Earlier, I wrote a post with a sample new SAT essay prompt and an example on how to annotate the text to look for evidence while you are reading it. Today, I’m going to give you an example of how those annotations were used to write a perfect, 8-point essay. This is part one of a series of four attempts to answer this essay prompt. So, try it yourself and evaluate your essay based on our examples. For even more essay fun (because it’s super fun, right??), you can also check out another prompt here.
A few reminders
About essay scoring: The new SAT essay has a different scoring rubric than the old essay, which we go over here. For more of a complete understanding of what each point means for each area of scoring (reading, analysis, and writing), you can check that out on The College Board’s website.
About comparing essays: Writing an 8-point essay can be really, really hard to do, even for capable writers. As Elizabeth referred to in this post, 50 minutes is not a lot of time to read and analyze a text and then write a beautifully articulate essay about it. So if you find yourself not at the level you want to be after comparing essays, don’t be down! It’s really all about practice and always keeping track of how you can do better next time.
Example 8-point Essay
In the New York Times article “The Selfish Side of Gratitude,” Barbara Ehrenreich asserts that although expressing gratitude is important, particularly toward those that deserve our thanks, in practice, gratitude has evolved into a rather selfish act. Ehrenreich reasons through concrete, real-world examples as well as appeal to pathos to convincingly reveal that the common practice of gratitude has definately become about the self as opposed to about others.
In one example, Ehrenreich discredits the popular practice of gratitude by pointing out the hypocrisy of a foundation that has a prominent role in spreading this ideology. Ehrenreich reveals how the John Templeton Foundation, which plays a significant role in “gratitude’s rise to self-help celebrity status” for funding a number of projects to publically spread the message of gratitude, does not provide funding to improve the lives of poor people. Ehrenreich forces the reader to question The John Templeton Foundation for preferring to fund projects that “improve…attitudes” as opposed to more philanthropic aims, which is the purpose of most foundations. As delivering this example required a bit of investigative journalism on Ehrenreich’s part, Ehrenreich also impresses the reader with her well-researched knowledge about the practice of gratitude, which lends more credence to Ehrenreich and her views.
Ehrenreich also paints a lucid picture of the selfishness of gratitude in practice by referring to an example of gratitude advice from a well-known source. In a CNN article, a yoga instructor posits gratitude advice, such as “writing what you give thanks for on a sticky note and posting it on your mirror” or creating “a ‘thankfulness’ reminder on your phone.” In the next line, Ehrenreich then offers her analysis: “Who is interacting here? ‘You’ and ‘you.’” By analyzing the excerpt of the gratitude advice itself, the audience can see Ehrenreich’s point for themselves, in which popular messaging about gratitude is inherently self-serving. Furthermore, isolating Ehrenreich’s pithy analysis of the advice serves as an effective stylistic technique to ensure that the reader truly focuses on the central argument.
Finally, Ehrenreich artfully uses appeal to pathos to draw a distinction between how gratitude is practiced and how it should be practiced. Ehrenreich is ultimately arguing that we should not do away with gratitude but rather we should practice “a more vigorous and inclusive sort of gratitude than what is being urged on us now.” She then lists the menial labor done to ensure one has food on the table and emphasizes that those who enact the labor are actual people with “aching backs and tenuous finances.” These descriptive details of these jobs and the workers serve to generate compassion and perhaps even guilt in the reader—who, as an NY Times reader, is likely a member of a privileged class—for not considering a more inclusive practice of gratitude. These feelings surely heighten Ehrenreich’s point that gratitude in practice has not been focused on those who truly deserve it. Erenreich then goes on to show specific examples of how one can show gratitude to these individuals, beyond just saying thanks, which highlights the selfishness of the current state of gratitude.
Therefore, it is evident that through relevant and real-world examples, reasoning, and appeals to emotion, Ehrenreich provides a cogent argument regarding the selfishness of how society, as a whole, practices gratitude.
Why this essay would receive an 8
This is a really solid essay. Let’s break it down by category.
- Reading comprehension: The writer’s thorough understanding of the essay is shown not only by their understanding of Ehrenreich’s central claim, but also in effective paraphrasing of her words. The writer also skillfully incorporates quotations from the original source only when it adds to their point* and stays away from simply summarizing the article, which can be a pitfall if one is not careful.
- Analysis: This essay would probably receive full marks for analysis because it clearly identifies concrete rhetorical elements in Ehrenreich’s essay that support her central point and the purpose of these elements as well as providing a lot of original reasoning for why they were effective (a lot of students might struggle with the latter).
- Writing: This student is clearly a talented writer, using fancy and well-chosen vocabulary (like pithy, cogent, artful). The writer also gets A+ for varying sentence structure and essay organization, in which there is a solid intro and conclusion** and each rhetorical element has its own paragraph in the body. There are minor errors in spelling (the dreaded misspelling of definitely), word choice (enact doesn’t really mean carry out, which is what the writer seemed to intend; perform would be a better choice), and grammar and punctuation, but nothing that interferes with meaning and quality.
*Seriously, annotate! If you refer back to the annotation of the original text, you will notice that the writer mainly used quotations that were underlined in the annotations. That’s why underlining important parts of the text, as you read, is a great way to easily refer back to the most relevant quotes that you can copy in your essay.
**The College Board doesn’t seem to care if your intro and conclusion basically say the same thing. As long as you succinctly summarize your central claim in the intro and switch up how you say it in the concluding paragraph, you should be good!
About Anika Manzoor
A former High School blogger, Anika now serves as the editor for Magoosh's company and exam blogs. In other words, she spends way too much time scouring the web for the perfect gif for a given post. She's currently an MPP candidate at Harvard University and wants her life back, so if you ever find it, please let her know.
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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.
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:
- 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.
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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