Sat Exam Essay Examples

The SAT Essay has changed drastically from what it looked like from March 2005-January 2016. On the plus side, you’ll now be asked to do the same task every time: read an argument meant to persuade a broad audience and discuss how well the author argues his or her point. On the minus side, you have to do reading and analysis in addition to writing a coherent and organized essay.

In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the 11 real SAT essay prompts that the CollegeBoard has released (either in The Official SAT Study Guide or separately online) for the new SAT. This is the most comprehensive set of new SAT essay prompts online today.

At the end of this article, we'll also guide you through how to get the most out of these prompts and link to our expert resources on acing the SAT essay. I’ll discuss how the SAT essay prompts are valuable not just because they give you a chance to write a practice essay, but because of what they reveal about the essay task itself.

 

Overview

SAT essay prompts have always kept to the same basic format. With the new essay, however, not only is the prompt format consistent from test to test, but what you’re actually asked to do (discuss how an author builds an argument) also remains the same across different test administrations.

The College Board’s predictability with SAT essay helps students focus on preparing for the actual analytical task, rather than having to think up stuff on their feet. Every time, before the passage, you’ll see the following:

As you read the passage below, consider how [the author] uses
  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.

And after the passage, you’ll see this:

“Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [her/his] audience that [whatever the author is trying to argue for]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.

Your essay should not explain whether you agree with [the author]’s claims, but rather explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [her/his] audience.”

Now that you know the format, let’s look at the SAT essay prompts list.

 

11 Official SAT Essay Prompts

The College Board has released a limited number of prompts to help students prep for the essay. We've gathered them for you here, all in one place. We’ll be sure to update this article as more prompts are released for practice and/or as more tests are released.

SPOILER ALERT: Since these are the only essay prompts that have been released so far, you may want to be cautious about spoiling them for yourself, particularly if you are planning on taking practice tests under real conditions. This is why I’ve organized the prompts by the ones that are in the practice tests (so you can avoid them if need be), the one that is available online as a "sample prompt," and the ones that are in the Official SAT Study Guide (Redesigned SAT), all online for free.

 

Practice Test Prompts

These eight prompts are taken from the practice tests that the College Board has released.

Practice Test 1:

"Write an essay in which you explain how Jimmy Carter builds an argument to persuade his audience that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should not be developed for industry."

 

Practice Test 2:

"Write an essay in which you explain how Martin Luther King Jr. builds an argument to persuade his audience that American involvement in the Vietnam War is unjust."

 

Practice Test 3:

"Write an essay in which you explain how Eliana Dockterman builds an argument to persuade her audience that there are benefits to early exposure to technology."

 

Practice Test 4:

"Write an essay in which you explain how Paul Bogard builds an argument to persuade his audience that natural darkness should be preserved."

 

Practice Test 5:

"Write an essay in which you explain how Eric Klinenberg builds an argument to persuade his audience that Americans need to greatly reduce their reliance on air-conditioning."

 

Practice Test 6:

"Write an essay in which you explain how Christopher Hitchens builds an argument to persuade his audience that the original Parthenon sculptures should be returned to Greece."

 

Practice Test 7:

"Write an essay in which you explain how Zadie Smith builds an argument to persuade her audience that public libraries are important and should remain open"

 

Practice Test 8:

"Write an essay in which you explain how Bobby Braun builds an argument to persuade his audience that the US government must continue to invest in NASA."

 

Special note: The prompt for Practice Test 4 is replicated as the first sample essay on the College Board’s site for the new SAT. If you’ve written a sample essay for practice test 4 and want to see what essays of different score levels look like for that particular prompt, you can go here and look at eight real student essays.

 

within darkness by jason jenkins, used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Resized from original.

 

Free Online Practice

This prompt comes from the CollegeBoard website for the new SAT.

“Write an essay in which you explain how Dana Gioia builds an argument to persuade his audience that the decline of reading in America will have a negative effect on society.”

