightclubs I frequent in Hollywood do this all the friggin’ time. “When’s your birthday?” “How tall are you?” “What’s your home address?” “This picture doesn’t look like you.” If I get flustered trying to answer these questions, I know I’m going to be taking a cab home alone that night.
The same idea applies when you make stuff up for your essay. If you can’t answer questions about specific details, if you just mingle with generalities, your example’s not gonna fly. Bottom line: make stuff up only as a last resort.
I’ll be getting into the body paragraphs and conclusion in upcoming posts! Thanks for reading, and here’s to decoding the SAT. May high scores and years of happiness rain upon you.
Peace and love,
Peter Peng is a 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

Things have been absolutely bonkers for me lately, a fact which has been deleterious to the frequency of posts on this site. Although I’ve been keeping up with the Q&A alright, long-form posts on this blog have taken a bit of a back seat. That probably bothers me more than it bothers you, but I’ve decided to run guest posts every so often to stave off any staleness around here, and to give a voice to some colleagues of mine who I deem to be legit.

Peter Peng is a fellow Brunonian and a tutor based in Los Angeles, although I understand he does the online tutoring thing, so he’s a citizen of the world. He’s been working on an SAT book of his own, of which I’ve seen only excerpts. I hunger for more. He’ll be posting around here every so often, and I’m sure he’ll be so kind as to provide you his contact information should you want to get to know him better.

You’ll be hearing from Peter relatively soon. You’ll know which posts are his because they’ll be clearly marked, and you’ll be able to read all his posts, should you desire, by clicking your way to the brand new Peter Peng label.

Ever true,