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Chris Lele

Your Knockout SAT Essay

The phrase “knock yourself out” definitely applies to the SAT essay. Those plucky, indefatigable types will write essay after essay. And there’s no shortage—the College Board releases four essay prompts after each test. Over the course of years, you have well over a hundred prompts to choose from.

The point of this post is not for you to find all those prompts and then go into aggro essay writing mode. Rather, by writing a number of essays you will notice recurrent themes: Heroes, Success, Individuality vs. Conformity, Technology/Progress, Tradition, and Heroes.

Knowing the range of prompts can prepare you for test day. Even better, if you know more or less what the prompt is going to be about you can prepare your examples beforehand. That’s right! Instead of scrambling to come up with cogent, well thought out examples, spend those precious 25 minutes actually writing.


Wait a second…how can one example apply to all these different things?

Don’t worry, I ‘m not asking you to put together one cookie cutter example in the quixotic hope that it’ll happen to apply to the prompt. Instead, you should have trusted sources from which to draw your example from.

For instance, one of my students used Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird for any essay prompt I threw at her. She would of course only use one TKMB example per essay; it was unfailingly apt. Most of the time these examples were pretty similar and all related to Scout and Atticus. Of course the College Board won’t know this while they are grading your essay.

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A range of sources

It is a good idea to make sure all of your sources aren’t for literature. I encourage students to come up with a current event or two, and a historical event or two. The key is that you know your sources well. (To illustrate I’ve appended a list below).

So sit back and think of a novel you read recently (and liked), or some current event that really grabbed your attention. Then to see if it translates well to SAT essay land, the link below will take you to a page covering all the SAT prompts since 2005. As they say, “knock yourself out”:



FDR’s leadership during the Great Depression

Napoleon’s ill-fated siege of Moscow during winter


Current Events

BP oil spill

Japanese earthquake and tsunami



Lord of the Flies

Julius Caesar

About Chris Lele

Chris Lele is the GRE and SAT Curriculum Manager (and vocabulary wizard) at Magoosh Online Test Prep. In his time at Magoosh, he has inspired countless students across the globe, turning what is otherwise a daunting experience into an opportunity for learning, growth, and fun. Some of his students have even gone on to get near perfect scores. Chris is also very popular on the internet. His GRE channel on YouTube has over 10 million views. You can read Chris's awesome blog posts on the Magoosh GRE blog and High School blog! You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

2 Responses to “Your Knockout SAT Essay”

  1. Refilo says:

    I wish ours were this good. Topic A, for me, was something like Tell us about a preson in your family who has changed your life , and Topic B was Describe an issue that affects you, your family, or your generation. I wish colleges came up with better topics, harder topics although this would probably disadvantage anyone who doesn’t like to write

    • Chris Lele Chris says:

      Hi Refilo :),

      Are you talking about the college application essay or the SAT essay? The prompts you mention are very similar to the college application prompts. The SAT essay usually ask you to agree or disagree with a statement. I agree though – more challenging topics may allow the true writers to shine. Though, to be fair, sometimes really opened questions such as the ones you mentioned challenge even the most seasoned of writers :).

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