7 SAT Essay Examples to Answer Every Prompt

The key to excelling on the SAT essay, as with most essays, is to plan out the examples and evidence you want to use ahead of time.

“But hold on!” I can hear you sobbing. “Do you think you’ll be able to do that on the new SAT essay? Isn’t the point of the essay to use information from the passage in your answer that you don’t know about in advance?”

The answer is both yes and no. While the specifics of each example will obviously vary depending on the passage, the types of examples you choose to explain (and how you explain each example designs the author’s argument) can be defined ahead of time and thus prepared for.

In this article, we’ll give you six good SAT essay examples that you’ll be able to find in nearly every SAT prompt. By gathering a collection of these reliable types of facts that can be used to answer most instructions, you’ll save time planning and significantly increase the amount of writing you can do, allowing you to walk into every SAT essay confident in your abilities.

 

UPDATE: The SAT Essay is No Longer Available

The College Board announced in January 2021 that the Essay portion of the SAT would no longer be available after June 2021. (except at learning institutions which opt in during School Day Testing). The SAT Essay is no longer available unless your school is one of the few that chooses to offer it during SAT School Day Testing.

While most colleges had already made SAT Essay scores optional, the College Board’s decision means that no colleges now need the SAT Essay. It will also most likely result in additional college application changes, such as not considering essay scores for the SAT or ACT, and possibly requiring additional writing samples for placement.

How important  is the SAT Essay conclusion to your college applications? For more information on the College Board’s SAT Essay decision, read our article.

 

Why Should You Practice SAT Essay Examples Before the Exam?

There are several key similarities in the SAT essay prompts:

  • They are all passages that attempt to persuade the reader of the author’s point.
  • They are all roughly the same length (650-750 words)
  • They’re all designed to be evaluated and written about within a short period of time (50 minutes)

This means you can have a clue of what types of argument-building methods you might encounter when you open the booklet on test day.

The author’s main techniques will not be overly complex (such as the first letter of every word spelling out a secret code), because you simply do not have the time to evaluate and write about complex techniques. As a result, you can practice with SAT essay examples that will most likely be found in persuasive passages on a variety of topics.

Naturally, you’ll want to play to each passage’s specific strengths—if there are a lot of evidence, make sure to discuss that; if it focuses more on personal anecdotes/emotional appeals, make sure to discuss those. If you struggle with analysis in a short amount of time, memorizing these groups of examples ahead of time can provide you with a helpful checklist to go through when reading the SAT essay prompt and point you in the right direction.

We’ve selected two examples of evidence, two examples of reasoning, and two examples of stylistic/persuasive elements that you can use to back up your thesis.

We also guide you on how to use the type of evidence to support your thesis across a variety of prompts in each example below. This adaptability should demonstrate how effective pre-planned examples are.

So, without further ado, here is our list of all-purpose help for any SAT Essay prompt.

 

Evidence Illustrations

The most fundamental way an author constructs an argument is by providing evidence to back up claims. There are numerous types of evidence that an author may use to support her/his point, but I’ll only discuss the two major ones that I’ve seen in various official SAT Essay prompts. Facts and statistics and anecdotes are the two types of data.

 

Example Type 1: Facts and Statistics

Using statistics and facts to back up one’s argument is one of the most unquestionable approaches an author can use to construct an argument. This argument-building technique is especially common in essays on scientific or social studies subjects, where specific data and facts are readily available.

 

How Do You Recognize It?

Statistics are typically presented in the form of specific numbers related to the topic at hand—either as percentages or as a means of communicating other data.

Here are some statistics from an official SAT essay request, Let There Be Dark,” written by Paul Bogard:

For example: 8 out of every 10 children born in the United States will never see a sky dark enough to see the Milky Way.

Example: Yearly, the amount of light in the sky in the United States and Western Europe increases by approximately 6%.

Non-numerical information can also be used as factual evidence. Facts are frequently presented with references to the research study, survey, specialist, or other source from which they were derived. Here’s another from “Let There Be Dark.”:

Example: Working the night shift is already classified as a probable human carcinogen by the World Health Organization. [.]

 

What Makes It So Effective?

Facts and statistics are persuasive argument building methods because the author isn’t just coming up reasons why his/her argument could possibly be true—actually there’s something (data, research, other events/information) that backs up the article’s point.

In the examples above, Bogard presents relevant information about light pollution issues (8 out of 10 children will be unable to see the Milky Way, light in the sky increases 6 percent annually). to back up his claims that light pollution is real, then goes on to present additional evidence that light pollution is a problem (working the night shift puts humans at risk for cancer).

Bogard encourages the reader to establish a connection on her own by displaying information and evidences rather than just opinion and spin, which gives the reader custody 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

The anecdote is another type of evidence that is frequently used in place of actual facts or statistics. This type of evidence is most commonly found in speeches or other types of essay prompts that are written in the form of a personal address to the reader.

