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SAT Essay

The SAT Essay

The essay component asks students to write in response to an essay assignment, or prompt. These prompts are carefully selected to enable students to react and respond quickly in a variety of ways. They are written to be easily accessible to the general test-taking population, including students for whom English is a second language (ESL), and will be free of figurative, technical, or specific literary references. The prompt gives students the opportunity to use a broad range of experiences, learning, and ideas to support their points of view on the issue addressed. Because the prompt requires students to address a specific issue, students will not be able to prepare an essay in advance that will effectively address the essay assignment. The prompt can consist of a quotation or a short paragraph from some authentic text and an assignment question.

The essay measures your ability to:

  • develop a point of view on an issue presented in an excerpt
  • support your point of view using reasoning and examples from your reading, studies, experience, or observations
  • follow the conventions of standard written English

The essay will be scored by trained high school and college teachers. Each reader will give the essay a score from 1 to 6 (6 is the highest score) based on the overall quality of the essay and your demonstration of writing competence. For more information, see the SAT Essay Rubric.


The essay gives you an opportunity to show how effectively you can develop and express ideas. You should, therefore, take care to develop your point of view, present your ideas logically and clearly, and use language precisely.

Your essay must be written on the lines provided on your answer sheet-you will receive no other paper on which to write. You will have enough space if you write on every line, avoid wide margins, and keep your handwriting to a reasonable size. Remember that people who are not familiar with your handwriting will read what you write. Try to write or print so that what you are writing is legible to those readers.

Important Reminders:

  • A pencil is required for the essay. An essay written in ink will receive a score of zero.
  • Do not write your essay in your test book. You will receive credit only for what you write on your answer sheet.
  • An off-topic essay will receive a score of zero.
  • You have twenty-five minutes to write an essay on the topic assigned below.

Essay Prompt Directions: Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment.

Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.


Students will demonstrate proficiency in writing.










Not Written

Fundamentally Lacking

Seriously Limited





· point of view

· critical thinking

· support

develops no viable point of view on the issue, or provides little or no evidence to support its position

develops a point of view on the issue that is vague or seriously limited, and demonstrates weak critical thinking, providing inappropriate or insufficient examples, reasons, or other evidence to support its position

develops a point of view on the issue, demonstrating some critical thinking, but may do so inconsistently or use inadequate examples, reasons, or other evidence to support its position

develops a point of view on the issue and demonstrates competent critical thinking, using adequate examples, reasons, and other evidence to support its position

effectively develops a point of view on the issue and demonstrates strong critical thinking, generally using appropriate examples, reasons, and other evidence to support its position

effectively and insightfully develops a point of view on the issue and demonstrates outstanding critical thinking, using clearly appropriate examples, reasons, and other evidence to support its position

· organization

· focus

· coherence

is disorganized or unfocused, resulting in a disjointed or incoherent essay

is poorly organized and/or focused, or demonstrates serious problems with coherence or progression of ideas

is limited in its organization or focus, or may demonstrate some lapses in coherence or progression of ideas

is generally organized and focused, demonstrating some coherence and progression of ideas

is well organized and focused, demonstrating coherence and progression of ideas

is well organized and clearly focused, demonstrating clear coherence and smooth progression of ideas

· language

· vocabulary

displays fundamental errors in vocabulary

displays very little facility in the use of language, using very limited vocabulary or incorrect word choice

displays developing facility in the use of language, but sometimes uses weak vocabulary or inappropriate word choice

exhibits adequate but inconsistent facility in the use of language, using generally appropriate vocabulary

exhibits facility in the use of language, using appropriate vocabulary

exhibits skillful use of language, using a varied, accurate, and apt vocabulary

· sentence structure

demonstrates severe flaws in sentence structure

demonstrates frequent problems in sentence structure

lacks variety or demonstrates problems in sentence structure

demonstrates some variety in sentence structure

demonstrates variety in sentence structure

demonstrates meaningful variety in sentence structure

· grammar

· usage

· mechanics

contains pervasive errors in grammar, usage, or mechanics that interfere with meaning

contains errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics so serious that meaning is somewhat obscured

contains an accumulation of errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

has some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

is generally free of most errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

is free of most errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics

SAT Essay Prompts

"No one is perfect." There are few among us who would disagree with this familiar statement. Certain that perfection is an impossible goal, many people willingly accept flaws and shortcomings in themselves and others. Yet such behavior leads to failure. People can only succeed if they try to achieve perfection in everything they do.

