Essay Topics for Practice

In case you’ve just gotten to this point without having read Parts III and IV, follow these directions for writing practice essays:

Time: 25 minutes

Plan and write an essay in response to the assigned topic. Use the essay as an opportunity to show how clearly and effectively you can express and develop ideas. Present your thoughts logically and precisely. Include specific evidence or examples to support your point of view. A plain, natural writing style is probably best. The number of words is up to you, but quantity is less important than quality.

Limit your essay to two sides of lined paper. You’ll have enough space if you write on every line and avoid wide margins. Write or print legibly because handwriting that’s hard or impossible to read will decrease your score.

If you finish in less than twenty-five minutes, check your work.

The ten prompts that follow are suggested for essay-writing practice. Because it’s virtually impossible to write the same essay twice, try writing on the same prompt over and over, each time choosing another point of view. Then compare the results.

SAT prompts typically begin with a short passage or quotation followed by a related question, which you are to answer in your essay. Always support your answer with reasoning and examples taken from your observations, experience, studies, or reading.

1. The familiar admonition to “put your money where your mouth is” suggests that it’s far easier to speak up for a principle than to live up to it. That’s why most of us, whether we intend to or not, say one thing but often do another. It’s just part of human nature.

Assignment: Is the common tendency to often say one thing but do another built into our nature, or is it something that experience teaches us to do?

2. “If you are like most people, your sadness over losing, say, $1,000, would be twice as great as your happiness at winning $1,000. That all-too-human tendency to feel pain of a loss more deeply than the joy of a gain is called ‘loss aversion.’”

From an editorial in The New York Times, January 16, 2005

Assignment: Are negative emotions stronger than positive ones?

3. After rescuing a dozen men and women from a burning office building, Jim Smith, a New York City fire fighter, commented, “Courage is just a matter of luck—of being in the right place at the right time.”

Assignment: Is Jim Smith correct—that courage is a widespread human trait that most people never have a chance to use or demonstrate?

4. “While walking in her neighborhood, a friend saw a man who had tied a fishing line around a turtle’s throat and was letting his kids drag it up and down the path. Feeling that a direct approach would lead to a confrontation, my friend said: ‘I am a biologist with So-and-So University. Turtles are toxic; they secrete poison that may make your kids horribly sick.’ The guy had his kids stop tormenting the turtle right away. Was this lie justified?”

From a letter by David Weinrich, published
in “The Ethicist” by Randy Cohen, New York
Times Magazine
, January 16, 2005

Assignment: Is lying acceptable or even obligatory at times?

5. An old English proverb says, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.”

Assignment: Can ignorance ever be better than knowledge?

6. “Destiny is not a matter of chance. It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.”

William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925)

Assignment: Do you believe that the choices we make, rather than our abilities and talents, show who we truly are?

7. “Suppose we were able to share meanings freely without a compulsive urge to impose our view or conform to those of others and without distortion and self-deception. Would this not constitute a real revolution in culture?”

David Bohm

Assignment: If we were to become completely open and honest with ourselves and with others, would society be better off?

8. “Every problem has a gift for you in its hands.”

Richard Bach

Assignment: Is there always a gain from experiencing hardship?

9. “They may forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”

Carl W. Beuchner

Assignment: Are human emotions more powerful, enduring, and meaningful than our intellect? Or to put it another way, does the heart matter more than the brain in our lives?

10. “I cannot believe the purpose of life is to be happy. I think that the purpose of life is to be useful, to be responsible, to be compassionate. It is, above all, to matter, to count, to stand for something, to have made a difference that you lived at all.”

Leo Rosten

Assignment: Do happiness and contentment depend mainly on serving others and making a difference in their lives?

Before you evaluate your essay, reread how SAT essays are scored. Then complete the following checklist for each of the essays you’ve written. Because SAT readers will give you credit for what you’ve done well, try to focus on your essay’s strengths. But don’t ignore weaknesses. If you happen to find any, turn to the appropriate section of this book for a quick fix on how to remedy the problem.