 

How Do You Recognize It?

An anecdote is a brief story based on a true person or event. Anecdotal evidence is when an author discusses their own personal experience or the personal experience of someone they know or have heard of.

Here’s an example of (part of) an anecdote from an official SAT essay prompt modified from a foreword by former United States President Jimmy Carter:

On the coastal plain, we had one of the most memorable and humbling experiences of our lives. We had hoped to see caribou on our trip, but instead, we witnessed the migration of tens of thousands of caribou and their newborn calves. The expanse of tundra in front of us came alive in a matter of minutes, with the sounds of grunting animals and clicking hooves filling the air. The Porcupine caribou herd’s dramatic procession was a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife spectacle. We can see why this unique birthplace has been subtitled “America’s Serengeti” by some.

Why Is It Effective?

Although anecdotes aren’t statistics or facts, they can be powerful because reading an anecdote is more relatable/interesting to the reader than reading dry, boring facts. People are more likely to believe in experiences if they can personally connect with them (even if this does not affect how likely or unlikely a statement is to be true).

In the preceding example, rather than describing the statistics that support the establishment of wildlife refuges, Jimmy Carter uses an anecdote about experiencing nature’s wonder to explain the same point—probably more effectively.

Carter initiates the reader’s empathy towards wildlife preservation by inviting the reader to experience vicariously the majesty of witnessing the migration of the Porcupine caribou, increasing the likelihood that the reader will agree with him that wildlife refuges are important.

 

Examples of Reasoning

To some extent, all authors use reasoning, but it is not always a significant part of how the author constructs her/his argument. However, sometimes the support for a claim may not appear to be convincing on its own—in these cases, an author may choose to use reasoning to explain how the evidence presented actually builds the argument.

 

Example Type 3: Counterarguments and Counterclaims

Discussing a counterargument, or counterclaim, to the author’s main idea is one way an author might use reasoning to convince the reader to accept the claim being put forward. Counterargument discussion (and subsequent neutralization) is observed in prompts across all subject areas.

 

How Do You Recognize It?

A counterargument or counterclaim is merely another point of view that contradicts (either completely or partially) the author’s argument. When the words “some may argue,” “however,” or other contrast words and phrases appear in an essay prompt, the author is most likely presenting a counterclaim.

The Digital Parent Trap” by Eliana Dockterman is an example of an effective presentation (and antithesis) of a counter claim from an approved SAT essay prompt:

“You could say that some computer games foster creativity,” says Lucy Wurtz, administrator at the Waldorf School in Los Altos, Calif., just outside Silicon Valley. “However, I don’t see any advantage.” Waldorf children knit, build things, and paint—a wide range of practical and creative activities.”

But it’s not that easy. While there are risks associated with using Facebook, new research suggests that social networking sites also provide unprecedented learning opportunities.

Why Is It Effective?

So, how does bringing up an opposing viewpoint assist an author in building her argument? It may appear counterintuitive, but discussing a counterargument strengthens the main argument. However, as shown in the brief example above, giving some space to another point of view makes it appear as if the discussion will be more “fair.” This is true whether the author gives insight into the counterargument or merely mentions an opposing point of view briefly before moving on.

A true discussion of the counterargument (as in Dockterman’s article) will also demonstrate a deeper understanding of the topic than if the article only conveyed one side of the argument. And, because the presence of a counterargument shows that the author understands the topic well enough to see it from multiple perspectives, the reader is more likely to believe that the author’s claims are well-thought out and worth believing.

Take for instance Dockterman article, the author not only mentions the alternate argument, but also takes the time to obtain a quote from someone who supports it. Because she doesn’t appear to be presenting a one-sided argument, her subsequent claim that “it’s not that simple” becomes more credible.

 

Example Type 4: Evidence Justification

In some cases, the author’s argument is dependent on the clarity with which she connects her evidence and her claims. According to the College Board Official SAT Study Guide,

The connective tissue that maintains an argument together is reasoning. The “thinking” — the logic, the analysis — is what develops the argument and connects the claim and evidence.”

 

How Do You Recognize It?

Explanation of evidence is one of the more difficult argument-building techniques to discuss (at least in my opinion), because while it appears in many essay prompts, it isn’t always a major persuasive feature. You can quickly spot an author’s interpretation of evidence if the author connects and explains a claim to support it, rather than just throwing out evidence without much ceremony or connecting to the claim; however, whether or not the author’s explanation of evidence is a key contributor to the author’s argument is somewhat subjective.

Here’s an example of an author using explanations of each piece of evidence she discusses to logically enhance her argument (again from the Dockterman passage):

Playing the empire-building game at MIT’s Education Arcade Civilization piqued students’ interest in history and was directly related to an increase in the quality of their history-class reports.

The reason is simple: engagement. According to MIT research, on average, students can remember only 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, and 50% of what they see demonstrated. However, when they are actually doing something—in virtual worlds on iPads or laptops—their retention rate skyrockets to 90%.

