The Sat Essay Examples

There's a persistent myth about the SAT Essay: the idea that you can't prepare content because you don't see the prompt until the day of the test. This is a myth because, in order to be standardized, the test has to require the same complexity of argument in every SAT essay question: yes or no, this or that, what causes what.

And since all these arguments are very simple, almost every SAT essay argument can be boiled down to one of the 6 we list here. In addition to that, though, we also explain how to argue each one, and give you sample support for both sides of every argument. Read on for the inside scoop on this important aspect of the SAT.

 

Overview

SAT Essay prompts are unlike any other writing assignment. The questions are extremely general, asking things like "is the world changing for the better," but they only ever require a very simplistic thesis statement about a complex idea. There are, for example, many ways in which the world is and is not changing for the better. The most "accurate" answer would have to be "yes AND no," but that's the opposite of what you should say on the SAT.

Because on the SAT Essay, simplicity and clarity is the name of the game. You are expected to make a broad, definitive statement about what people 'should' do or whether something is possible. You don't have to believe it, you just have to present a few examples (between one and three) that can show why your statement is correct. In this way, the SAT Essay is easier than most students think.

All of the essay questions in this article are taken from real SATs or College Board prep materials. We've categorized them not by their content--for example, "success" or "personality"--but rather by their reasoning. This is because the logic of the question, not its content, is what determines the best argument on which to build your essay.

For each type of SAT essay question below, we give you 3 sample prompts similar to what you'll run into, and a breakdown of how to argue either side of any SAT essay question of that type. You'll get detailed SAT essay examples that guide you through how to construct an argument.

 

SAT Essay Prompt Type 1: Discuss what people should do

This type of SAT essay question lends itself to many different kinds of examples. Anything that involves people and their choices is fair game. See the diagram below for more information on how this works.

Should people….

  • be valued according to their capabilities rather than their achievements?
  • weight all opinions equally, or place more weight on informed opinions?
  • always value new things, ideas, or values over older ones?

Step 1: Pick a side. "Yes, people should always value new things, ideas, or values over older ones," or "no, people should not always value new things, ideas, or values over older ones."

Step 2: Consider what would logically support your statement (see green boxes for a breakdown of the types of support you should use). For example, if you argue "Yes, people should value new things" as your thesis, you can give evidence of a time when people valued new things and it turned out well, or of a time when people didn't value innovation and it turned out poorly.

Step 3: Quickly think of 1-3 real-world or literary examples that fit the criteria in Step 2 (see blue boxes for ideas). To support the Yes thesis with evidence of when people valued new things with success, we could talk about Civil Rights in the United States, the Industrial Revolution, FDR's new deal, or any other example dealign with positive innovation. We could also discuss evidence where refusal to accept new things turned out poorly, like fear of vaccinations and Galileo being excommunicated for his (true) scientific beliefs.

 

SAT Essay Prompt Type 2: Discuss which of two things is better

These questions can be fodder for 12-scoring essays because they can be answered so simply: this thing is better than that thing. Then you just have to think of 1-3 examples in which that thing worked and/or in which the other thing didn't work. See the diagram below for more information on how this can be done.

Is it better...

  • to take an idealistic approach or a practical approach?
  • to do fulfilling or high-paying work?
  • to use cooperation or competition to achieve success?

Step 1: Pick a side. "It is better to use cooperation to achieve success," or "it is better to use competition to achieve success."

Step 2: Consider what would logically support your statement (see green boxes for a breakdown of the types of support you should use). Similar to Prompt Type 1 above, in this case you can use evidence that supports your thesis, or argues against the opposite thesis. For example, if you write that "Cooperation is better to achieve success," you can use evidence on a time when cooperation led to success, or when competition led to failure.

Step 3: Quickly think of 1-3 real-life or literary examples that fit the criteria in Step 2 (blue boxes). Following our "cooperation is better" thesis, we can talk about when people cooperated to great success - like the Civil Rights movement, or Abraham Lincoln's cabinet during the Civil War. We could also discuss how competition is inferior through examples like the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008, or the North Korea vs South Korea standoff.

