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College Board Sat Essay Prompts

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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Paul Bogard, a respected and passionate writer, offers a convincing argument on the importance of allowing more darkness to fill the earth for distinct health and ecological reasons. With light providing as such a huge factor in daily life, we sometimes forget that darkness can have more healing abilities, and allows nature to return to a nonartificial, primitive state. Bogard uses personal observation for credibility, stirring feelings, and startling facts to deliver a powerful argument.

Throughout the passage, Bogard remains nostalgic about his childhood: “At my family’s cabin on a Minnesota lake, I knew woods so dark that my hands disappeared before my eyes. I knew night skies in which meteors left smoky trails across sugary spreads of stars....This winter solstice, as we cheer the days’ gradual movement back toward light, let us also remember the irreplaceable value of darkness.” The description of nature and the stunningly beautiful imagery creates a feeling of deep respect for the darkness. We share in Bogard’s view and as a result, Bogard has undeniable credibility. Bogard knows the power of darkness and through his childhood memories, we lean our ears to listen to him.

Even though credibility makes many appearences throughout the passage, it would have no real meaning without evoking emotion. Bogard strikes the people who disagree with him when he says, “Our bodies need darkness to produce the hormone melatonin, which keeps certain cancers from developing and our bodies need darkness for sleep. Sleep disorders have been linked to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression, and recent research suggests one main cause of ‘short sleep’ is ‘long light’.” Bogard’s statement dissolves any doubt, but builds up new feeling. We finally see the true importance of allowing our world to temporarily succumb to darkness. Through the emotion Bogard evokes, we suddenly feel defensive in preserving the darkness for the sake of our mental and physical health. Bogard even makes us think about the future generations: “In a world awash with electric light...how would Van Gogh have given the world his ‘starry night’? Who knows what this vision of the night sky must inspire in each of us, in our children or grandchildren?”

In order to achieve proper credibility and stir emotion, undeniable facts must reside in passage. Bogard has completed his research, and uses it to further his case: “The rest of the world depends on darkness as well, including nocturnal and crepuscular species of birds, insects, mammals, fish, and reptiles. Some examples are well known—the 400 species of birds that migrate at night in North America, the sea turtles that come to lay their eggs—and some are not, such as the bats that save American farmers billions in pest control and the moths that pollinate 80% of the world’s flora.” Using the facts about animals, Bogard extends the argument beyond humans, allowing us to see that darkness does not only have an impact on us, but all of nature. Bogard then says, “In the United States and Western Europe, the amount of light in the sky increases an average of about 6% every year.... Much of this light is wasted energy, which means wasted dollars. Those of us over 35 are perhaps among the last generation to have known truly dark nights.” However, Bogard extends the facts to offer various solutions to wasted and excessive light, such as changing LED streetlights and reducing the use of lights in public buildings and homes during the night. Bogard builds up our world, and then breaks it down in our minds with his writing: “Simply put, without darkness, Earth’s ecology would collapse....”

We can still save our world according to Bogard. We must see the strength and beauty in the darkness, and remember how our world survived without lights. Light can be acceptable, but too much of it can prove worse than permanent darkness.

This response scored a 4/3/4.

Reading—4: This response demonstrates thorough comprehension of Bogard’s text. The writer captures the central idea of the source passage (the importance of allowing more darkness to fill the earth for distinct health and ecological reasons) and accurately quotes and paraphrases many important details from the passage. Moreover, the writer demonstrates an understanding of how these ideas and details interrelate. In the third body paragraph, for example, the writer shows the movement of Bogard’s argument from humans to animals and from problems to solutions (Using facts about animals, Bogard extends the argument beyond humans...Bogard extends the facts to offer various solutions). The response is free of errors of fact and interpretation. Overall, this response demonstrates advanced reading comprehension.

Analysis—3: The writer demonstrates an understanding of the analytical task by analyzing three ways Bogard builds his argument (personal observation for credibility, stirring feelings, and startling facts to deliver a powerful argument). Throughout the response, the writer discusses Bogard’s use of these three elements and is able to move past asserting their significance to deliver an effective analysis of the effects of these techniques on Bogard’s audience. Effective analysis is evident in the first body paragraph in which the writer discusses the audience’s possible reaction to reading about Bogard’s experience with darkness as a child (Bogard knows the power of darkness and through his childhood memories, we lean our ears to listen to him). In the second body paragraph, the writer contends that Bogard’s statement dissolves any doubt, but builds up new feeling. We finally see the true importance of allowing our world to temporarily succumb to darkness. Through the emotion Bogard evokes, we suddenly feel defensive in preserving the darkness for the sake of our mental and physical health. These points of analysis would have been stronger had the writer elaborated on how they work to build Bogard’s argument. However, the writer competently evaluates Bogard’s use of personal observation, emotions, and facts and provides relevant and sufficient support for each claim, demonstrating effective analysis.

Writing—4: The writer demonstrates highly effective use and command of language in this cohesive response. The response includes a precise central claim (Bogard uses personal observation for credibility, stirring feelings, and startling facts to deliver a powerful argument), and each of the subsequent paragraphs remains focused on one of the topics set forth in that central claim. There is a deliberate progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the response. Moreover, the response demonstrates precise word choice and sophisticated turns of phrase (temporarily succumb to darkness, remains nostalgic about his childhood, dissolves any doubt). The concluding paragraph develops the essay rather than just restating what has been said and is also successful for its precise word choice and complex sentence structures (We must see the strength and beauty in the darkness, and remember how our world survived without lights. Light can be acceptable, but too much of it can prove worse than permanent darkness). Although there are occasional missteps where the writer overreaches with language (In order to achieve proper credibility and stir emotion, undeniable facts must reside in the passage), overall, this response demonstrates advanced writing skill.