 

The Official SAT Study Guide (for March 2016 and beyond)

The Official SAT Study Guide (editions published in 2015 and later, available online for free) contains all eight of the previously mentioned practice tests at the end of the book. In the section about the new SAT essay, however, there are two additional sample essay prompts.

 

Sample Prompt 1:

“Write an essay in which you explain how Peter S. Goodman builds an argument to persuade his audience that news organizations should increase the amount of professional foreign news coverage provided to people in the United States.”

The College Board modified this article for the essay prompt passage in the book. The original passage (1528 words, vs the 733 it is on the SAT) to which this prompt refers can also be found online (for free) here.

 

Sample Prompt 2:

“Write an essay in which you explain how Adam B. Summers builds an argument to persuade his audience that plastic shopping bags should not be banned.”

There are still a couple of minor differences between the article as it appears in The Official SAT Study Guide as an essay prompt compared to its original form, but it’s far less changed than the previous prompt. The original passage to which this prompt refers (764 words, vs the 743 in The Official SAT Study Guide) can also be found online (for free) here.

 

hey thanks by Jonathan Youngblood, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped and resized from original.

 

How Do You Get the Most Out of These Prompts?

Now that you have all the prompts released by the College Board, it’s important to know the best way to use them. Make sure you have a good balance between quality and quantity, and don’t burn through all 11 of the real prompts in a row – take the time to learn from your experiences writing the practice essays.

 

Step By Step Guide on How to Practice Using the Article

1. Understandhow the SAT essay is graded.

2. Watch as we write a high-scoring SAT essay, step by step.

3. Pre-plan a set of features you’ll look for in the SAT essay readings and practice writing about them fluidly. This doesn't just mean identifying a technique, like asking a rhetorical question, but explaining why it is persuasive and what effect it has on the reader in the context of a particular topic. We have more information on this step in our article about 6 SAT persuasive devices you can use.

4. Choose a prompt at random from above, or choose a topic that you think is going to be hard for you to detach from (because you’ll want to write about the topic, rather than the argument) set timer to 50 minutes and write the essay. No extra time allowed!

5. Grade the essay, using the essay rubric to give yourself a score out of 8 in the reading, analysis, and writing sections (article coming soon!).

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5. Choose the prompts you think will be the hardest for you so that you can so that you’re prepared for the worst when the test day comes

7. If you run out of official prompts to practice with, use the official prompts as models to find examples of other articles you could write about. How? Start by looking for op-ed articles in online news publications like The New York Times, The Atlantic, LA Times, and so on. For instance, the passage about the plastic bag ban in California (sample essay prompt 2, above) has a counterpoint here - you could try analyzing and writing about that article as well.

Any additional articles you use for practice on the SAT essay must match the following criteria:

  • ideally 650-750 words, although it’ll be difficult to find an op-ed piece that’s naturally that short. Try to aim for nothing longer than 2000 words, though, or the scope of the article is likely to be too wide for what you’ll encounter on the SAT.
  • always argumentative/persuasive. The author (or authors) is trying to get readers to agree with a claim or idea being put forward.
  • always intended for a wide audience. All the information you need to deconstruct the persuasiveness of the argument is in the passage. This means that articles with a lot of technical jargon that's not explained in the article are not realistic passage to practice with.

 

What’s Next?

We’ve written a ton of helpful resources on the SAT essay. Make sure you check them out!

15 SAT Essay Tips.

How to Write an SAT Essay, Step by Step.

How to Get a 12 on the SAT Essay.

SAT Essay Rubric, Analyzed and Explained.

--

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Our program is entirely online, and it customizes your prep program to your strengths and weaknesses. We also have expert instructors who can grade every one of your practice SAT essays, giving feedback on how to improve your score.

Check out our 5-day free trial:

 

Just as with most essays, the major secret to excelling on the SAT essay is to pre-plan the examples and evidence you want to use.