Assignment: Can people achieve success only if they aim to be perfect?

"That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly. It is only dearness which gives everything its value." Thomas Paine

Assignment: Do we value only what we struggle for?

"A little inaccuracy saves a world of explanation." C.E.Ayers

Assignment: Is it always essential to tell the truth, or are there circumstances in which it is better to lie?

"A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday." Alexander Pope

Assignment: Do we learn more from finding out that we have made mistakes or from our successful actions?

"All art is an imitation of nature." —Seneca, Roman philosopher, c. 4 B.C.–A.D. 65

Assignment: Do you agree with this statement?

"Independence? That’s middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth." Bernard Shaw expected to provoke controversy with these words, but I would agree with him that these days there is too much emphasis on independence. While it is certainly true that excessive dependence on others is not a sign of maturity, total independence of others is neither attainable nor desirable: we need to be mature, and unselfish enough to recognize our interdependence.

Assignment: Do we put too much emphasis on self-reliance and independence, and are we afraid of admitting that we need other people in our lives?

"It is as difficult to start things as it is to finish things."

Assignment: Do you agree with this statement?

"The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Assignment: Do you agree with this statement?

"The price of greatness is responsibility." Winston Churchill

Assignment: Do we expect too much from our public figures?

"What man calls civilization always results in deserts. Man is never on the square – he uses up the fat and greenery of the earth. Each generation wastes a little more of the future with greed and lust for riches." Don Marquis

Assignment: With our modern awareness of ecology are we likely to make sufficient progress in conservation, or are we still in danger of damaging the earth beyond repair?

A man who waits to believe in action before acting is anything you like, but he is not a man of action. It is as if a tennis player before returning the ball stopped to think about his views of the physical and mental advantages of tennis. You must act as you breathe. Georges Clemenceau

Assignment: Is it true that acting quickly and instinctively is the best response to a crisis? Or are there times when an urgent situation requires a more careful consideration and a slower response?

Abraham Lincoln said, "Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be." In other words, our personal level of satisfaction is entirely within our control. Otherwise, why would the same experience disappoint one person but delight another? Happiness is not an accident but a choice.

Assignment: Is happiness something over which people have no control, or can people choose to be happy?

Every event has consequences that are potentially beneficial. We may not always be happy about an experience, but we should at least gain in some way from it. For example, the worldwide gasoline shortage in the early 1970's created many hardships but inspired efforts to conserve energy. Whether the gains are large or small, there is something positive or useful for us in everything that happens to us.

Assignment: Do we really benefit from every event or experience in some way?

Every important discovery results from patience, perseverance, and concentration--sometimes continuing for months or years--on one specific subject. A person who wants to discover a new truth must remain absorbed by that one subject, must pay no attention to any thought that is unrelated to the problem. Adapted from Santiago Ramon Cajal, Advice for a Young Investigator

Assignment: Are all important discoveries the result of focusing on one subject?

Everybody has some choice. People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and, if they can't find them, make them. Adapted from George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren's Profession

Assignment: Do success and happiness depend on the choices people make rather than on factors beyond their control?

From the time people are very young, they are urged to get along with others, to try to "fit in." Indeed, people are often rewarded for being agreeable and obedient. But this approach is misguided because it promotes uniformity instead of encouraging people to be unique and different. Differences among people give each of us greater perspective and allow us to make better judgments.

Assignment: Is it more valuable for people to fit in than to be unique and different?

Given the importance of human creativity, one would think it should have a high priority among our concerns. But if we look at the reality, we see a different picture. Basic scientific research is minimized in favor of immediate practical applications. The arts are increasingly seen as dispensable luxuries. Yet as competition heats up around the globe, exactly the opposite strategy is needed. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly

Assignment: Is creativity needed more than ever in the world today?

