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What Are Common SAT Essay Topics?

Instructor: Carrie Soucy
Learn about the essay portion of the SAT so you can put your best foot forward on exam day. View sample prompts, understand the skills you will need to demonstrate, and check out resources that will help you prepare for the SAT essay.

SAT Essay Subjects

On the essay section of the SAT, you will read a written passage and write an essay about it. The writing prompt on the essay section is always the same, but the written passage one must analyze differs.

The Writing Prompt

The SAT Essay writing prompt asks you to zero in on the author's reasoning, use of evidence and writing style. Unlike the prior version of the SAT, in which the essay section focused on argumentative writing, analysis is the focal point of the new SAT's essay section.

Sample passages

The written passages found on the SAT's essay section are all published, argumentative works focusing on topics such as politics, culture, science or the arts. The College Board, which administers the SAT, provides two sample passages to help you understand what you will encounter in the essay section:

  • Let There Be Dark, an article examining light pollution. It was written by Paul Bogard and published in the L.A. Times in 2012.
  • Why Literature Matters, a 2005 New York Times article in which author Dana Gioia discusses the decline in reading.

How the SAT Essay Works

The essay is an optional section of the SAT, administered after the reading, writing and math sections of the test. If you choose to participate in this part of the exam, you will be given 50 minutes to read the passage provided and write an analytical essay.

Some schools require applicants to submit essay scores so, to determine whether or not you need to take this section of the exam, check the admission requirements of the colleges and universities to which you plan to apply. Like all sections of the SAT, the essay is designed to measure your college readiness and ability to practically apply the knowledge and skills you have learned in high school.

Scoring Information

Essays measure three key skills - reading, analysis, and writing. Each essay is reviewed by two people, who will score each section on a scale of 1 (inadequate) to 4 (advanced). The two reviewers' scores are added together to provide a final score that ranges from 2 to 8.

Preparing for the SAT Essay

To prepare for the SAT essay section, you are advised to, first, review both sample prompts and sample essays. The College Board provides a variety of sample student essays, ranging from those that receive high scores to those that did not score well.

You should also review best practices for writing analytical essays before taking this test. Study.com's SAT prep course includes several chapters that will take the anxiety out of taking the SAT essay section by helping you master the skills you will need on test day:

Because this is an online course, you may study whenever and wherever your schedule allows. Each chapter is comprised of short, easy-to-follow video lessons and quizzes.

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