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Kristin Fracchia

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.

SAT essay prompts

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 blogs are chock-full of awesome, free resources for students preparing 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 agonizing bliss of marathon running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.


8 Responses to “SAT Essay Prompts”

  1. satfan101 says:

    Hello Lucas, thanks for the great posts about the SAT Essay

    I had the weirdest Essay topic this June SAT. It was something like “Should we know the sources of informations before we use it”?
    what are 3 examples that could help in this one?
    I know the main categories of Essay topic but this one does not belong to any of them!
    Also Can You make a COMPREHENSIVE list of all the OFFICIAL PROMPTS up till now in categories? this will be of great help cause I think this list isn’t updated does not contain the weird prompts that the SAT might throw at you

    • Lucas Fink Lucas says:

      Sorry about the delay on this! It looks like your comment got lost for a while there–that’s my mistake! It sounds to me like the prompt was asking whether we should gather information about the source of information before taking action. It’s definitely a bit tricky, but it’s not so different from what the SAT usually asks. It would fit pretty well in the “knowledge” grouping above. Here are a few examples that come to mind for me, based on the thesis that it’s important to know your source before taking action (but remember this depends completely on the person!):

      In the medical field, it’s absolutely crucial that doctors know whether the information they’re given comes from a reliable source before they act. A surgeon cannot simply trust word of mouth.
      Before going to war with Iraq, George W. Bush trusted information from advisors without confirming the source of those facts. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but the U.S. started a long war at the expense of many lives.
      Gossip nearly ended my friendship with my cousin May. She’d heard that I had insulted her poetry, and refused to speak to me for weeks. But the rumor was false–I’d never even read her poetry, nevermind insulted it.

      That last one is made up, just to remind you that you can do that if you need to 🙂

      As for a comprehensive list, this is it! These are all of the prompts that the College Board had released to the public up until the article was posted here. Since then, there has been one more set, I think, which you can find here

      There won’t be anything too different from what’s in this blog post. The SAT doesn’t change very often. Because it’s standardized, it actually can’t, or else they wouldn’t be able to compare the scores across different versions of the same test!

  2. Tenzin says:

    I love it.

  3. Rolf says:

    Sorry man, but saying that the quote that is included in ALL SAT prompts is useless and distracting and so basically don’t pay any attention to it, is going to mislead a lot of students. The quote is an entry into the prompt that can orient the student toward the issue, and at the very least know the way in which College Board is trying to channel the students’.thinking One can judge, for example, the manner in which the vast majority of the students are going to write (in the positive or affirmative, etc.) and plan their strategy accordingly. Also, the quote can help a creative student think of a novel angle for their response, riffing off the view presented in the quote.
    I think the raw question-prompt can be very useful for doing certain activities like speed essays or brainstorming and outlining, but ultimately when a student is practicing for her SATs, she should be writing to prompts that include a quote.

    • Lucas Fink Lucas says:

      Thanks for the input, Rolf! I’d agree that the quote can be useful, definitely. But it doesn’t hold nearly the important that it seems to by its size on the page, and one of the most common problems students have is spending too much time trying to work the quote into their essays or responding to it directly without branching out into their own experiences. It’s a great jumping off point, but only that, and it’s dangerous. I recommend focusing on the prompt because that generally won’t hurt you; paying too much attention to the quote, on the other hand, can and does. (By the way, it really doesn’t matter which side the essay writer chooses. A well written essay can be on either side, so I don’t recommend trying to decide which side to take based on a prediction from reading the prompt.) I realize there will always be some difference of opinion on this, though, so thank you again for the feedback!

    • Karen says:

      I am with Lucas on this one. Because the SAT is looking for original, insightful and (critically) thoughtful writing, the quote can really lead kids astray. It often narrows the focus of possibilities. I stop short of telling the kids to NOT read it as some teachers do, but as soon as they write to the prompt, my students stop thinking. They may even include the examples in the prompt, or quote the prompt.

      I guess my point is this. If you are a student that has no idea and wants to get a surviving score, write to the prompt. It could get you a decent score.

      However the bright student who might get a 10, 11, or 12 is not going to be writing to the prompt. They are going to write their own fresh and creative ideas. And inspire their teacher to go on…. And with that,I will get back to my class of kids getting ready for the SAT Essay.

      • Lucas Fink Lucas says:

        Thanks for your thoughts, Karen. I’m glad that you agree about the quote—your experience seems to be pretty well in line with mine. That said, I did tone down the wording in the above post just a bit, so it no longer says the quote is completely “unnecessary” as it did before. In setting the focus on the question, I may have been a little too dismissive of the quote. As you said, some students might benefit from it (although that’s pretty rare, from my experience).

        Have fun with that class!

  4. Farooqui says:

    In changing world the prompt is ” do changes that makes our lives easier not necessarily make them better? Are these example correct with this prompt? Examples of aeroplane , radio and mobile phone?

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