Topic Sat Essay

When it comes to the new SAT essay, the College Board is very helpful—they always use exactly the same format for the SAT essay, give you exactly the same directions, and ask you to include exactly the same kind of information in your essay. Because this never changes, you’ll know the directions ahead of time and save yourself time on the test. Here’s what you’ll see on the essay portion of the SAT.


New SAT Essay: The Passage

First there’s a passage for you to read and analyze. According to The College Board, all passages are written for general audiences, focus on a reasoned argument, and are taken from published works in the general areas of arts, sciences, civics, politics, or culture. They all require analysis of complex, subtle subject matter. Let’s see exactly what this means.

  1. Written for general audiences. Understanding the passage doesn’t require any special knowledge of content or vocabulary. They are the kinds of passages any high school student should be able to understand and analyze.
  2. Focused on a reasoned argument. On the SAT, arguments have nothing to do with conflicts, disagreements or fights. A reasoned argument is simply an author’s topic with his conclusion and the evidence he uses to back it up. Your job is to analyze how he builds his argument to persuade his readers to his point of view.
  3. Published works. All passages are taken from existing works; none are made up specifically for the SAT. Topics can include excerpts from political speeches, historical documents, personal calls for action, and the like. The essay prompts for the four tests in the current SAT Official Guide are a call for conservation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., an essay on the pros and cons of students using digital media, and a first-person essay on the benefits of natural darkness
  4. Analysis of subtle subject matter. You’ll have to do some real thinking to understand the f important points in the essay. Writers seldom state ideas in simple sentences such as “I think everyone should vote.” More likely the idea will be a more subtle form, such as “The right to vote freely and without intimidation is a fundamental hallmark of a democracy and a way to make one’s political choices heard.” Making connections and inferences will be important in analyzing the passage’s subject matter.


New SAT Essay: The Directions

That’s what you need to know about the passage. Now what about the directions for your essay? As we’ve already said, they’re always the same. The prompt (question) shown below, or a nearly identical one, is used for every essay question.

As you read the passage below, consider how [the author] uses evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • 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.


Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience that [author’s claim]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features listed above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of [his/her] 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 [his/her] audience.

So what does all of that mean? We broke it down into 5 essential components:

1. Your task is to analyze the argument, so you’ll need to focus on conclusion and evidence, and to consider how the author builds that argument. Note that the testmaker gives you a head start here, suggesting that you include analysis of evidence, reasoning, and stylistic elements.

2. How nice that’s included in the second set of directions! The testmaker pretty much tells you what the essay is about.

3. Even nicer—the testmaker encourages you to use the features in the first set of directions, but note that you can develop your own.

4. Focus on relevant features. The passage author may add some tangential information which is not important to her primary argument. Don’t spend any time on these. You may not have enough time to write everything that you think of, so prioritize your points and include those which are most pertinent to the argument and how the author develops it.

5. Your essay won’t include a personal point of view. As the instructions say, “Your essay should not explain whether or not you agree with (author’s) claims.” “Claims,” by the way, is another word for argument, which is another way of saying what the author thinks and why. Be very careful here. Don’t analyze the essay for your own opinion, but only for the argument itself and how the author supports it. If you write about your own opinion, you’ll get a low score on the essay.

You’ll have 50 minutes to write the essay, which will come at the end of the SAT. You’re given two double-sided, lined pages to write on, so be sure you can include everything you want to say in that space, but don’t feel you need to fill up all the pages. Writing just for the sake of taking up space is a bad idea, and one the readers will recognize and penalize you for.

Because the format and directions for the SAT essay are always the same (but the passage changes), you can memorize them and practice writing essays.  Pay close attention to doing exactly what the instructions say, spend some time thinking before writing, prioritize your points, and write clearly and well (more about that in yet another blog), and you’ll score well on this optional, but important part of the SAT.

Our essay topics have been closely modeled on those in the SAT. You can also do the essays given in the first section of each of the tests in the Official Study Guide.

Each of the topics consists of a prompt and an assignment.

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

    Do we value only what we struggle for? Plan your response, and then write an essay to explain your views on this issue. Be sure to support your position with specific points and examples. (You may use personal examples or examples from your reading, observations, or, knowledge of subjects such as history, literature, science.)

  • Prompt:
    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?”

    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? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    “A little inaccuracy saves a world of explanation.”

    Is it always essential to tell the truth, or are there circumstances in which it is better to lie? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    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.”

    What gives us more pleasure and satisfaction: the pursuit of our desires or the attainment of them? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    “The price of greatness is responsibility.”
    Winston Churchill

    Do we expect too much from our public figures? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    “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

    Do we learn more from finding out that we have made mistakes or from our successful actions? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    “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

    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? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    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

    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? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    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.

    Is it true that when we most need advice we are least willing to listen to it? Or is good advice always welcome? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    “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.

    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? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

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