Frequent Sat Essay Prompts

Are you debating whether or not to take the optional ACT essay? Some schools require it, so we highly recommend that you take it (make sure to register for ACT with Writing).

But no need to stress! The essay follows a predictable format, which means you can practice and prepare beforehand. Take a look at a sample ACT writing prompt and learn five key steps to penning a high-scoring essay.

ACT Writing Prompt

This example writing prompt comes straight from our book Cracking the ACT:


Education and the Workplace

Many colleges and universities have cut their humanities departments, and high schools have started to shift their attention much more definitively toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and away from ELA (English, Language Arts). Representatives from both school boards and government organizations suggest that the move toward STEM is necessary in helping students to participate in a meaningful way in the American workplace. Given the urgency of this debate for the future of education and society as a whole, it is worth examining the potential consequences of this shift in how students are educated in the United States.

Read and carefully consider these perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the shift in American education.

Perspective 1 Perspective 2 Perspective 3
ELA programs should be emphasized over STEM programs. Education is not merely a means to employment: ELA education helps students to live more meaningful lives. In addition, an exclusively STEM-based program cannot help but limit students’ creativity and lead them to overemphasize the importance of money and other tangible gains. ELA programs should be eradicated entirely, except to establish the basic literacy necessary to engage in the hard sciences, mathematics, and business. Reading and writing are activities that are best saved for the leisure of students who enjoy them. ELA and STEM programs should always be in equal balance with one another. Both are necessary to providing a student with a well-rounded education. Moreover, equal emphasis will allow the fullest possible exposure to many subjects before students choose their majors and careers

Essay Task

Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on the issue of how schools should balance STEM and ELA subjects. In your essay, be sure to:

  • analyze and evaluate the perspectives given
  • state and develop your own perspective on the issue
  • explain the relationship between your perspective and those given

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial agreement, or wholly different. Whatever the case, support your ideas with logical reasoning and detailed, persuasive examples.

How to Write the ACT Essay

Your job is to write an essay in which you take some sort of position on the prompt, all while assessing the three perspectives provided in the boxes. Find a way to anchor your essay with a unique perspective of your own that can be defended and debated, and you are already in the upper echelon of scorers.

Step 1: Work the Prompt

What in the prompt requires you to weigh in? Why is this issue still the subject of debate and not a done deal?

Step 2: Work the Perspectives

Typically, the three perspectives will be split: one for, one against, and one in the middle. Your goal in Step 2 is to figure out where each perspective stands and then identify at least one shortcoming of each perspective. For the example above, ask yourself: 

  • What does each perspective consider?
  • What does each perspective overlook?

Step 3: Generate Your Own Perspective

Now it's time to come up with your own perspective! If you merely restate one of the three given perspectives, you won’t be able to get into the highest scoring ranges. You’ll draw from each of the perspectives, and you may side with one of them, but your perspective should have something unique about it.

Step 4: Put It All Together

Now that you have your ideas in order, here's a blueprint for how to organize the ACT essay. This blueprint works no matter what your prompt is.

Introduction

  • Start with a topic sentence the restates the central issue
  • Clearly state your position on the issue

Body Paragraph (1)

  • Start with a transition/topic sentence that discusses the OPPOSING SIDE of your argument
  • Discuss the given perspective(s) that would support the opposing argument
  • Give a specific example that could be used to support the opposing perspective
  • Explain why you disagree with the opposing perspective
Body Paragraph (2)
  • Start with a transition/topic sentence that discusses YOUR POSITION on the central issue
  • Explain your position including any of the given perspectives that support your position
  • Give an example that supports your position
  • End the paragraph by restating your position
Conclusion
  • Recap your discussion
  • Restate your perspective and arguments
  • Provide a final overarching thought on the topic

Step 5: (If There's Time): Proofread

Spend one or two minutes on proofreading your essay if you have time. You’re looking for big, glaring errors. If you find one, erase it completely or cross it out neatly. Though neatness doesn’t necessarily affect your grade, it does make for a happy grader.


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New SAT Essay Prompts

Below, we’ve compiled a list of OFFICIAL new SAT essay prompts that have been released by the College Board.

Redesigned SAT essay prompts ask students to read and analyze a provided passage that is about the same length as one of the SAT Reading test passages. To help you out, we’ve added links to those readings below the related prompts so that you can use these prompts to write practice essays.

New SAT Essay Template

All of the new SAT essay prompts are customized slightly to include a reference to the author and the author’s main idea, but here’s the basic template prompt that you will see on every SAT exam:

    As you read the passage below, consider how [the author] uses:
  • 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.
  • [Passage appears here.]

    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.

Whoa, that’s a long question. That’s why you should memorize it before you sit down for the SAT essay. This way you know in advance some of the categories you can use to support your opinions (the bulleted list in the top box) and that you are NOT supposed to write about your own opinions (the warning in the bottom box).

If you know the basic prompt in advance, then when you open your test booklet to the essay section, the only part you need to concentrate on is the [author’s claim] part. This part tells you the exact argument the author is trying to make . That’s right, the prompt will actually give you the main idea straight up! So check this first, so that you don’t misread the passage and think it’s something else entirely.

Scroll below for practice essay prompts and passages to practice with. Many of the links also include same student essays (bonus!) that I highly suggest you read so that you can see which essays get which scores.

Redesigned SAT Essay Prompt Examples

SAT Essay Prompt 1

Write an essay in which you explain how Paul Bogard builds an argument to persuade his audience that natural darkness should be preserved. In your essay, analyze how Bogard uses one or more of the features in the directions that precede the passage (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 Bogard’s claims, but rather explain how Bogard builds an argument to persuade his audience.

Click here for the passage for this question.

