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What Does a Good SAT Essay Look Like?

Let’s face it. When your high schooler is preparing for the SAT, it’s not always an easy process. It isn’t cheap, either!

Private tutors, SAT prep courses, SAT prep books–all of these things cost money, and it really adds up.

But free SAT resources are so hard to come by…especially those SAT essays. Without access to sample prompts and essays, how can anyone possibly be expected to write a good essay on the actual SAT? You’ve probably looked and looked to no avail.

Well, look no more! Today I’m going to share with you some sample SAT essay prompts, as well as some examples of both good and bad SAT essays.

Your high schooler will be on their way to a score of 12 in no time.

SAT Essay Prompts

Every SAT essay prompt is laid out in pretty much the same way.

First, your student will be given a quote or excerpt from a book, speech, poem, song, or some other sort of work. The excerpt is then followed by a very broad question–this question is the prompt.

The people who create the essay prompts make them deliberately broad so that people of all backgrounds can relate to the prompt, and so that you can talk about pretty much anything.

Be careful though! These prompts are open-ended, but your student needs to make sure they’re still taking a definitive stance.

Here are some examples of real SAT essay prompts.

Prompt 1:

essay prompt 1

Is it better to care deeply about something or to remain emotionally detached?

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.

Prompt 2:

essay prompt 2

Is most of what people buy totally unnecessary?

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.

Prompt 3:

essay prompt 3

Are snap judgments better than decisions to which people give a lot of thought?

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.

Prompt 4:

essay prompt 4

Can people who are not famous be better role models than people who are famous?

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.

So I have my prompt… what now?

Now that you’ve seen what an actual SAT essay prompt looks like, it’s time for your student to start practicing!

First things first–pick a direction!


After your student reads and fully understands the prompt, they should decide what direction to take with their essay. Every SAT essay prompt can be answered with “yes” or “no.”

So your student should pick a side and RUN with it.

Tell them to make it clear in their essay whether they agree or disagree with the statement given. If your student jumps from side to side, they’ll have themselves a very weak essay, and the grader is likely to think that they just can’t make up their mind.

In other words, have “DON’T BE WISHY-WASHY!” tattooed on your student’s forehead.

Outline your essay!

Before your student starts writing their essay, it’s always a good idea for them to create a rough outline of what their essay will look like.

Have them write out the thesis of their essay, the topic of each body paragraph (3 body paragraphs are recommended), and jot down a few points they’d like to get across in the conclusion.

5 paragraph

Write your essay!

We recommend using the 5 paragraph essay structure! Given the time constraints of the SAT, your student doesn’t have a whole lot of room to get fancy with their writing style.

In the introduction of their essay, they should introduce the topic of their essay, followed by their thesis.

Each body paragraph should be structured in the same way.

Tell your student to introduce the topic of the paragraph, whether it be The Scarlet Letter, The Industrial Revolution, or Taylor Swift, and how it relates to their thesis.

Next, they should elaborate on their examples for 2-3 sentences, and finish with a counterfactual statement.

For example, your child can end their body paragraph by saying, “had Taylor Swift not become famous, she wouldn’t have lost her integrity and started producing music reminiscent of Ke$ha.”

SAT writing essay strategy

What does a good SAT essay look like?

Curious to see what an essay with a score or 6 looks like? Collegeboard provides several sample essays on their website, listing the score each essay received, and why each received the score that it did.

Conclusion

You can breathe easy now! You’ve finally seen how an actual SAT essay prompt looks, so now all your student has to do is practice. When they’re practicing, and when they’re writing your actual SAT essay, they should remember to:

  1. Thoroughly read and understand the prompt
  2. Take a stance–DON’T BE WISHY-WASHY
  3. Outline the essay
  4. Write the essay according to the 5-paragraph essay structure

lm checklist cita with girl test prep grey

Got any other SAT essay writing tips? Share with us in the comments below!

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Laura earned a Master's degree in Secondary Education plus Teaching Certification for Mathematics and Psychology in both AZ and CA. Her undergraduate work was in Psychology with a minor in German from UCLA where she graduated magna cum laude. She has been tutoring since the 90's, was a high school teacher 2006-2011, and still teaches for a local college. Laura is passionate about teaching, learning, entrepreneurship, and traveling the world with her husband, their dog Tuck, and her Macbook Pro. -- Join Laura on Linkedin & Twitter!
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Cynthia Grace
Cynthia Grace
5 years ago

this is an awesome website, i feel i have learnt a lot. Especially the prompts. Thanks a lot!

Renae Hintze
Renae Hintze
5 years ago
Reply to  Cynthia Grace

Cynthia, I’m glad you’re able to draw from this! The content on our blog is meant to be practical, so the solid examples give you a real idea of what to expect and how to prepare. If you haven’t already, feel free to rack through our many SAT blogs and find more of what you need. 🙂

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