"But wait!" I hear you cry. "Can you do that on the new SAT essay? Isn’t the point of the essay that you’re supposed to be using information from the passage in your answer, which you don’t know about ahead of time?"

The answer: Yes and no. While the specifics of each example will obviously change, depending on the passage, the types of examples you choose to discuss (and the way you explain each example builds the author’s argument) can be defined, and thus prepared for, ahead of time.

In this article, we give you 6 good SAT essay examples you’ll be able to find in nearly every prompt the SAT throws at you. By assembling a collection of these reliable types of evidence that can be used to answer most prompts, you'll cut down on planning time and significantly increase the amount you can write, making you able to walk into every SAT essay confident in your abilities.

feature image credit: 1 to 9 mosaic, cropped/Used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

 

Before You Continue

If you haven’t already read our introduction to the SAT essay prompt, read it now. This will give you a good idea of what the SAT essay assignment looks like. Then come back to this article.

 

Why You Can Prep SAT Essay Examples Before Test Day

The SAT essay prompts have several important things in common:

  • They’re all passages that try to convince the reader of the veracity of the author’s claim
  • They’re all around the same length (650-750 words)
  • They’re all meant to be analyzed and written about in a relatively short period of time (50 minutes)

This means that you can have a pretty good idea ahead of time of what types of argument-building techniques you might see when you open the booklet on test day.

The main techniques the author uses aren't going to be overly complex (like the first letter of every word spelling out a secret code), because you just don’t have the time to analyze and write about complex techniques. Because of that, you can prepare yourself with SAT essay examples that’ll be likely found across persuasive passages about many different issues.

Naturally, for each passage you're going to want to play to its particular strengths—if there are a lot of facts/statistics, make sure to discuss that; if it dwells more on personal anecdotes/appeals to emotion, discuss those. However, if you struggle with analysis in a short period of time, memorizing these categories of examples ahead of time can give you a helpful checklist to go through when reading the SAT essay prompt and point you in the right direction.

Below, we've chosen two examples of evidence, two examples of reasoning, and two examples of stylistic/persuasive elements you can use as stellar evidence to support your thesis.

For each example below, we also show you how you can use the type of evidence to support your thesis across a range of prompts. This flexibility should prove to you how effective pre-planned examples are.

So, without further ado, onto our list of multipurpose support for any SAT Essay prompt.

 

Examples of Evidence

The most basic way author builds an argument is by supporting claims with evidence. There are many different kinds of evidence author might use to support her/his point, but I'm just going to discuss the two big ones I've seen in various official SAT Essay prompts. These two types of evidence are Facts and Statistics and Anecdotes.

 

Example Type 1: Facts and Statistics

Employing statistics and facts to bolster one's argument is one of the most unassailable methods authors can use to build an argument. This argument-building technique is particularly common in essays written about scientific or social studies-related topics, where specific data and facts are readily available.

 

How Can You Identify It?

Statistics usually show up in the form of specific numbers related to the topic at hand—maybe as percents, or maybe as a way to communicate other data.

Here are a couple of examples of statistics from an official SAT essay prompt, "Let There Be Dark" by Paul Bogard:

Example: 8 of 10 children born in the United States will never know a sky dark enough for the Milky Way

Example: In the United States and Western Europe, the amount of light in the sky increases an average of about 6% every year.

Factual evidence can also be in the form of non-numerical information. Often, you'll see facts presented with references to the research study, survey, expert, or other source from which they're drawn. Here's another example from "Let There Be Dark":

Example: Already the World Health Organization classifies working the night shift as a probable human carcinogen[.]

 

Why Is It Persuasive?

Facts and statistics are persuasive argument building techniques because the author isn't just making up reasons for why his/her argument could possibly be true—there's actually something (data, research, other events/information) that backs up the author's claim.

