Rhetorical Devices and Persuasive Strategies to Analyze on the SAT Essay
The SAT essay task tends to intimidate students, most of whom have no idea what the graders want from them. Knowing these rhetorical devices and persuasive strategies—and being able to recognize them, quote them when they occur, and analyze their effect on the reader—will go a long way toward helping you achieve a higher SAT essay score.
What’s the SAT Essay task?
Students are given a text—an essay, article, or speech, perhaps—in which the author is making some kind of argument. Your task is to analyze how that author uses rhetorical devices and persuasive strategies to persuade the reader.
How Should You Approach the SAT Essay?
Read the text. Stay on the lookout for rhetorical devices and persuasive strategies listed below. This list is by no means exhaustive, but you’ll find it has more than enough for your purposes. Underline instances wherein the author employs these rhetorical devices and persuasive strategies and name them in the margins. After you’ve finished reading, consider which devices feature most prominently. Begin writing.
Your first paragraph should introduce the reader to the issue at hand, then name the author, the title of the piece, and paraphrase the author’s argument. Next, preview the three or so rhetorical devices you’re going to analyze.
Each body paragraph should be devoted to a different rhetorical device or persuasive strategy. After writing your topic sentence, quote examples from the text. Then—and this is critical—ANALYZE what you’ve quoted. EXPLAIN the EFFECT of the rhetorical device or persuasive strategy on the reader. Rinse and repeat. Each body paragraph ought to have at least two, but probably more, examples.
Now memorize these rhetorical devices and learn to recognize them when they appear!
Rhetorical Devices and Persuasive Stategies to Analyze on the SAT Essay
Ethos – An appeal to authority aiming to establish the credibility of a speaker or source. For example, a writer might say “As a veteranarian…” or “a Harvard University study…” or “a constitutional scholar….”
Pathos – An appeal to the reader’s emotions. They’re trying to make you FEEL something. Angry, perhaps. Guilty. Sad. Jealous. The list goes on…
Logos – An appeal to logic. When the author makes logical connections between ideas, that’s logos. IF this happens, THEN this happens. Things like that.
Anecdote – A short personal story.
Allusion – A reference to a book, movie, song, etc.
Testimony – Quoting from people who have something to say about the issue.
Statistics and Data – Using facts and figures. Often accompanied by logos.
Rhetorical Questions – Asking questions to make the reader think.
Metaphor – Saying one thing IS another thing.
Simile – Saying one thing is LIKE another thing.
Personification – Giving a nonhuman thing human qualities.
Hyperbole – Exaggeration
Understatement – Making something sound much less than it is.
Symbolism – One thing represents something else.
Imagery – Language that appeals to the senses, most often visual
Diction – Word choice. Diction can be HIGH and fancy or LOW and informal. Writers can also use specific words for their DENOTATIVE (dictionary definition) meanings or their CONNOTATIVE (associative) meanings. It’s important to consider these things if you choose to analyze word choice.
Slang – A type of informal diction, often regional.
Jargon – Specialized language.
Alliteration – Several words that share the same first letter.
Assonance – Repeated vowel sounds.
Syntax – Sentence structure.
Repetition – Mentioning a word or phrase several times. ANAPHORA refers to lines beginning with the same word or phrase.
Parallelism – Writing constructed in a similar, symmetrical manner.
Juxtaposition – Holding two things up to compare or contrast them.
Antithesis – Mentioning one thing and its opposite.
Analogy – A comparison between two things, typically to explain function. Usually one thing is more complicated and the other is simple and common.
Inclusive Language – Words that make the reader feel part of a group. “We” is an obvious one.
Tone – The way the author’s voice sounds. Is he silly? Sarcastic? Desperate? Etc.
Humor – Jokes and funny language.
Irony – Situational irony: the opposite thing happens from what is expected. Dramatic irony: The reader knows more than the speaker or those being spoken about. Verbal irony: Saying one thing and meaning the opposite.
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That’s it! Go forth and conquer the SAT essay now that you know these rhetorical devices and persuasive strategies.
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A rhetorical device uses words in a certain way to convey meaning or to persuade. It can also be a technique to evoke an emotion on the part of the reader or audience.
Rhetorical Devices in Writing
Here are examples of rhetorical devices with a definition and an example:
- Alliteration - the recurrence of initial consonant sounds - rubber baby buggy bumpers
- Allusion - a reference to an event, literary work or person - I can’t do that because I am not Superman.
- Amplification - repeats a word or expression for emphasis - Love, real love, takes time.
- Analogy - compares two different things that have some similar characteristics - He is flaky as a snowstorm.
- Anaphora - repeats a word or phrase in successive phrases - "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” (Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare)
- Antanagoge - places a criticism and compliment together to lessen the impact - The car is not pretty but it runs great.
- Antimetabole - repeats words or phrases in reverse order - “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” (J F Kennedy)
- Antiphrasis - uses a word with an opposite meaning - The Chihuahua was named Goliath.
- Antithesis - makes a connection between two things - “That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” (Neil Armstrong)
- Appositive - places a noun or phrase next to another noun for descriptive purposes - Mary, queen of the land, hosted the ball.
- Enumeratio - makes a point with details - Renovation included a spa, tennis court, pool and lounge.
- Epanalepsis - repeats something from the beginning of a sentence at the end - My ears heard what you said but I couldn’t believe my ears.
- Epithet - using an adjective or adjective phrase to describe - mesmerizing eyes
- Epizeuxis - repeats one word for emphasis - The amusement park was fun, fun, fun.
- Hyperbole - an exaggeration - I have done this a thousand times.
- Litotes - makes an understatement by denying the opposite of a word that may have been used - The terms of the contract are not disagreeable to me.
- Metanoia - corrects or qualifies a statement - You are the most beautiful woman in this town, nay the entire world.
- Metaphor - compares two things by stating one is the other - The eyes are the windows of the soul.
- Metonymy - a metaphor where something being compared is referred to by something closely associated with it - The knights are loyal to the crown.
- Onomatopoeia - words that imitate the sound they describe - plunk, whiz, pop
- Oxymoron - a two word paradox - near miss, seriously funny
- Parallelism - uses words or phrases with a similar structure - I went to the store, parked the car and bought a pizza.
- Simile - compares one object to another - He smokes like a chimney.
- Understatement - makes an idea less important that it really is - The hurricane disrupted traffic.
Now you see how these different examples of rhetorical devices work. You can use rhetorical devices in your own writing to create more interesting or persuasive content.