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Sat Essay Prompts College Board


Although the new SAT essay has us saying “goodbye” to coming up with personal, historical, or literary examples to use as supporting details, which was the source of stress for many students, it now calls for students to showcase a new skill: how to analyze an argument. As such, this post will go over a sample essay prompt similar to what you might find on the SAT and an example of how to annotate the passage, which will not only help you find the supporting material you’d want to use in your essay, but also will allow you to work through your own reasoning for why the writer’s methods are effective.

To maximize the effectiveness of this post, I recommend that you read “How To Conquer the New SAT Essay” if you haven’t already and the entirety of this post, and then try your hand at annotating the passage (track changes on MS Word work great if you want to save trees) before looking at my example.

This holiday season, there was something in the air that was even more inescapable than the scent of pumpkin spice: gratitude.

In November, NPR issued a number of brief exhortations to cultivate gratitude, culminating in an hourlong special on the “science of gratitude,” narrated by Susan Sarandon. Writers in Time magazine, The New York Times and Scientific American recommended it as a surefire ticket to happiness and even better health. Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California, Davis, who studies the “science of gratitude,” argues that it leads to a stronger immune system and lower blood pressure, as well as “more joy and pleasure.”

It’s good to express our thanks, of course, to those who deserve recognition. But this holiday gratitude is all about you, and how you can feel better.

Gratitude is hardly a fresh face on the self-improvement scene. By the turn of the century, Oprah Winfrey and other motivational figures were promoting an “attitude of gratitude.” Martin Seligman, the father of “positive psychology,” which is often enlisted to provide some sort of scientific basis for “positive thinking,” has been offering instruction in gratitude for more than a decade…

[But] positive thinking was in part undone by its own silliness, glaringly displayed in the 2006 bestseller “The Secret,” which announced that you could have anything, like the expensive necklace you’d been coveting, simply by “visualizing” it in your possession.

The financial crash of 2008 further dimmed the luster of positive thinking, which had done so much to lure would-be homeowners and predatory mortgage lenders into a speculative frenzy. This left the self-improvement field open to more cautious stances, like mindfulness and resilience and — for those who could still muster it — gratitude.

…Perhaps it’s no surprise that gratitude’s rise to self-help celebrity status owes a lot to the…John Templeton Foundation. At the start of this decade, the foundation…gave $5.6 million to Dr. Emmons, the gratitude researcher. It also funded a $3 million initiative called Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude through the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, which co-produced the special that aired on NPR. The foundation does not fund projects to directly improve the lives of poor individuals, but it has spent a great deal, through efforts like these, to improve their attitudes.

[Furthermore, it appears that] much of the gratitude advice involves no communication or interaction of any kind. Consider this, from a yoga instructor on CNN.com: “Cultivate your sense of gratitude by incorporating giving thanks into a personal morning ritual such as writing in a gratitude journal, repeating an affirmation or practicing a meditation. It could even be as simple as writing what you give thanks for on a sticky note and posting it on your mirror or computer. To help you establish a daily routine, create a ‘thankfulness’ reminder on your phone or computer to pop up every morning and prompt you.”

Who is interacting here? “You” and “you.”

…Yet there is a need for more gratitude, especially from those who have a roof over their heads and food on their table. Only it should be a more vigorous and inclusive sort of gratitude than what is being urged on us now. Who picked the lettuce in the fields, processed the standing rib roast, drove these products to the stores, stacked them on the supermarket shelves and, of course, prepared them and brought them to the table? …There are crowds, whole communities of actual people, many of them with aching backs and tenuous finances, who made the meal possible.

The real challenge of gratitude lies in figuring out how to express our debt to them, whether through generous tips or, say, by supporting their demands for decent pay and better working conditions. But now we’re not talking about gratitude, we’re talking about a far more muscular impulse — and this is, to use the old-fashioned term, “solidarity” — which may involve getting up off the yoga mat.

Write an essay in which you explain how Barbara Ehrenreich builds an argument to persuade her audience that expressing gratitude has developed into a selfish act. In your essay, analyze how Ehrenreich 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 Ehrenreich’s claims, but rather explain how Ehrenreich builds an argument to persuade her audience.

The first thing you should take note of is the fact that the prompt tells you what kind of elements you need to focus on to see how the author builds his or her argument. Because we are asked about how Ehrenreich built her argument for “expressing gratitude has developed into a selfish act,” I kept this statement at the forefront of my mind as I looked for evidence in the passage as well as what I’ve noticed about tone, word choice, sentence structure, and other elements that served to help make Ehrenreich’s point. I also didn’t take much notes — just general comments about the purpose of the initial paragraphs — until I reached the evidence I needed for my essay, which is when I took a LOT of notes.

Finished with your own annotation? Check out how I would annotate this text (which I would write in a much more rushed and abbreviated manner on the real thing) to see if we were on similar wavelengths!

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.


Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!


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

    Assignment:
    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?”

    Assignment:
    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.”
    C.E.Ayers

    Assignment:
    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.”

    Assignment:
    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

    Assignment:
    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

    Assignment:
    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

    Assignment:
    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

    Assignment:
    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.

    Assignment:
    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.

    Assignment:
    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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