In the case of the examples above, Bogard presents specific data about issues with light pollution (8 in 10 children won't be able to see the Milky Way, light in the sky increases 6% annually) to back up his statements that light pollution is real, then goes on to present further information that indicates light pollution is a problem (working the night shift puts humans at risk for cancer).

By presenting information and facts, rather than just opinion and spin, Bogard empowers the reader to connect the dots on her own, which in turn gives the reader ownership over the argument and makes it more persuasive (since the reader is coming to the same conclusions on her own, rather than entirely relying on Bogard to tell her what to think).

 

Example Type 2: Anecdotes

Another form of evidence that is often used as an alternative to actual facts or statistics is the anecdote. This type of evidence is most often found in speeches or other sorts of essay prompts that are written as a personal address to the reader.

 

How Can You Identify It?

An anecdote is a short story about a real person or event. When an author discusses own personal experience or personal experience of someone they know or have heard of, that's anecdotal evidence.

Here's an example of (part of) an anecdote from an official SAT essay prompt that was adapted from a foreword by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter:

One of the most unforgettable and humbling experiences of our lives occurred on the coastal plain. We had hoped to see caribou during our trip, but to our amazement, we witnessed the migration of tens of thousands of caribou with their newborn calves. In a matter of a few minutes, the sweep of tundra before us became flooded with life, with the sounds of grunting animals and clicking hooves filling the air. The dramatic procession of the Porcupine caribou herd was a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife spectacle. We understand firsthand why some have described this special birthplace as “America’s Serengeti.”

 

Why Is It Persuasive?

Even though anecdotes aren't statistics or facts, they can be powerful because it’s more relatable/interesting to the reader to read an anecdote than to be presented with dry, boring facts. People tend to put more faith in experiences if they can personally connect with the experiences (even though that doesn't actually affect how likely or not a statement is to be true).

In the example above, rather than discussing the statistics that support the creation of wildlife refuges, Jimmy Carter instead uses an anecdote about experiencing the wonder of nature to illustrate the same point—probably more effectively.

By inviting the reader to experience vicariously the majesty of witnessing the migration of the Porcupine caribou, Carter activates the reader's empathy towards wildlife preservation and so makes it more likely that the reader will agree with him that wildlife refuges are important.

 

caribou, the hairy eyeball/Used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

I find this caribou highly persuasive.

 

Examples of Reasoning

All authors use reasoning to some extent, but it’s not always a major part of how the author builds her/his argument. Sometimes, though, the support for a claim on its own might not seem that persuasive—in those cases, an author might then choose to use reasoning to explain how the evidence presented actually builds the argument.

 

Example Type 3: Counterarguments and Counterclaims

One way in which an author might use reasoning to persuade the reader to accept the claim being put forward is to discuss a counterargument, or counterclaim, to the author's main point. The discussion (and subsequent neutralization) of counterarguments is found in prompts across all subject areas.

 

How Can You Identify It?

A counterargument or counterclaim is simply another point of view that contradicts (either fully or partially) the author's own argument. When "some might claim," "however," or other contrast words and phrases show up in an essay prompt, the author is likely presenting a counterclaim.

Here's an example of an effective presentation (and negation) of a counter claim from an official SAT essay prompt, "The Digital Parent Trap" by Eliana Dockterman:

“You could say some computer games develop creativity,” says Lucy Wurtz, an administrator at the Waldorf School in Los Altos, Calif., minutes from Silicon Valley. “But I don’t see any benefit. Waldorf kids knit and build things and paint—a lot of really practical and creative endeavors.”

But it’s not that simple. While there are dangers inherent in access to Facebook, new research suggests that social-networking sites also offer unprecedented learning opportunities.

 

Why Is It Persuasive?

So how does bringing up an opposing point of view help an author build her argument? It may seem counterintuitive that discussing a counterargument actually strengthens the main argument. However, as you can see in the brief example above, giving some space to another point of view serves to make it seem as if the discussion’s going to be more “fair.” This is still true whether the author delves into the counterargument or if the author only briefly mentions an opposing point of view before moving on.