This is one of the main reasons why researchers like Ito believe the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of limiting screen time to two hours is out of date: actively browsing pages on a computer or tablet is far more brain-stimulating than vegging out in front of the TV.

 

Why Is It Persuasive?

Unfortunately, the explanation provided by the Official SAT Study Guide for how to discuss an author’s “reasoning” is a little ambiguous:

You may choose to discuss how the author employs (or fails to employ) clear, logical reasoning to connect a claim to the evidence supporting that claim.

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

Generally, when an author explains the logic behind her argument or point, the reader is able to follow along and comprehend the author’s argument (which in some situations makes it more likely the reader will agree with the author).

In the Dockterman example, the author clearly lays out data (Civilization leads to improvements in history class), a claim (this is due to engagement with the game and thus the subject material), data to 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). The reader can follow Dockterman’s points because of the clear pattern of data-explanation-more data-explanation. It’s more persuasive because, rather than simply being told “Civilization leads to improvements in history,” the reader is forced to reenact the thought 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 final layer of argument construction. A good argument is built on evidence, which is often explained and elucidated by reasoning, but it is often the addition of stylistic or persuasive elements, such as an ironic tone or a rhetorical flourish, that seals the deal.

 

Example Type 5: Vivid Language

The use of vivid language is the icing on the persuasive cake. Similarly, to evidence explanations, vivid language can be identified in all essay prompt topics (although it usually plays a larger role when the passage is lacking in more convincing facts or logic).

 

How Do You Recognize It?

Vibrant language is easy to spot—it appears in similes, metaphors, adjectives, or any words that jump out at you and don’t appear to serve purely functional purposes. Here are two examples: the first is Paul Bogard once more.

demonstrate that what was once a very dark country in the 1950s is now nearly covered with a blanket of light.

This example is more restrained, employing the metaphor of “a blanket of light” to emphasize Bogard’s discussion of light pollution. Another official SAT essay prompt, adapted from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech “Beyond Vietnam—A Time to Break Silence,” provides a more striking example:

Vietnam continued to attract men, skills, and money like a demonic catastrophic suction tube.

 

Why Is It Persuasive?

Because it puts the reader in the author’s shoes and draws them into the passage, vivid language is an effective argument-building tool. If used sparingly, vivid language will make the topic more interesting for the reader to read, thus engaging them even more.

The statement “demonic destructive suction tube” is startling and intriguing in the above excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, meant to rouse the audience’s indignation at the injustice and waste of the Vietnam war. If King had omitted the second part of the sentence and simply stated, “Vietnam continued to draw men, skills, and money,” his point would not have had the same impact.

 

Example Type 6: Direct Addresses and Appeals to the Reader

The final category I’ll cover in this article is direct addresses and reader appeals. These stylistic elements can be found in a wide range of passage topics, though, as with the previous category, they usually play a larger role when the passage is lacking in facts or logic.

How Can You Identify It?

Direct addresses and appeals to the reader are wordings or other stylistic devices used to elicit a response (often emotional) from the reader. This category includes a wide range of elements, from emotional appeals to rhetorical questions. Here’s another example of an emotional appeal from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech:

Perhaps a more tragic realization of reality occurred when I realized that the war was doing far more than destroying the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending a disproportionate number of their sons, brothers, and husbands to fight and die in comparison to the rest of the population.

Here’s another example of a rhetorical question: (from the Paul Bogard article):

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

Why Is It Persuasive?

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

Rhetorical questions, on the other hand, invite the reader into the author’s world. The reader engages with the topic on a deeper level by reading and thinking about the author’s question than if the reader were simply given a statement of what the author thinks. In the situation of the Bogard example, the rhetorical question draws the reader’s attention to his/her descendants, a group of people for whom the reader (presumably) only wishes the best, which puts the reader in a good mood (assuming the reader likes his/her descendants).

 

 

Review

As you can see, these examples of various argumentative techniques can be extracted from a wide variety of article types on a variety of topics. This is due to the fact that the examples themselves are so meaningful and complex that they can be used to discuss a wide range of issues.

The main point is that you don’t have to wait until you see the prompt to build an arsenal of argument-building techniques to back up your points. Instead, planning ahead of time how you’ll discuss these techniques will save you a lot of time and stress when the exam comes around.

 

What Follows?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably hoping to do well on the SAT essay. We’ve created a slew of detailed guides to ensure you succeed.

With our 15 SAT essay improvement tips, you can begin to scratch the surface.

Follow our step-by-step guide to writing a high-scoring essay to understand how to get a SAT essay score of 8/8/8.

Have you taken the old SAT and are unsure how the new essay compares? Begin by reading our article about what has changed with the new SAT essay, and then follow along as we investigate the SAT essay rubric.

Do you want to get a perfect SAT score? Check out our perfect SAT score guide, written by our resident perfect scorer.