SAT Prompt 2

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. In your essay, analyze how Gioia uses one or more of the features in the directions that precede the passage (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 Gioia’s claims, but rather explain how Gioia builds an argument to persuade his audience.

Click here for the passage for this question.

SAT Prompt 3

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. In your essay, analyze how Carter 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 Carter’s claims, but rather explain how Carter builds an argument to persuade his audience.

Click here for the passage for this question.

SAT Prompt 4

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. In your essay, analyze how King 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 King’s claims, but rather explain how King builds an argument to persuade his audience.

Click here for the passage for this question.

SAT Prompt 5

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. In your essay, analyze how Dockterman 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 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 Dockterman’s claims, but rather explain how Dockterman builds an argument to persuade her audience.

Click here for the passage for this question.

SAT Prompt 6

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. In your essay, analyze how Dockterman 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 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 Goodman’s claims, but rather explain how Goodman builds an argument to persuade her audience.

Click here for the passage for this question.
 

SAT Essay Prompt List from the Old SAT (Pre-March 2016)

Below is a list of official SAT prompts from the College Board Website and Official SAT Study Guide for the “old SAT”.

We’ve divided them up by sub-topic to give a better sense of the types of questions they ask in general. For help writing about each individual theme, take a look at our 10 post series on SAT Essay Themes.

SAT Essay Themes

Success and Goals

  • When some people win, must others lose, or are there situations in which everyone wins?
  • Can success be disastrous?
  • Is moderation an obstacle to achievement and success?
  • Do people succeed by emphasizing their differences from other people?
  • Is solitude—spending time alone—necessary for people to achieve their most important goals?
  • Is real success achieved only by people who accomplish goals and solve problems on their own?
  • Do people have to pay attention to mistakes in order to make progress?
  • Are optimistic, confident people more likely than others to make changes in their lives?
  • Do idealists contribute more to the world than realists do?
  • Are people likely to succeed by repeating actions that worked for them in the past?
  • Are people more likely to achieve their goals by being flexible or by refusing to compromise?
  • Is it better to aim for small accomplishments instead of great achievements?
  • Are people likely to be dissatisfied rather than content once they have achieved their goals?

Happiness and Work Ethic

  • If people worked less, would they be more creative and active during their free time?
  • Do rules and limitations contribute to a person’s happiness?
  • Does society put too much emphasis on working hard?
  • Do people need discipline to achieve freedom?
  • Do people benefit more from having many choices or few choices?

Heroes & Role Models

  • Do we benefit from learning about the flaws of people we admire and respect?
  • Should heroes be defined as people who say what they think when we ourselves lack the courage to say it?
  • Should leaders of a country or group be judged by different standards?
  • Should ordinary people be considered heroes, or should the term “hero” be reserved for extraordinary people?
  • Is it wrong to use the word “courage” to describe behaviors that are ordinary or self-interested?

Relationships

  • Do we need other people in order to understand ourselves?
  • Is talking the most effective and satisfying way of communicating with others?
  • Do people tend to get along better with people who are very different from them or with those who are like them?
  • Are people better off if they do not listen to criticism?
  • Is it wise to be suspicious of the motives or honesty of other people, even those who appear to be trustworthy?
  • Is it wrong or harmful to motivate people to learn or achieve something by offering them rewards?
  • Should people respect and tolerate everyone’s opinions, or should people take a stand against opinions they consider to be wrong?
  • Does familiarity prevent people from developing or maintaining respect for others?
  • Is it better for people to agree with others, even if doing so means being insincere?

The Changing World

  • Do changes that make our lives easier not necessarily make them better?
  • Is the world changing for the better?
  •  Does improvement or progress usually involve a significant drawback or problem of some kind?
  • Does progress reduce the number of problems in the world, or does solving old problems just lead to new ones?

Morality

  • Is conscience a more powerful motivator than money, fame, or power?
  • Is deception ever justified?
  • Should individuals take responsibility for issues and problems that do not affect them directly?
  • Is it often difficult for people to determine what is the right thing to do?
  • Are the consequences of people’s actions more important than the motives behind the actions?
  • Does every individual have an obligation to think seriously about important matters, even when doing so may be difficult?

Challenges

  • Is it best for people to accept who they are and what they have, or should people always strive to better themselves?
  • Do you think that ease does not challenge us and that we need adversity to help us discover who we are?
  • Does every achievement bring with it new challenges?

Knowledge

  • Can common sense be trusted and accepted, or should it be questioned?
  • Can knowledge be a burden rather than a benefit?
  • Is there always another explanation or another point of view?

Groups and Society

  • Should the government be responsible for making sure that people lead healthy lives?
  • Should people take more responsibility for solving problems that affect their communities or the nation in general?
  • Does accepting the values of a group allow people to avoid taking responsibility for their own thoughts and actions?
  • Do groups that encourage nonconformity and disagreement function better than those that discourage it?
  •  Is it always harmful for an individual to think and live as other people do?
  • Can a small group of concerned individuals have a significant impact on the world?
  • Do people put too much trust in the guidance of experts and authorities?
  • Does tradition prevent people from doing things in new or more sensible ways?
  • Are people too willing to agree with those in charge?

Other

  • Do small decisions often have major consequences?
  • Are people overly influenced by unrealistic claims and misleading images?
  • Is it best to forget about past mistakes as soon as possible?
  • Are people too serious?
  • Is it a disadvantage to pay attention to details?

Remember: hen preparing for the SAT essay, be sure that you’re only using SAT essay prompts that relate to the redesigned SAT. The SAT essay has changed significantly, and old essay prompts won’t help prepare you for this new challenge. 🙂

About Kristin Fracchia

Kristin makes sure Magoosh's sites are full of awesome, free resources that can be found by students prepping for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agony and bliss of trail running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.


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