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Cassidy Mayeda

SAT Essay Theme: Relationships

Welcome to the next installment in our 10 post series of SAT Essay Theme Guides!

No, for once in your young adult lives we ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT LOVE. We are talking about communication styles, power/respect dynamics, and how people react in groups. So you can drop all your essay ideas based on Romeo and Juliet, Daisy and Gatsby, and Claire and Frank Underwood. Yes, I know I’m the only one who would write the last one. No, that knowledge does not abate my will to write an essay about the most epic power couple in television history.



Past Prompts

  • 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 a respect for others?
  • Is it better for people to agree with others, even if doing so means being insincere?


Recommended Reading

1. The Lord of the Flies (book)

Despite the fact that many people read this book (or pretend to read this book) freshman year, by junior year memories of it are long gone. And it’s perfect for this prompt because it has a diverse array of relationships that can be argued in a multitude of ways. You can talk about the suspicion and motives of Ralph vs. Jack, or dissect the way the conch shell is a better or worse form of communication than talking. Plus, the book is utterly haunting.

2. The Outsiders (book)

Another young adult novel focused on a group of young boys in dangerous circumstances, this book is equal fodder for good essays. It fits especially well for essays that prompt an “us vs. them” analysis, and on family or hierarchal structure.

3. “10 Communication Secrets of Great Leaders” (Forbes article)

For an article on finance and business, Forbes has a surprising stockpile of easy to read articles on very human topics full of citable, trusted evidence. This article in particular asserts arguments you could use in many of the prompts (see example outline).

4. “The Key to Healthy Relationships? It’s Not All About Communication.” (TIME article) If you want to argue against the virtues of verbal communication in any of the past or future prompts, this is an article with evidence for you. It’s also a good read to think of potential counterarguments, and generally get ideas around relationships outside of your own.

5. “When Love Arrives” (spoken word poem by Sarah Kay & Phil Kaye)

All right, this has nothing to do with writing essays, its just beautiful and one of my favorite poems ever! If you need a break from reading this blog post you should most definitely listen to this fantastic piece of lovely magnificence.


Example Outline

Prompt: Do we need other people in order to understand ourselves? 

Thesis: We are social creatures who are depend on other people for our understanding of ourselves because they expose us to new ideas, and help us understand opinions outside our own.

  • Ponyboy from The Outsiders is a classically directionless, young character that doesn’t seem to understand himself or his place in society at the beginning of the story. But because of his membership in the Greasers, he comes to understand what he values in life, namely his family.
  • Forbes magazine cites “shut-up and listen” as one of the fundamental traits of a successful leader. This is evidence that you need to listen to others in order to understand and improve what you’re doing.
  • Therapy has become increasingly popular in Western culture because of its ability to bring intrapersonal insight through conversation.


Example Essay

Here is an example of a highly developed essay, which you might read if you’re trying to push into those higher scores—but be weary of the quotes as you wouldn’t be able to use them unless you had them memorized. Take a look at this simpler essay if you want a more fleshed out example on a prospective prompt within this theme.


Common Mistakes

1. Imprecise wording. Concepts involved with these prompts are difficult to articulate, and difficult to think about. Be careful not to let your language get muddled in confusion, and stick to your guns with a clear diction.

2. Lack of evidence. Because the prompts are more subjective than other themes, you’ll have to get creative with where you pull your evidence. Despite the fact that I’ve provided some examples, there are other social phenomena that might be more accurate and relevant, and easier to argue than literary evidence. Don’t be afraid to use them!

3. Switching arguments. Related to the top two points, it’s easy to get confused while you are writing an essay on this topic in such a short amount of time. We’ve all fallen into the trap of writing half of a body paragraph before realizing your argument is actually counter to your thesis. If you don’t already, write a detailed outline so you keep a clear idea of how you’re going to prove your points.

4. Assuming everyone has the same opinions. Obviously everyone loves to talk about themselves right? Wrong—remember there are plenty of people very shy when it comes to talking about themselves. Remember to acknowledge the scope of your assertions, and don’t assume that the reader agrees with your generalized observations.


The Takeaway

These essays sound easy, but are much more complicated than you think. Writing a clear outline having clear analysis is key, as articulating ideas in such an ambiguous topic is difficult. But if you pick good sources, and don’t confuse your argument, you’ll do just fine.


About Cassidy Mayeda

Cassidy recently graduated from San Dieguito High School Academy located in Southern California, and is looking forward to studying at Barnard College at Columbia University next fall. She loves pretty much everything from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, to classic American Literature, but above all learning new things and meeting new people. Like her older brother Zack (who also works at Magoosh!), she also enjoys drinking copious amounts of coffee.

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