Avoiding Bad SAT Essay Examples

Often, the biggest challenge of the SAT essay isn’t poor writing, but coming up with relevant and good examples within the short 25 minutes that you are given for the essay section. Someone told me that during her SAT test, she panicked after reading the prompt because no good example came to her mind and so she made up an example using her “cat”. After the test, she realized that her example had been really far-fetched and its link to the prompt hadn’t been the most relevant. She realized that one key thing she should have prepared for was good SAT essay examples.

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[Continue reading to find out what to avoid when writing your essay…]

In order to avoid making this extremely common mistake, here are some general rules that you should take note of:

1. Avoid implausible personal examples. It is acceptable to use personal examples, but these examples should be realistic, feasible, and written in a more objective tone. Try to limit your use of “me”, “you”, “us”, as these words cause the essay to sound more informal. These personal examples should also be written concisely and should not be a moment-by-moment diary account of an incident that had happened. Remember that the SAT essay is not your personal diary and the examiner is surely not interested in whether your cat grew 2 inches in 5 weeks.

Moreover, personal examples carry a little less credibility than historical or literary examples, so it would be best if you swapped personal examples for one of the two. The examiner would also appreciate it if you are able to demonstrate not only great writing skills but also a wide breadth of historical and literary knowledge.

2. Avoid making sweeping statements in your examples. It would be inappropriate and insensitive to make blunt, sweeping statements in your examples, such as “short people are less able to play basketball but studies have shown that they often succeed eventually. Short people have faced multiple difficulties because of their height and thus have developed strong wills, allowing them to achieve success.” Although you might believe very strongly in something, try to apply a neutral, journalistic and objective approach when framing your examples. Choose appropriate examples that fit the prompt and always remember that your audience is not just limited to yourself, but other people as well.

3. Avoid irrelevant examples. This might seem like the simplest rule but often students, who panic during the short 25 minutes, tend to write down any example that pops into their minds and that ‘might’ fit the prompt. It is important to remember that having an example that is irrelevant and digresses from the main point you are trying to make, will not help your essay but harm it! So if the prompt is about “Courage”, do not write about a moment when you were walking home late at night and was frightened by how dark it was but summoned the courage to do it anyway. Although that is a form of courage, it is probably not the kind of courage the prompt was referring to.

Good luck!

Additional Reading:

Check out my other posts on the SAT Essay:

About the author: Shimin Ooi is a junior in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs department. She has a strong interest in economic and health policy and has recently returned from a semester of study at Hertford College, Oxford. In high school, her extensive research on standardized tests helped her achieve a near perfect SAT score and perfect scores on each of her SAT Subject tests. Through these blog posts, she hopes to help others achieve test-taking success as well!

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