The SAT Essay has changed drastically from what it looked like from March 2005-January 2016. On the plus side, you’ll now be asked to do the same task every time: read an argument meant to persuade a broad audience and discuss how well the author argues his or her point. On the minus side, you have to do reading and analysis in addition to writing a coherent and organized essay.
In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the 11 real SAT essay prompts that the CollegeBoard has released (either in The Official SAT Study Guide or separately online) for the new SAT. This is the most comprehensive set of new SAT essay prompts online today.
At the end of this article, we'll also guide you through how to get the most out of these prompts and link to our expert resources on acing the SAT essay. I’ll discuss how the SAT essay prompts are valuable not just because they give you a chance to write a practice essay, but because of what they reveal about the essay task itself.
SAT essay prompts have always kept to the same basic format. With the new essay, however, not only is the prompt format consistent from test to test, but what you’re actually asked to do (discuss how an author builds an argument) also remains the same across different test administrations.
The College Board’s predictability with SAT essay helps students focus on preparing for the actual analytical task, rather than having to think up stuff on their feet. Every time, before the passage, you’ll see the following:
- evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
- reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
- stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.
And after the passage, you’ll see this:
“Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [her/his] audience that [whatever the author is trying to argue for]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.
Your essay should not explain whether you agree with [the author]’s claims, but rather explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [her/his] audience.”
Now that you know the format, let’s look at the SAT essay prompts list.
11 Official SAT Essay Prompts
The College Board has released a limited number of prompts to help students prep for the essay. We've gathered them for you here, all in one place. We’ll be sure to update this article as more prompts are released for practice and/or as more tests are released.
SPOILER ALERT: Since these are the only essay prompts that have been released so far, you may want to be cautious about spoiling them for yourself, particularly if you are planning on taking practice tests under real conditions. This is why I’ve organized the prompts by the ones that are in the practice tests (so you can avoid them if need be), the one that is available online as a "sample prompt," and the ones that are in the Official SAT Study Guide (Redesigned SAT), all online for free.
Practice Test Prompts
These eight prompts are taken from the practice tests that the College Board has released.
Practice Test 1:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Jimmy Carter builds an argument to persuade his audience that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should not be developed for industry."
Practice Test 2:
"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."
Practice Test 3:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Eliana Dockterman builds an argument to persuade her audience that there are benefits to early exposure to technology."
Practice Test 4:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Paul Bogard builds an argument to persuade his audience that natural darkness should be preserved."
Practice Test 5:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Eric Klinenberg builds an argument to persuade his audience that Americans need to greatly reduce their reliance on air-conditioning."
Practice Test 6:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Christopher Hitchens builds an argument to persuade his audience that the original Parthenon sculptures should be returned to Greece."
Practice Test 7:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Zadie Smith builds an argument to persuade her audience that public libraries are important and should remain open"
Practice Test 8:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Bobby Braun builds an argument to persuade his audience that the US government must continue to invest in NASA."
Special note: The prompt for Practice Test 4 is replicated as the first sample essay on the College Board’s site for the new SAT. If you’ve written a sample essay for practice test 4 and want to see what essays of different score levels look like for that particular prompt, you can go here and look at eight real student essays.
within darkness by jason jenkins, used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Resized from original.
Free Online Practice
This prompt comes from the CollegeBoard website for the new SAT.
“Write an essay in which you explain how Dana Gioia builds an argument to persuade his audience that the decline of reading in America will have a negative effect on society.”
The Official SAT Study Guide (for March 2016 and beyond)
The Official SAT Study Guide (editions published in 2015 and later, available online for free) contains all eight of the previously mentioned practice tests at the end of the book. In the section about the new SAT essay, however, there are two additional sample essay prompts.
Sample Prompt 1:
“Write an essay in which you explain how Peter S. Goodman builds an argument to persuade his audience that news organizations should increase the amount of professional foreign news coverage provided to people in the United States.”
The College Board modified this article for the essay prompt passage in the book. The original passage (1528 words, vs the 733 it is on the SAT) to which this prompt refers can also be found online (for free) here.
Sample Prompt 2:
“Write an essay in which you explain how Adam B. Summers builds an argument to persuade his audience that plastic shopping bags should not be banned.”