I cannot comprehend those who emphasize or recognize only what is useful. I am concerned that learning for learning's sake is no longer considered desirable, that everything we do and think must be directed toward the solution of a practical problem. More and more we seem to try to teach how to make a good living and not how to live a good life. Philip D. Jordan

Assignment: Do people put too much emphasis on learning practical skills?

I suspect that like many people who watch their diet, exercise regularly, and check the weather report before leaving the house, I am a little too concerned with controlling what can't be fully controlled. I know I am doing the sensible thing. But I sometimes think that the more reckless among us may have something to teach the rest of us about freedom. Perhaps there is something good about taking chances against our better judgments. Melvin Konner

Assignment: Is it sometimes better to take risks than to follow a more reasonable course of action?

If we are afraid to reveal our lack of knowledge we will not be able to learn. In order to make progress we must admit where we are now. Such an admission of ignorance is not easy. As Thoreau says, "How can we remember our ignorance which our growth requires, when we are using our knowledge all the time?"

Assignment: Does the present system of education encourage us to admit our lack of knowledge, or is there too much pressure to demonstrate the acquisition of knowledge?

In many circumstances, optimism—the expectation that one's ideas and plans will always turn out for the best—is unwarranted. In these situations what is needed is not an upbeat view but a realistic one. There are times when people need to take a tough-minded view of the possibilities of success, give up, and invest their energies elsewhere rather than find reasons to continue to pursue the original project or idea. Adapted from Martin E. P. Seligman, Learned Optimism

Assignment: Is it better for people to be realistic or optimistic?

In order to be the most productive and successful people that we are capable of being, we must be willing to ignore the opinions of others. It is only when we are completely indifferent to others' opinions of us—when we are not concerned about how others think of us—that we can achieve our most important goals.

Assignment: Are people more likely to be productive and successful when they ignore the opinions of others?

It is easy to imagine that events and experiences in our lives will be perfect, but no matter how good something turns out to be, it can never live up to our expectations. Reality never matches our imaginations. For that reason, we should make sure our plans and goals are modest and attainable. We are much better off when reality surpasses our expectations and something turns out better than we thought it would. Adapted from Baltasar Gracián y Morales, The Art of Worldly Wisdom

Assignment: Is it best to have low expectations and to set goals we are sure of achieving?

It is easy to make judgments about people and their actions when we do not know anything about their circumstances or what motivated them to take those actions. But we should look beyond a person's actions. When people do things that we consider outrageous, inconsiderate, or harmful, we should try to understand why they acted as they did.

Assignment: Is it important to try to understand people's motivations before judging their actions?

It is rare to find an objective and independent viewpoint on style, literature, politics, or any other matter. Many people's opinions are formed through their associations with others. It is our nature to conform; conformity is a force that few can successfully resist. We give in to the human instinct to go along with the crowd and to have its approval. Mark Twain

Assignment: Do we tend to accept the opinions of others instead of developing our own independent ideas?

It is wrong to think of ourselves as indispensable. We would love to think that our contributions are essential, but we are mistaken if we think that any one person has made the world what it is today. The contributions of individual people are seldom as important or as necessary as we think they are.

Assignment: Do we put too much value on the ideas or actions of individual people?

Many people deny that stories about characters and events that are not real can teach us about ourselves or about the world around us. They claim that literature does not offer us worthwhile information about the real world. These people argue that the feelings and ideas we gain from books and stories obstruct, rather than contribute to, clear thought. Adapted from Jennifer L. McMahon, "The Function of Fiction"

Assignment: Can books and stories about characters and events that are not real teach us anything useful?

Many persons believe that to move up the ladder of success and achievement, they must forget the past, repress it, and relinquish it. But others have just the opposite view. They see old memories as a chance to reckon with the past and integrate past and present. —Adapted from Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, I've Known Rivers: Lives of Loss and Liberation

Assignment: Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present?

Many societies believe that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human right. But it is also true that attainment of happiness remains elusive. Perhaps Bertrand Russell had it right when he said, "To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness."

