SAT - The Five-Paragraph Essay

Video Lesson on SAT - The Five-Paragraph Essay

Working with an established essay structure provides writers with the necessary elements of a successful essay. In this lesson, we'll work through the drafting process for the five-paragraph essay and make note of important dos and don'ts.

Using the Five-Paragraph Essay Structure on the SAT

The 5-paragraph essay is really a tested and true format that allows writers to adequately argue their thesis as well as provide readers a full circle experience by including an introduction and a conclusion. Some may say so, but this writing format really is the perfect example of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'

SAT Essay Components

Meet my friend Connie. Connie recently started a new semester at Five Rivers Academy. On the first day of class, and without much instruction, her new teacher assigns an essay on the most influential pop star of the last decade. While other students in her class panic, the calm and confident Connie knows exactly what to do. Not only does she love any chance to sing the praises of her idol, the desire of her affection, the reason she gets up in the morning - Just'n Beeber - she also remembers that constructing an essay around the always-important 'five' provides the perfect balance of information. All she needs is one introduction paragraph to grab readers' attention and present her argument in a thesis; three body paragraphs to argue each point identified in her thesis; and one conclusion paragraphto reiterate the importance of her ideas and leave the reader with a sense of closure. You can find additional information on the specifics of each type of essay paragraph in other videos for this course.

Thesis Statement


Connie knows that the most important element of the introductory paragraph, perhaps even the whole paper, is the thesis statement. The thesis will identify the argument she'll make through her research and provide readers with a preview of the essay's main points. Without a properly formatted thesis statement, Connie's essay is doomed to failure. Since Connie has three body paragraphs to make her argument, she'll need to make sure she has - that's right - three main points or one for each paragraph.

Let's look at her thesis: 'Due to his supportive family, influential mentors and firm desire to succeed, Just'n Beeber is undoubtedly the most influential artist of the last decade.'

This one sentence provides readers with a wealth of information. What is Connie arguing? She'll use her research to make the case that Just'n Beeber is the most influential artist of the last decade. Readers will most likely know that Just'n Beeber is successful, but an opponent could easily take issue with identifying 'the Beebs' as the most influential artist of the past ten years. We know her thesis is arguable and not simply setting up a report on the artist.

Body Paragraph Content

How is she going to prove her argument? Here is where the body paragraphs come into play. Connie will identify quality information to support each of her claims identified in the thesis. In the order she laid out, Connie will devote one paragraph to the support Just'n receives from his family, one paragraph to the influence his mentors have in the industry and one paragraph on the importance of his desire to succeed.

When considering the evidence to incorporate in her argument, it's important for Connie to stick with a variety of quality, up-to-date information from reliable sources. Databases, validated educational websites and official music industry publications are all examples of reliable sources. Simply trolling the 'I Love Beeber' chat room for unconfirmed rumors posted by her BFF, Jane, doesn't give Connie's argument much authority and leads to an unreliable essay full of holes.

Maintaining Focus

It's also important that as Connie drafts each of her body paragraphs, she stays focused on the topic of each particular paragraph and does not confuse her readers with unrelated information. For example, a personal opinion on how much Connie loves Just'n or his rumored break-up with Celina Gomez has nothing to do with the importance of his influential mentors and has no business winding up in that body paragraph. In fact, as a general rule of thumb, personal statements on the subject of her essay like 'I think' or 'I feel' really have no place in a formal essay anyway. Connie needs to be sure each paragraph previews the specific argument in a topic sentence, and remains focused on the argument throughout. While crafting each sentence of her essay, Connie should ask herself if the information she is about to provide helps prove the argument of the paragraph, and if it ultimately serves to support her thesis as a whole.


As she completes one body paragraph and moves to the next, Connie also must keep in mind that readers want a transition from one idea to the next. While it is true that each paragraph should remain focused on a single idea, the paragraph is also one part of a whole argument. As a writer, Connie needs to ease her audience through the ideas she presents. She can do this by alerting readers to a change of ideas and previewing the ideas to come.

Conclusion Paragraph

After completing the body of her essay, Connie is ready to draft a conclusion. Conclusions, like introductions, are super important to the overall success of an essay. Just as the thesis lays the groundwork for the entire direction and argument of an essay, the conclusion provides the readers with their last impression of the writer and the strength of his or her argument. Unfortunately, the introduction and conclusion paragraphs are the most often overlooked and are therefore the difference between an average argument and a well-planned and well-written argument. But no worries; Connie is calm and confident and still knows what to do.

As she writes, Connie keeps in mind the most important elements of an effective conclusion.

  1. She remembers this paragraph is the last impression readers will have of her and thinks through it carefully without just ending the essay abruptly.
  2. Connie knows that the conclusion is not just about restating the thesis statement but reiterating the importance of her argument in light of the information she has just presented.
  3. She is careful to never introduce any new information not already addressed in the body of her essay. New information requires more analysis, which is not possible since she's completed her argument.
  4. Finally, while she knows her conclusion can't simply end, she also knows that it can't go on forever. Connie sticks with a conclusion around five sentences as a general rule of thumb for an essay this length. Again, remember five!

Having put in the necessary work, and double-checked her final essay for errors; Connie is ready to submit her 5-star essay. She remembered that one introduction paragraph plus three body paragraphs plus one conclusion paragraph equals five paragraphs and, ultimately, success. As her peers continue to struggle with the assignment, Connie is confident that she made a logical and convincing argument. Her teacher is so impressed, in fact, that he gives Connie tickets to the Just'n Beeber concert: section five, row five, seat five, on 5/5 at 5:00 p.m. in the Five Rivers Stadium. Now, I think Connie really appreciates the importance of the number five!

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