 

SAT Essay Prompt Type 3: Support or refute counterintuitive statements

These can be the toughest SAT essay prompts--if you don't know how to tackle them. The easiest way to really knock this essay type out of the park is to say yes, it is possible, and then think of an example. The other side--no, it isn't possible--is harder to logically prove, but it can be done. See the diagram below for more information on how this works.

Is it possible for….

  • deception to have good results?
  • working to reach an objective to be valuable even if the objective is not reached?
  • any obstacle to be turned into something beneficial?

Step 1: Pick a side. "Yes, it is possible for any obstacle to be turned into something beneficial," or "no, it is not possible for any obstacle to be turned into something beneficial."

Step 2: Consider what would logically support your statement (see green boxes for a breakdown of the types of support you should use). Unlike the two prompt types above, this one is more simplistic - just find evidence that can support your thesis in a straightforward way. If you write "No, it's not possible for any obstacle to be turned into something beneficial," you just need to find evidence for when obstacles exist but don't lead to anything helpful.

Step 3: Quickly think of 1-3 real-life or literary examples that fit the criteria in Step 2 (see blue boxes). To support the No thesis, we could use the example of how gender discrimination against women and income inequality has caused far more harm than the good it has caused.

SAT Essay Prompt Type 4: Cause and effect

These can be logically complicated, depending on which side you choose. If you say x is the result of y, then you just have to think of 1-3 examples that illustrate it. If you choose the other side, though, then you have a harder logical task in front of you--your examples have to fit a much narrower definition to make sense. See the diagram below for more information on how this works.

Is __ the result of __?

  • Is a successful community the result of individuals sacrificing their personal goals?
  • Is accomplishment the result of freedom to do things one's own way?
  • Is learning the result of experiencing difficulties?

Step 1: Pick a side. "Yes, learning is the result of experiencing difficulties," or "no, learning is not the result of experiencing difficulties."

Step 2: Consider what would logically support your statement (see green boxes for a breakdown of the types of support you should use). For example, if our thesis is "Yes, learning is the result of experiencing difficulties," we can either argue with evidence of a time when learning IS the result of difficulty, or when a lack of difficulty led to an absence of learning. Both types of evidence support your thesis.

Step 3: Quickly think of 1-3 real-life or literary examples that fit the criteria in Step 2 (see blue boxes). For our Yes thesis, we could talk about how the difficulty of unmanageable healthcare costs in the USA led to learning and the Affordable Care Act. We could also use the other type of evidence and talk about how Jay Gatsby's lack of difficulty in having immense wealth led to poor learning about what really makes him happy.

 

SAT Essay Prompt Type 5: Generalize about the state of the world

These kinds of SAT essay prompts are so open-ended that they lend themselves to all kinds of examples and interpretations. But for this same reason, they can be overwhelming and confusing. See the diagram below for more information on how this works.

What is the modern world like?

  • Is the world more in need of creativity now more than ever?
  • Is the world actually harder to understand due to the abundance of information now available?
  • Is the world changing in a positive way?

Step 1: Pick a side. "Yes, the world is changing in a positive way," or "no, the world is not changing in a positive way."

Step 2: Consider what would logically support your statement (see green boxes for a breakdown of the types of support you should use). Let's consider the Yes thesis. We can use evidence that problems in the past that are being solved today, or innovations today that didn't previously exist. 

Step 3: Quickly think of 1-3 real-life or literary examples that fit the criteria in Step 2 (see blue boxes). To support our Yes thesis, we can find examples of problems that are better now - women's rights, slavery, and reduced violence. We can also discuss recent innovations that dramatically improve quality of life, like the Internet and widespread access to education.