Assignment: What gives us more pleasure and satisfaction: the pursuit of our desires or the attainment of them?

Most of our schools are not facing up to their responsibilities. We must begin to ask ourselves whether educators should help students address the critical moral choices and social issues of our time. Schools have responsibilities beyond training people for jobs and getting students into college. Svi Shapiro

Assignment: Should schools help students understand moral choices and social issues?

People are often told to obey the rules. In reality, these rules are not permanent: what is right at a given point in time may be declared wrong at another time and vice versa. The world changes so rapidly that rules are out-of-date almost as soon as they are created. People cannot rely on established guidelines to determine what they should and should not do. Gregory D. Foster

Assignment: Are established rules too limited to guide people in real-life situations?

Sometimes it is necessary to challenge what people in authority claim to be true. Although some respect for authority is, no doubt, necessary in order for any group or organization to function, questioning the people in charge-even if they are experts or leaders in their fields-makes us better thinkers. It forces all concerned to defend old ideas and decisions and to consider new ones. Sometimes it can even correct old errors in thought and put an end to wrong actions.

Assignment: Is it important to question the ideas and decisions of people in positions of authority?

The media not only transmit information and culture, they also decide what information is important. In that way, they help to shape culture and values. Alison Bernstein

Assignment: Do newspapers, magazines, television, radio, movies, the Internet, and other media determine what is important to most people?

The principle is this: each failure leads us closer to deeper knowledge, to greater creativity in understanding old data, to new lines of inquiry. Thomas Edison experienced 10,000 failures before he succeeded in perfecting the lightbulb. When a friend of his remarked that 10,000 failures was a lot, Edison replied, "I didn't fail 10,000 times, I successfully eliminated 10,000 materials and combinations that didn't work." Myles Brand, "Taking the Measure of Your Success"

Assignment: What is your view on the idea that it takes failure to achieve success?

There are situations where flattery is mandatory: The bride is always beautiful. If we look at someone's artwork, we are obliged to say something complimentary to the artist. If we visit someone with a new baby, we are required to say the infant is cute. In such situations, to say nothing is interpreted as rudeness. We compliment each other because we understand that flattery makes life run smoothly. Adapted from Richard Stengel, You're Too Kind: A brief History of Flattery

Assignment: Is praising others, even if the praise is excessive or undeserved, a necessary part of life?

There are two kinds of pretending. There is the bad kind, as when a person falsely promises to be your friend. But there is also a good kind, where the pretense eventually turns into the real thing. For example, when you are not feeling particularly friendly, the best thing you can do, very often, is to act in a friendly manner. In a few minutes, you may really be feeling friendlier. Adapted from a book by C. S. Lewis

Assignment: Can deception—pretending that something is true when it is not—sometimes have good results?

There is usually a kernel of truth in the words Oscar Wilde puts in the mouth of his most outrageous characters – they wouldn’t be funny otherwise. One such gem that is worth pondering is: The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.

Assignment: Is it true that when we most need advice we are least willing to listen to it? Or is good advice always welcome?

We don't really learn anything properly until there is a problem, until we make a mistake, until something fails to go as we had hoped. When everything is working well, with no problems or failures, what incentive do we have to try something new? We are only motivated to learn when we experience difficulties. Adapted from Alain de Botton, How Proust Can Change Your Life: Not a Novel

Assignment: Does true learning only occur when we experience difficulties?

We measure our progress as a civilization by what we see as advances in technology, which seem more significant than such concerns as education and the condition of the natural world. Still, I would prefer to be a part of a community that judged itself on the happiness of its members rather than on the development of new technology. Thomas Moore

Assignment: Does a strong commitment to technological progress cause a society to neglect other values, such as education and the protection of the environment?

While some people promote competition as the only way to achieve success, others emphasize the power of cooperation. Intense rivalry at work or play or engaging in competition involving ideas or skills may indeed drive people either to avoid failure or to achieve important victories. In a complex world, however, cooperation is much more likely to produce significant, lasting accomplishments.

Assignment: Do people achieve more success by cooperation than by competition?