A true discussion of the counterargument (as is present in Dockterman's article) will also show a deeper understanding of the topic than if the article only presented a one-sided argument. And because the presence of a counterargument demonstrates that the author knows the topic well enough to be able to see the issue from multiple sides, the reader's more likely to trust that the author's claims are well-thought out and worth believing.

In the case of the Dockterman article, the author not only mentions the opposite point of view but also takes the time to get a quote from someone who supports the opposing viewpoint. This even-handedness makes her following claim that "it's not that simple" more believable, since she doesn't appear to be presenting a one-sided argument.

  

Example Type 4: Explanation of Evidence

In some cases, the clarity with which the author links her evidence and her claims is integral to the author's argument. As the College Board Official SAT Study Guide says,

Reasoning is the connective tissue that holds an argument together. It’s the “thinking” — the logic, the analysis — that develops the argument and ties the claim and evidence together."

 

How Can You Identify It?

Explanation of evidence is one of the trickier argument-building techniques to discuss (at least in my opinion), because while it is present in many essay prompts, it isn't always a major persuasive feature. You can pretty easily identify an author's explanation of evidence if the author connects a claim to support and explains it, rather than just throwing out evidence without much ceremony or linking to the claim; however, whether or not the explanation of the evidence is a major contributing factor to the author's argument is somewhat subjective.

Here's a pretty clear instance of a case where an author uses explanations of each piece of evidence she discusses to logically advance her argument (again from the Dockterman passage):

And at MIT’s Education Arcade, playing the empire-building game Civilization piqued students’ interest in history and was directly linked to an improvement in the quality of their history-class reports.

The reason: engagement. On average, according to research cited by MIT, students can remember only 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear and 50% of what they see demonstrated. But when they’re actually doing something themselves—in the virtual worlds on iPads or laptops—that retention rate skyrockets to 90%.

This is a main reason researchers like Ito say the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of a two-hour screen-time limit is an outdated concept: actively browsing pages on a computer or tablet is way more brain-stimulating than vegging out in front of the TV.

 

 

IMG_6800_v1, cropped/Used under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

 

Why Is It Persuasive?

Unfortunately, the explanation the Official SAT Study Guide gives for how to discuss an author's "reasoning" is a little vague:

You may decide to discuss how the author uses (or fails to use) clear, logical reasoning to draw a connection between a claim and the evidence supporting that claim.

But how exactly you should go about doing this? And why is it persuasive to clearly explain the link between evidence and claim?

In general, when an author explains the logic behind her argument or point, the reader can follow along and understand the author’s argument better (which in some cases makes it more likely the reader will agree with the author).

 

In the Dockterman example above, the author clearly lays out data (Civilization leads to improvements in history class), a claim (this is because of engagement with the game and thus the subject material), provides data that back up that claim (retention rate skyrockets when students do things for themselves), and links that smaller claim to a larger concept (actively browsing pages on a computer or tablet is way more brain-stimulating than vegging out in front of the TV). This clear pattern of data-explanation-more data-more explanation enables the reader to follow along with Dockterman's points. It's more persuasive because, rather than just being told "Civilization leads to improvements in history" and having to take it on faith, the reader is forced to reenact the thinking processes that led to the argument, engaging with the topic on a deeper level.

 

Examples of Stylistic/Persuasive Elements

This final category of examples is the top layer of argument building. The foundation of a good argument is evidence, which is often explained and elucidated by reasoning, but it is often the addition of stylistic or persuasive elements like an ironic tone or a rhetorical flourish that seals the deal.

 

Example Type 5: Vivid Language

Vivid language is truly the icing on the persuasive cake. As with explanations of evidence, vivid language can be found across all topics of essay prompts (although it usually plays a larger role when the passage is lacking in more convincing facts or logic).

 

Vivid language: truly the persuasive icing on your SAT essay prompt cake. Your delicious, delicious SAT cake. Mmm!