 

SAT Essay Prompt Type 6: Generalize about people

Much like the "state of the world" questions, these can be supported by almost anything, but can also get away from you if you're not careful. See the diagram below for some ideas of how to manage these prompts.

What are people like?

  • Do people underestimate the value of community due to our culture of individualism?
  • Are people defined by their occupations?
  • Do people learn from the past?

Step 1: Pick a side. "Yes, people learn from the past," or "no, people do not learn from the past."

Step 2: Consider what would logically support your statement (see green boxes for a breakdown of the types of support you should use). Let's consider the No thesis that people don't learn from the past - we would have to find an example of when someone repeated a mistake that they could have avoided from history. 

Step 3: Quickly think of 1-3 real-life or literary examples that fit the criteria in Step 2 (see blue boxes). A great example to use for our No thesis is comparing Hitler and Germany to Napoleon. In 1812, Napoleon fought a war on multiple fronts, fighting the Spanish army and the Russian Empire simultaneously. This led to a drastic dilution of focus and led to his defeat. A century later in World War 2, Hitler fought on two fronts as well, facing the Allies in Europe and Russia at the same time. He too was defeated through this mistake.

 

What do I do now?

Now that you know the basic types of SAT essay prompts and the types of arguments they require, what can you do with this information? 

A few different things: one is to practice with these questions, thinking of one or two examples to support at least one answer to each question. We've written a guide to 6 SAT essay examples you can use to answer nearly every prompt.

We show you how to construct an SAT essay, step by step. If you want to get a perfect SAT essay score, read this.

Another is to take a look at our comprehensive SAT essay prompts article, which gives you lots more questions to think about answering and supporting with the arguments above.

Finally, make sure you read our 15 SAT essay tips to know how to get an edge on the essay.

 

Want to get serious about improving your SAT score? We have the leading online SAT prep program that will raise your score by 240+ points, guaranteed.

Exclusive to our program, we have an expert SAT instructor grade each of your SAT essays and give you customized feedback on how to improve your score. This can mean an instant jump of 80 points on the Writing section alone.

Check out our 5-day free trial and sign up for free:

Paul Bogard, a respected and passionate writer, offers a convincing argument on the importance of allowing more darkness to fill the earth for distinct health and ecological reasons. With light providing as such a huge factor in daily life, we sometimes forget that darkness can have more healing abilities, and allows nature to return to a nonartificial, primitive state. Bogard uses personal observation for credibility, stirring feelings, and startling facts to deliver a powerful argument.

Throughout the passage, Bogard remains nostalgic about his childhood: “At my family’s cabin on a Minnesota lake, I knew woods so dark that my hands disappeared before my eyes. I knew night skies in which meteors left smoky trails across sugary spreads of stars....This winter solstice, as we cheer the days’ gradual movement back toward light, let us also remember the irreplaceable value of darkness.” The description of nature and the stunningly beautiful imagery creates a feeling of deep respect for the darkness. We share in Bogard’s view and as a result, Bogard has undeniable credibility. Bogard knows the power of darkness and through his childhood memories, we lean our ears to listen to him.

Even though credibility makes many appearences throughout the passage, it would have no real meaning without evoking emotion. Bogard strikes the people who disagree with him when he says, “Our bodies need darkness to produce the hormone melatonin, which keeps certain cancers from developing and our bodies need darkness for sleep. Sleep disorders have been linked to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression, and recent research suggests one main cause of ‘short sleep’ is ‘long light’.” Bogard’s statement dissolves any doubt, but builds up new feeling. We finally see the true importance of allowing our world to temporarily succumb to darkness. Through the emotion Bogard evokes, we suddenly feel defensive in preserving the darkness for the sake of our mental and physical health. Bogard even makes us think about the future generations: “In a world awash with electric light...how would Van Gogh have given the world his ‘starry night’? Who knows what this vision of the night sky must inspire in each of us, in our children or grandchildren?”

