First, the SAT Essay is not mandatory, but certain schools do require it. Find out whether the schools you are applying to need you to take it. The essay definitely can help boost your application a little bit, but it lengthens the exam and costs a bit more. If you are unsure where you are applying, it is best to take the essay, just to make sure you have your bases covered. If you do not, and find out later you need to, you will have to take the entireSAT again, as there is no option of just taking the essay.
The format of the essay is the same across all exams. You will be given a lengthy passage, and asked how the author uses stylistic elements to make his/her argument more persuasive. This similarity lends itself to common patterns across different prompts. Thus, the essay, like all other sections, can be improved easily with practice.
There are several types of examples that will work on almost every prompt. The below 4 are the most common:
Statistics. These are unbiased facts that allow any reader to come to his/her own conclusion. They are persuasive because they allow the audience to think for themselves rather than rely only on the writer.
Counterexample. The writer may bring up counterexamples in order to show a balanced perspective. This appeals to the readers’ ethos, which makes the author appear more credible.
Anecdote. More often than not, the author will invoke a personal anecdote in order to strike sympathy with the readers. This appeals to the readers’ pathos, which makes them more inclined to side with the author.
Imagery. A stylistic technique, this helps engage the reader and make him/her more willing to listen to what the author has to say.
By mentioning the salient points and connecting them with the passage you are given, you will be able to write a convincing essay. Try to shoot for 3 (if not, 2) body paragraphs in addition to an introduction and conclusion. If you run out of time, try to wrap up your essay in the last body paragraph.
Make sure to include a clear thesis, and plan for several minutes before you begin. Like all sections, practice extensively before you take the exam to see what methods work best for you.
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