In the set of thesis sentence examples below, there’s one that’s doesn’t actually answer the question. Can you spot it?
SAT essay prompt: Is financial wealth necessary for happiness?
Thesis #1: Anybody who lives in poverty can confirm that without money, we can’t lead the lives we want to.
Thesis #2: While many say that money can’t buy happiness, the truth is far more complicated, and money does in fact play a vital role in our general life satisfaction.
Thesis #3: By looking at cases like lottery winners, celebrities, and business tycoons, it’s pretty clear that money doesn’t always bring the bliss we might expect it to.
Thesis #4: We’d be wise to examine the lives of spiritual figures both historical and mythical, which are often spent in poverty but are clearly fulfilling, regardless.
Analysis: Does it answer the question? Is it relevant?
It’s not easy to find the problem here, so don’t lose confidence if they all look pretty good. Instead, rephrase the question and look again. Can you be happy without money? After that, take out any examples that are introduced to make the thesis a little simpler. Those details are just fine to include in your SAT essay thesis, but when checking relevance, they’re just clutter.
Then, rephrase the sentences to get at their most basic meanings. Here they are again, without the example clutter and using simpler vocabulary and phrasing.
1) Without money, we can’t live how we want to.
2) Money is vital for satisfaction.
3) Sometimes money doesn’t make us happy.
4) Some people have been fulfilled without money.
The problem should be a little bit clearer, now. Thesis 2 is a pretty clear rephrasing of the question, and is just fine. Number 1 uses negatives to make the same argument as thesis 2. Number 4 makes the opposite argument (which is perfectly valid) by providing cases when thesis 2 was not true, so that also answers the question. Thesis number 3, though, doesn’t give a yes or no answer. The question was whether happy people must have money, not if rich people must be happy.
The importance of thesis relevance
The truth is that there are more immediate factors in how your SAT essay gets graded. Since this kind of problem can be pretty subtle, there’s a chance that the essay grader won’t even notice it, at least not at first. But it tends to snowball; an irrelevant thesis leads to irrelevant examples, and suddenly your essay that should be about the importance of money is instead about how Lindsay Lohan is going to die an early death.
And then, even if your vocabulary is polished, your grammar is rock-solid, and you’ve used up the whole front and back of a paper, you’re going to get around an 8 or 10 out of 12 at best.
And if those language skills are lacking as well as the thesis being irrelevant? Well, you can see where that might lead.
Always read the question twice and make sure your answer to it is logical so you don’t get off track.
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About Lucas Fink
Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.
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