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Cassidy Mayeda

SAT Essay Theme: Heroes & Role Models

Welcome to the fourth post in our SAT Essay Theme series! We are mixing things up and posting this week’s installment on Wednesday instead of Tuesday. I know – we’re wild and crazy kids. Enjoy!

Are the only heroes you’ve ever looked up to Avengers characters? The only inspirational quotes you’ve ever written down are from Batman movies and Terminator? And the only people you’ve ever truly aspired to be are video game characters? Unfortunately, none of these valiant inspirations are ‘of literary merit’, and thus shouldn’t be used in SAT essays. A CRIME FOR WHICH THE EVIL COLLEGE BOARD SHOULD PAY FOR BY THE POWERS OF JUSTICE…what, oh? You’re going to dock points from my essay if I quote only Captain America? Well…here are some resources to boost your essay writing super powers in directions other than our beloved comic book heroes.



Past Prompts

  • Do we benefit from learning about the flaws of people we admire and respect?
  • Should heroes be defined as people who say what they think when we ourselves lack the courage to say it?
  • Should leaders of a country or group be judged by different standards?
  • Should ordinary people be considered heroes, or should the term “hero” be reserved for extraordinary people?
  • Is it wrong to use the word “courage” to describe behaviors that are ordinary or self-interested?


Recommended Reading

  • 42 (movie/documentary)

The first African American major league baseball player, Jackie Robinson’s story is undeniably inspiring. Yet he wasn’t always as patient as he seemed to be. Watch this deep and beautiful movie that explores his fight against racism, and struggles in a revolution of America’s favorite pastime.

More radical and political “Chavez” is the story of farmer’s rights activist Cesar Chavez. Brand new, beautifully shot, and star studded; this movie raises many questions about what it means to lead a movement, and the sacrifices of progress. If you like it, check out Milk, about the first openly gay man elected to public office in San Francisco (be warned,  it is R rated).

This book is sometimes read in AP Language classes, but if you haven’t yet had that opportunity I highly suggest it. Not only does it question our concept of war heroes in the muddy light of the Vietnam war, but also questions our understanding of truth vs. literary truth (helpful also for the SAT theme of knowledge).

Most of you probably remember her story of survival during the Holocaust from middle school, but that in no way disqualifies it from your potential sources. When considering the concept of heroes it important to keep you mind open to who is considered a hero, and why.

Well known for his Stanford Prison Experiment, Philip Zimbardo has since done extensive research on who is a hero, and what factors make you more likely to exhibit hero behavior. If you don’t watch or read anything else on this list, this is the one you should most definitely read for citable, proven statistics of what makes a hero.


Example Outline

Prompt: Should ordinary people be considered heroes, or should the term “hero” be reserved for extraordinary people?

Thesis: The term “hero” should not be reserved for extraordinary people, because all heroes are ordinary people who came to do something extraordinary.

  • Philip Zimbardo asserts that we are all born with a natural potential to become heroes, and factors in our environment effect that potential evolution to greatness.
  • Jackie Robinson didn’t want to become a hero, but wanted to play baseball and provide for his family. He is undoubtedly a hero, but didn’t possess something extraordinary before his circumstances gave him the opportunity.
  • Anne Frank was an ordinary girl until the holocaust forced her and her family into hiding. She has since become a hero of quiet strength and love despite the fact that no one acknowledged her during her lifetime.


Example Essay

This example may be a little confusing due to how many examples they throw in, but it is interesting to see how to put them all together. Provided by


Common Mistakes

1. Lack of attention to semantics.  A key thing to notice with a lot of these essays is that they focus on the way we use words. They’re not all asking for your opinion of who is a hero (although that is a necessary part of your argument) but how you use words like “world leaders”, and “courage”. Make sure your thesis reflects this attention to diction.

2. Not acknowledging counterarguments. It’s easy in these essays to choose a commonly accepted hero and never acknowledge the nuance of what constitutes their greatness. It will really help you create a more advanced essay if you write about how leaders like Nelson Mandela sometimes incited violence, and discuss why.

3. Oversimplification. Like all essays, it’s tempting to assume everyone’s definition of hero is the same. It will really help if you acknowledge the difficulties of facing criticism, or sacrificing the rest of your life for a cause.


The Takeaway

Of the essay themes, these are among the most concrete, and easy to both find evidence for and write theses about. Just make sure you pay attention to the exact wording and focus of the prompt, and not to overly glorify and simplify your argument.


P.S. Ready to get your highest SAT score? Start here.
About Cassidy Mayeda

Cassidy recently graduated from San Dieguito High School Academy located in Southern California, and is looking forward to studying at Barnard College at Columbia University next fall. She loves pretty much everything from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, to classic American Literature, but above all learning new things and meeting new people. Like her older brother Zack (who also works at Magoosh!), she also enjoys drinking copious amounts of coffee.

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