Preparing to take the SAT can be stressful. We're here to help. Performing well on the essay prompt portion of the SAT can tell prospective colleges a lot, not just about your writing skills, but about your literacy, mental flexibility and communication skills. To help you best prepare for and excel on the SATs, take the time to review some great SAT essay examples.
The best tip we can offer you is to check out our article on SAT essay prep. Preparation is everything when it comes to tackling the SAT. That said, there are also some fundamental things you can do that are guaranteed to improve your score.
The following is an example of a real SAT Essay prompt and a real essay written in response by someone who got a perfect score on the test. For Heaven's sake, don't just copy it. You will get caught.
Note that you will receive a text to read and a question to answer: that's your prompt. We haven't included the text (it's really long) but don't worry, you'll have the text in front of you to refer to while you write.
Prompt: Write an essay in which you explain how Martin Luther King Jr. builds an argument to persuade his audience that American involvement in the Vietnam War is unjust.
While primarily remembered as a civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. never shied away from addressing all the social problems of his time. Dr. King was assassinated before the Vietnam War reached its peak, but even in its early stages he saw tragedy looming, for America no less than for Vietnam. In his address, Dr. King unflinchingly portrays the futility and loss that came with that war, both in lives lost and in opportunities lost. Funding, resources and irreplaceable human lives flowed out of the programs for social justice that King had dedicated his life to founding and into the Vietnam conflict.
In this address, King lays aside the tools of rhetoric to engage his audience on a powerful, practical level. He reminds them that, as Dwight Eisenhower said, "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." By employing this pragmatic tone, King reminds his audience that the Vietnam War presented cost without benefit, wasting the great human and material wealth of America rather than devoting it to improving American lives.
It has often been said that the Vietnam War was the first war brought fully into the lives of noncombatants, as it was the first war to be widely televised. King takes this as the core theme of his speech, forgoing his usual sermonizing style in favor of a different kind of religious speech. This speech is an act of witness, in which King documents his thoughts and travels during the war. By anchoring his speech in real life, he adds gritty impact to lines like, "We have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools."
This is not a litany evoking a dream of an uplifted world. It is real, blunt, and rooted in plain truth. Instead of inspiring his listeners, he requires that they too bear witness to what was actually happening in front of their eyes. He calls on them to acknowledge the "brutal solidarity" of black and white servicemen, unable to unite in peace, cooperating to incinerate a village. They join him in the same "brutal solidarity" that bound together their young people, committing and suffering atrocities for insufficient reason. He reminds them that he had spent years pleading with "desperate, rejected, and angry young men… that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems" and that message was being contradicted every night on the news.
There is a practicality in that that is almost cruel: as Americans, Dr. King says, we are teaching a generation of young men to solve their problems with violence. What do you imagine will happen when the war ends and they come back to American ghettos and Jim Crow? Dr. King, unusually for him, offers no hypotheticals, no future dream, but implicitly asserts one possible future nightmare, one that many scholars would argue was realized in the rise of black militancy that took place parallel to the Vietnam War.
Finally, Dr. King stakes his claim to speak with such brutal frankness despite the question he poses rhetorically: "Aren't you a civil rights leader?" He responds with fire: "It should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam." He refuses the easier answer of focusing on his faith and his particular civil rights mission because of the plain fact that the war was killing what he, and what all Americans of goodwill, hoped to build. He laid the facts plain before his audience and demanded they acknowledge them.
Dr. King is rightly remembered as one of America's greatest orators. America has never been short of powerful public speakers, but Dr. King occupies a special place in history: he is remembered as America's pastor, almost a secular saint. But as much as Dr. King was a holy man, he was also a pragmatic, practical, professional social activist. It is this Dr. King that we read in his speech against the Vietnam War. He forgoes both rhetorical flourish and abstract claims about the rightness of the American or North Vietnamese cause. Instead, he engages his listeners by being real. He presents them with the situation as he has seen it; he speaks not as a preacher but as a smart man who has seen much of the world and has information to share.
By taking this tone, he obliges his audience to consider the Vietnam conflict on its merits, and to juxtapose it with the merits of the social justice that Dr. King lived and died for. The cost-benefit analysis is clear. The books did not balance. If the arc of the moral universe indeed bends toward justice, he implicitly asserts, it is because we see clearly, stand up and say: this is what we are doing, and it doesn't work. Dr. King does this vital work in his speech, and in doing so involves every listener in the project of addressing the injustice it tackles.
You're going to need more than one prompt to practice the SAT essay properly. Here are a few to get you started.
Need more? We've got you covered. Brush up on your vocabulary with our list of 100 common SAT words. You can also take a look at our printable SAT vocabulary assignment to further pre-test your word knowledge. With the right words and plenty of preparation, you're sure to put up a worthy score on the SAT essay.