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.
Sounds good? Let’s go!
New SAT Essay Sample Prompt
As you read the passage below, consider how Barbara Ehrenreich 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.
Adapted from Barbara Ehrenreich, “The Selfish Side of Gratitude” ©2015 by The New York Times Company. Originally published December 31, 2015.
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.
How to Annotate the SAT Essay Passage
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!
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About Anika Manzoor
Anika is an editor for Magoosh's company and exam blogs. She has a master's degree in Public Policy from Harvard University and is passionate about helping students discover their full potential. When she's not thinking about educational equity, you'll find her vibing to her latest discoveries on Spotify or complaining about how she hasn't been to the gym in weeks.
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