 

How Can You Identify It?

Vivid language is pretty easy to spot—it shows itself in similes, metaphors, adjectives, or any words that jump out at you that don’t seem to have purely functional purposes. Here are a couple of examples—the first is Paul Bogard again:

…show that what was a very dark country as recently as the 1950s is now nearly covered with a blanket of light.

This example is relatively restrained, using the metaphor of "a blanket of light" to add emphasis to Bogard's discussion of light pollution. A more striking example can be found in another official SAT essay prompt, adapted from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech "Beyond Vietnam—A Time To Break Silence":

Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.

 

Why Is It Persuasive?

Vivid language is an effective argument building device because it puts the reader in the author’s shoes and draws them into the passage. If used in moderation, vivid language will also make the topic more interesting for the reader to read, thus engaging them further.

In the excerpt taken from Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech above, the phrase "demonic destructive suction tube" is startling and provocative, meant to rouse the audience's indignation at the injustice and waste of the Vietnam war. If King had left out the second part of the sentence and only said, "Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money," his point would not have had as big of an impact.

 

Example Type 6: Direct Addresses and Appeals to the Reader

The last category I'll be discussing in this article are direct addresses and appeals to the reader. These stylistic elements are found across all sorts of different passage topics, although as with the previous category, these elements usually play a larger role when the passage is light on facts or logic.

 

How Can You Identify It?

Direct addresses and appeals to the reader are wordings or other stylistic devices specifically designed to provoke a response (often emotional) in the reader. This category covers many different elements, from appeals to emotion to rhetorical questions. Here's an example of an appeal to emotion, taken again from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech:

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population.

And here's an example of a rhetorical question (from the Paul Bogard article):

Who knows what this vision of the night sky might inspire in each of us, in our children or grandchildren?

 

Why Is It Persuasive?

Appealing to the emotions, as Martin Luther King, Jr. does in his speech, is an alternate route to persuasion, as it causes readers to emotionally (rather than logically) agree with the author. By describing how the war was causing "their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and die," King reminds the reader of the terrible costs of war, playing upon their emotions to get them to agree that the Vietnam War is a mistake, particularly for the poor.

Rhetorical questions, on the other hand, get the readers to step into the author's world. By reading and thinking about the author's question, the reader engages with the topic on a deeper level than if the reader were just given a statement of what the author thinks. In the case of the Bogard example above, the rhetorical question draws the reader into thinking about his/her descendants, a group of people for whom the reader (presumably) only wishes the best, which then puts the reader into a positive mood (assuming the reader likes his/her descendants).

 

 

Review

As you can see, these examples of different argumentative techniques can be extracted from a lot of different article types for a wide range of topics. This is because the examples themselves are so meaningful and complex that they can be used to discuss a lot of issues.

The main point is, you don't have to wait until you see the prompt to develop an arsenal of types of argument-building techniques you can use to support your points. Instead, preparing beforehand how you’ll discuss these techniques will save you a lot of time and anxiety when the test rolls around.

 

DSC_1003, modified/Used under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Eh? Eh? ROLLS around? Get it get it #sorrynotsorry

 

What's Next?

If you're reading this article, you probably want to excel on the SAT essay. We've written a bunch of detailed guides to make sure you do.

Start to scratch the surface with our 15 tips to improve your SAT essay score.

Follow ourstep-by-step guide to writing a high-scoring essay and learn how to get a perfect 8/8/8 on the SAT essay.

Took the old SAT and not sure how the new essay compares to the old? Start with our article about what’s changed with the new SAT essay, then follow along as we investigate the SAT essay rubric.

Want to score a perfect SAT score? Check out our guide on how to score a perfect SAT score, written by our resident perfect scorer.

 

How happy would you be with adding an extra 160 SAT points to your score? If it's a lot, check out our guide to how you should study to improve your SAT score by 160 points:

 

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