Everyone agrees that the opening paragraph of your SAT essay is extremely important. It states your thesis and tells the two readers what examples you will use to support your thesis. However, opinions vary on how to format the opening paragraph. The following two opening paragraphs were written by two students for the March 2013 topic: “Is it a disadvantage to pay attention to details?”
Details are all around us. Whether big or small they are still everywhere. Observing these details will be a great advantage to the onlooker. They are aware of their environment and it will play to their advantage. Two prime examples that exemplify the idea that paying attention to details will play to one’s advantage are the D-Day invasion during World War II and the containment policy that was observed by the United States during the Cold War. Without paying attention to the details both of these historical events could have ended much differently.
It is not a disadvantage to pay attention to details. Freedom fighter William Lloyd Garrison and French writer Emile Zola were attentive to details in order to fight injustice. Both were men of passion and purpose who used details to achieve their goals.
Which opening paragraph do you feel is the most successful? Note that Example 1 is twice as long as Example 2. It opens with a “philosophical” or general statement and then builds to the author’s thesis and examples. In contrast, Example 2 is very short. It directly answers the question and then states the author’s two examples.
Essay 1 is the opening paragraph of a real essay that received an 8 while Essay 2 is part of a real essay that received a 12. I did not teach the author of Essay 1 but did teach the author of Essay 2. Many students are taught to begin their SAT essays with a general and if possible philosophical sentence or two. While this strategy can be effective it has two key disadvantages. First, it is often time-consuming to thing of a general statement and then link it to your thesis. Second, the extra sentences take up valuable space. Over the past few years I have trained my students to write very succinct opening paragraphs that begin by directly answering the question and then proceed to name the examples they will be used to support their thesis statement. These short opening paragraphs are easy to write and take up minimal space. They are also part of an overall strategy that has led to a remarkable series of Level 12 and 11 essays.

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