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Nadira Berman

SAT Essay Theme: Knowledge

Hello! And welcome to the latest installment of our SAT Essay Theme Guide series. Today, we tackle SAT essays about knowledge.

Since you’re reading an SAT blog, I think it’s safe to assume that you’re pretty familiar with the acquisition of knowledge. It’s why we go to high school and it’s why we’re applying to college! We spend hours and hours of our days in classrooms so that we can learn new information that will benefit us in the future.

But is knowledge always a good thing? Or is there some stuff you wish you didn’t know?

For example, the FDA states that the average person consumes about a pound of insects per year, most of which are mixed into other foods.


Bet you wish you could erase that not so fun fact from your memory.

If that gif resembles the face you make when you think about the SAT essay, read on for some help writing about the theme of knowledge.

Past Prompts

  • 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?


Recommended Reading

The Giver

By Lois Lowry

Imagine living in a world without sadness, pain or evil of any kind. Sounds perfect, right? Until you stop to consider the flawed but rich human experience you’ve left behind.

Jonas lives in this utopian society. When he is selected to be Receiver of Memory, he must relay information about the previous human world, drastically different than his own because of its imperfections. He is exposed to all sorts of new knowledge, but it’s how he interprets it that will determine the future of his society.

Never Let Me Go

By Kazuo Ishiguro

Here’s another science fiction novel where discovered knowledge about one’s existence changes the character’s whole conception of what it means to be alive.

I don’t want to spoil this one for you, because there’s definitely a plot twist. But the main point is that Kathy’s discovery of where she and her friends come from ends up determining her outlook on the rest of her life.

Warning: This book is pretty sad, so if you don’t like tearjerkers, then don’t read it.

Fahrenheit 451

By Ray Bradbury

Wow, sorry if you’re not science fiction fans. I just thought the genre went really well with this topic.

Bradbury writes of a society where books are seen as dangerous and are therefore banned by the government. Guy Montag’s job as a fireman means that he must burn all of these texts. When he realizes that books might not be so bad and begins to read, the government tries to hunt him down.

This book deals with the theme of knowledge in our society. Is it detrimental, as the government seems to believe? Or is it important to read and fill your brain with more knowledge, as Montag discovers?


By Mary Shelley

This is a classic and there’s a lot more to it than the silly green costumes you see on Halloween.

Victor Frankenstein longs to discover the knowledge needed to create life. But when he achieves his goal, the results are not at all what he expected.

Sample Outline


Can knowledge be a burden rather than a benefit?


Knowledge can be a burden because it can give the holder of the knowledge a negative outlook on a life with which they were previously satisfied.

  • In The Giver, Jonas’s new knowledge makes his society seem worse than the past society, because his society lacks love, color and pleasure.
  • When Farenheit 451’s Guy Montag learns of the importance of books, he begins to hate the world he lives in, where reading is highly stigmatized.
  • After Kathy discovers information about her own death in Never Let Me Go, she begins to view life more pessimistically.


Example Essay

Check out Essay #3 on this site for one example of a potential answer to the prompt Can knowledge be a burden rather than a benefit?

Common Mistakes

1. Answer what the question is asking

As Chris explains here, make sure to really think through what the prompt is asking. When asked “Can knowledge be a burden rather than a benefit?” your first response might be “No! Knowledge is beneficial. Knowledge has allowed us to create a lot of useful technology, such as the iPhone.” But this doesn’t answer the question. The prompt is not asking “Is knowledge ever beneficial?” Clearly, it is! No one doubts that. Instead, the prompt is asking if there is ever an instance when knowledge is a burden. By writing about times when knowledge is beneficial, you’re not answering the question.

2. Use evidence that you know well

Don’t just rant about some event you vaguely remember from history class or a story that happened to your cousin, which she told you three years ago. Even though lying isn’t technically against the rules on the SAT essay, try not to use an example that will tempt you to bend the facts. You don’t want to waste valuable time and brainpower crafting details of a fictional tale. You want to be knowledgeable about your evidence so that you can quickly rattle off some facts in support of your point.

Thoroughly study a few books and/or historical events that can be used to answer a variety of prompts. Then make sure to practice using them when you do practice essays.

The Takeaway

Don’t let the broadness of this topic scare you. The good thing about broad topics is that they are very flexible and you can interpret them in the way that works best for your brain. And just because this topic is unspecific and vague, doesn’t mean your examples should be!


About Nadira Berman

As a Summer Marketing Intern, Nadira is excited to help high schoolers prepare for the SAT and ACT. As a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, she is considering studying economics. In her free time, she reports for the school newspaper and styles photo shoots for the school's fashion magazine. Besides fashion and journalism, her passions include bagels, smoothies and Netflix.

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