In order to achieve proper credibility and stir emotion, undeniable facts must reside in passage. Bogard has completed his research, and uses it to further his case: “The rest of the world depends on darkness as well, including nocturnal and crepuscular species of birds, insects, mammals, fish, and reptiles. Some examples are well known—the 400 species of birds that migrate at night in North America, the sea turtles that come to lay their eggs—and some are not, such as the bats that save American farmers billions in pest control and the moths that pollinate 80% of the world’s flora.” Using the facts about animals, Bogard extends the argument beyond humans, allowing us to see that darkness does not only have an impact on us, but all of nature. Bogard then says, “In the United States and Western Europe, the amount of light in the sky increases an average of about 6% every year.... Much of this light is wasted energy, which means wasted dollars. Those of us over 35 are perhaps among the last generation to have known truly dark nights.” However, Bogard extends the facts to offer various solutions to wasted and excessive light, such as changing LED streetlights and reducing the use of lights in public buildings and homes during the night. Bogard builds up our world, and then breaks it down in our minds with his writing: “Simply put, without darkness, Earth’s ecology would collapse....”

We can still save our world according to Bogard. We must see the strength and beauty in the darkness, and remember how our world survived without lights. Light can be acceptable, but too much of it can prove worse than permanent darkness.

This response scored a 4/3/4.

Reading—4: This response demonstrates thorough comprehension of Bogard’s text. The writer captures the central idea of the source passage (the importance of allowing more darkness to fill the earth for distinct health and ecological reasons) and accurately quotes and paraphrases many important details from the passage. Moreover, the writer demonstrates an understanding of how these ideas and details interrelate. In the third body paragraph, for example, the writer shows the movement of Bogard’s argument from humans to animals and from problems to solutions (Using facts about animals, Bogard extends the argument beyond humans...Bogard extends the facts to offer various solutions). The response is free of errors of fact and interpretation. Overall, this response demonstrates advanced reading comprehension.

Analysis—3: The writer demonstrates an understanding of the analytical task by analyzing three ways Bogard builds his argument (personal observation for credibility, stirring feelings, and startling facts to deliver a powerful argument). Throughout the response, the writer discusses Bogard’s use of these three elements and is able to move past asserting their significance to deliver an effective analysis of the effects of these techniques on Bogard’s audience. Effective analysis is evident in the first body paragraph in which the writer discusses the audience’s possible reaction to reading about Bogard’s experience with darkness as a child (Bogard knows the power of darkness and through his childhood memories, we lean our ears to listen to him). In the second body paragraph, the writer contends that Bogard’s statement dissolves any doubt, but builds up new feeling. We finally see the true importance of allowing our world to temporarily succumb to darkness. Through the emotion Bogard evokes, we suddenly feel defensive in preserving the darkness for the sake of our mental and physical health. These points of analysis would have been stronger had the writer elaborated on how they work to build Bogard’s argument. However, the writer competently evaluates Bogard’s use of personal observation, emotions, and facts and provides relevant and sufficient support for each claim, demonstrating effective analysis.

Writing—4: The writer demonstrates highly effective use and command of language in this cohesive response. The response includes a precise central claim (Bogard uses personal observation for credibility, stirring feelings, and startling facts to deliver a powerful argument), and each of the subsequent paragraphs remains focused on one of the topics set forth in that central claim. There is a deliberate progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the response. Moreover, the response demonstrates precise word choice and sophisticated turns of phrase (temporarily succumb to darkness, remains nostalgic about his childhood, dissolves any doubt). The concluding paragraph develops the essay rather than just restating what has been said and is also successful for its precise word choice and complex sentence structures (We must see the strength and beauty in the darkness, and remember how our world survived without lights. Light can be acceptable, but too much of it can prove worse than permanent darkness). Although there are occasional missteps where the writer overreaches with language (In order to achieve proper credibility and stir emotion, undeniable facts must reside in the passage), overall, this response demonstrates advanced writing skill. 

0 comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *