SAT Essay – Common Questions

Can I “lie” on the SAT essay?

This is pretty controversial question. After all, how could a test—let alone one of the most well-known tests in the world—possibly advocate such a practice?

So let’s back up a second and talk about what I mean by “lie”. A lie can be as small as a slight fudging of facts. Perhaps you call Huck Finn’s friend John because you can’t remember the name Jim. In fact, you may not consider that a “lie” but more of an inaccuracy. On the other extreme, you could make up a book that doesn’t even exist or describe your struggle to become an Olympic medalist—even though you’ve never set foot in an ice rink.

Let’s deal with the first issue: factual inaccuracies. It is okay to call Widow Douglas, a relatively minor character from Huck Finn, Widow Jones. Even calling the slave Jim, a more prominent figure in the book, by a different name is still okay. In fact, it shouldn’t matter at all because what the graders are looking at is your ability to reason and express yourself clearly and forcefully.

At the same time, if you mix up Huck Finn with Tom Sawyer, the graders are going to struggle not to dock you. After all, they are human (though, some would argue, barely so). But as long as they keep their “grader hats” firmly fixed to their heads, they should, technically speaking, not penalize you. Yet egregiously botching the facts may end up costing you. Saying Martin Luther King marched throughout India, protesting British rule, could very well hurt your score (that would be Gandhi, by the way).

Now, to the more controversial question: Can you outright make up stuff that never happened? The sad answer is yes—but be careful: many lies are not only transparent but, since this is the SAT, are not as well reasoned as real world examples. Think about it, your brain will be occupied with making stuff up. Trying to fashion all that fabrication into a believable, persuasive example is tough.

So go ahead and allow yourself some wiggle room for minor factual inaccuracies. But don’t feel like you have to—or even should—make up characters, stories, and events. After all, you never quite know what the essay graders will think.



  • Chris Lele

    Chris Lele is the Principal Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh. Chris graduated from UCLA with a BA in Psychology and has 20 years of experience in the test prep industry. He's been quoted as a subject expert in many publications, including US News, GMAC, and Business Because. In his time at Magoosh, Chris has taught countless students how to tackle the GRE, GMAT, SAT, ACT, MCAT (CARS), and LSAT exams with confidence. Some of his students have even gone on to get near-perfect scores. You can find Chris on YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook!

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