I remember that one of the biggest challenges I faced when tackling the SAT essay was having a wide variety of examples at my fingertips. Although the SAT essay is intended to measure your writing and argumentative skills, and not your knowledge of any particular subject, it is necessary to use good examples in your SAT essay to create a persuasive argument. Many of the essay prompts given on the SAT tend to be open-ended questions with multiple perspectives one can take. Almost all of these essay prompts deal with basic moral, social and psychological issues such as the meaning of freedom or courage.
[Continue reading to find out how to develop useful SAT essay examples…]
Many students believe that they have read enough and learnt enough at school to be able to “come up” with a good example for the essay. Although this may be so under normal circumstances, writing the SAT essay in less than 25 minutes (if you take a couple of minutes to plan) means that you would have to put together good examples under immense pressure. The best way to combat this problem is to create your own repertoire of good examples that are applicable to a diverse range of topics and that are well-memorized such that you are able to immediately draw it from memory to write it in your detailed body paragraphs. Of course, this method isn’t flawless. The prompt might be completely different from anything you have prepared for. If that’s the case, do not force your examples to fit the prompt, but try to come up with new examples on the spot. However, as most of the SAT essay topics are similar in terms of their moral or social inclination, it would be wise to prepare for such scenarios.
Here are 5 quick steps:
- Choose examples that are flexible
- Pick out important details about these examples
- Practice, practice, practice!
- Memorize the examples on your list
- Try coming up with new examples on the spot
Some subject areas that would be useful are History, Literature, and Politics.
History: Many social and moral lessons that we have learnt are based in lessons taken from historical events. You should focus on historical events and figures who are well-known for certain changes or lessons they have wrought in society. Don’t try to write about a big event such as “World War I” but whittle the point down to something more manageable such as the Holocaust. Remember that the essay section is only 25 minutes!
Some Examples from History:
- Martin Luther King – courage, sacrifice
- Ghandi – courage, patience, passive resistance
- Hitler – revenge, power, corruption, propaganda
- Abraham Lincoln – honesty, persistence, hard-working, great leader
- Great Depression – greed, panic, wrong decisions
- Civil Rights Movement – racial equality, courage, progress.
Literature: Often, characters from literary texts are able to flesh out a certain moral principle more accurately than real life examples. The ability to analyze these characters in such detail allows readers to demonstrate a good understanding of the morals and social values being discussed in the prompt.
Some Examples from Literature:
- Greek classics: The Iliad, The Odyssey, Antigone, Oedipus Rex
- English classics: Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales
- Shakespeare’s plays: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, MacBeth
- Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel: The Scarlet Letter
- Dickens’ novels: Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities
Politics: The dialogue between countries, global cooperation, and negotiations regarding a variety of issues such as natural resources, global warming, chemical warfare, and more, are extremely valuable while writing the SAT essay. These world events could be useful in helping you flesh out a point in your essay. You might want to stress the importance of “communication” and use the example of multiple international dialogues between China, South Korea, the United States, and North Korea that helped to shed more light on the nuclear situation in North Korea and possible avenues for action. Without such communication, the peace we have today, albeit fragile, might not have been possible. These political events could provide a foundation for you to discuss certain themes such as world peace, conservation and more.
Have fun crafting your own SAT essay examples!
Check out my other posts on the SAT Essay:
About the author: Shimin Ooi is a junior in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs department. She has a strong interest in economic and health policy and has recently returned from a semester of study at Hertford College, Oxford. In high school, her extensive research on standardized tests helped her achieve a near perfect SAT score and perfect scores on each of her SAT Subject tests. Through these blog posts, she hopes to help others achieve test-taking success as well!
Take a look at the last sentence of the prompt on every SAT essay section.
Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.
You can see in that sentence the four basic types of SAT essay examples: literary, historical, personal, and general. The first two types of examples are what a lot of students try for, but they can be difficult to conjure and stressful. But the others are just as viable of options, and you shouldn’t try to specifically avoid them.
An SAT essay thatdoesn’t mention books or history can get a perfect score.
Spent most of history class drawing stick figure parties? Used Sparknotes for each and every book in English this year? It doesn’t mean you’re going to bomb the essay (even if you bomb the class). The SAT tells you that you can use your own experiences. In order to get a high essay score, you only have to be sure that those examples are clear, relevant, and well written.
So why not twist that to your advantage? It can be hard to think of a perfect example for your argument, and anecdotes about your personal life are much more malleable than the stories you can draw from history or literature. Those anecdotes, then, can be really useful, especially if you learn a little lesson from Hollywood along the way.
Use only the facts that make your story relevant and interesting… then throw away the rest
When you’re watching a movie and you see the words “based on a true story,” you can be pretty sure that it’s got just about zilch in common with whatever “true story” it’s referring to. Part of why that happens is the simple truth that real life is rarely as dramatic as Hollywood wants it to be.
Similarly, your personal experiences are rarely going to be perfect examples of your thesis. But you, like a director, have the freedom to warp the facts in your favor.
Say you get a prompt that asks, “Is it necessary to study mistakes in order to learn from them?” You might think of a mistake you made, such as having spent all that time illustrating those stick figure shindigs when your teacher was telling you about historical mistakes that would have been perfect for this essay. And that’s a great starting point.
For one, it’s already specific. We have a who, where, what, when, why and how. Being concrete like that really helps to keep your writing and thoughts clear. But there may be plenty of details we really don’t need, like the exact goings-on in those doodles, your friends comments on them, or whatever else. Specific doesn’t mean ramblingly detailed… that’s something we want to avoid. So throw that stuff away and make the example plainly support your argument.
SAT essay graders don’t know or care if it’s true, only that it answers the question.
Make sure your story is clearly relevant. We’re starting with the fact that you didn’t pay enough attention in class, and you were drawing instead. So what? Let’s add in what we need for it to be relevant: You failed a test even though you had studied for hours the night before. After that, you took a long look at what went wrong, realized you had been distracted in class, and started trying to take notes instead of doodling. And your next test was a vast improvement, which proves your point. Add in a few sentences analyzing the relevance of the story (giving it a moral), and you’ve got yourself a fantastic example, even if almost none of it was true.
Starting from a truth will help keep you grounded. Don’t just draw your examples from thin air, if you can avoid it. But feel free to stretch that truth a bit to answer the question. Nobody will know the difference, and it can make a weak illustration of a point into a much stronger one.
Don’t just forget entirely about history and literature; there are thousands of wonderfully adaptable stories there. And relying only on your imagination can be dangerous, because even the best storytellers get writer’s block. Make sure you come to your SAT prepared with at least a few books or historical events in mind that you know a little bit about and might be able to use. It’s worth it.
About Lucas Fink
Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.
Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!