There are still a couple of minor differences between the article as it appears in The Official SAT Study Guide as an essay prompt compared to its original form, but it’s far less changed than the previous prompt. The original passage to which this prompt refers (764 words, vs the 743 in The Official SAT Study Guide) can also be found online (for free) here.
hey thanks by Jonathan Youngblood, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped and resized from original.
How Do You Get the Most Out of These Prompts?
Now that you have all the prompts released by the College Board, it’s important to know the best way to use them. Make sure you have a good balance between quality and quantity, and don’t burn through all 11 of the real prompts in a row – take the time to learn from your experiences writing the practice essays.
Step By Step Guide on How to Practice Using the Article
1. Understandhow the SAT essay is graded.
2. Watch as we write a high-scoring SAT essay, step by step.
3. Pre-plan a set of features you’ll look for in the SAT essay readings and practice writing about them fluidly. This doesn't just mean identifying a technique, like asking a rhetorical question, but explaining why it is persuasive and what effect it has on the reader in the context of a particular topic. We have more information on this step in our article about 6 SAT persuasive devices you can use.
4. Choose a prompt at random from above, or choose a topic that you think is going to be hard for you to detach from (because you’ll want to write about the topic, rather than the argument) set timer to 50 minutes and write the essay. No extra time allowed!
5. Grade the essay, using the essay rubric to give yourself a score out of 8 in the reading, analysis, and writing sections (article coming soon!).
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5. Choose the prompts you think will be the hardest for you so that you can so that you’re prepared for the worst when the test day comes
7. If you run out of official prompts to practice with, use the official prompts as models to find examples of other articles you could write about. How? Start by looking for op-ed articles in online news publications like The New York Times, The Atlantic, LA Times, and so on. For instance, the passage about the plastic bag ban in California (sample essay prompt 2, above) has a counterpoint here - you could try analyzing and writing about that article as well.
Any additional articles you use for practice on the SAT essay must match the following criteria:
- ideally 650-750 words, although it’ll be difficult to find an op-ed piece that’s naturally that short. Try to aim for nothing longer than 2000 words, though, or the scope of the article is likely to be too wide for what you’ll encounter on the SAT.
- always argumentative/persuasive. The author (or authors) is trying to get readers to agree with a claim or idea being put forward.
- always intended for a wide audience. All the information you need to deconstruct the persuasiveness of the argument is in the passage. This means that articles with a lot of technical jargon that's not explained in the article are not realistic passage to practice with.
We’ve written a ton of helpful resources on the SAT essay. Make sure you check them out!
15 SAT Essay Tips.
How to Write an SAT Essay, Step by Step.
How to Get a 12 on the SAT Essay.
SAT Essay Rubric, Analyzed and Explained.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points?
Check out our best-in-class online SAT prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your SAT score by 160 points or more.
Our program is entirely online, and it customizes your prep program to your strengths and weaknesses. We also have expert instructors who can grade every one of your practice SAT essays, giving feedback on how to improve your score.
Check out our 5-day free trial:
Note: this blog post has been updated for the 2015-2016 application cycle. To view the most recent version, click here.
Located in Ithaca, New York, this Ivy League university has produced over 25 Rhodes scholars and over 40 Nobel laureates. Students who travel to upstate NY to study here are enrolled in one of seven different undergraduate colleges, which focus on topics ranging from human ecology to hotel administration. If you can brace yourself for frigid winters, then Cornell University will reward you with a beautiful campus, a diverse community of over 14,000 undergraduates, and a degree from one the top colleges in the nation.
Each of the seven colleges at Cornell functions essentially as a separate school. As such, when filling out the application you must indicate a specific primary and alternate college (2 total). You must then write an essay ranging from 250 to 650 words responding to the prompt associated with the first-choice program you have chosen.
Before tackling each individual essay, one broad piece of advice applies—only apply to a particular program if you are actually interested in it. If you find yourself unable to talk about why your past experiences in “Architecture, Art, and Planning” because you have no applicable background in it, you will want to reevaluate whether your next four years are best spent at one of the most rigorous Architecture programs in the nation.
That being said, here are some tips to get you started on each essay. It is recommended that you read the tips for every essay (even if you already know which specific school you want to apply to), because many of the insights will carry over from prompt to prompt.
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: How have your interests and related experiences influenced the major you have selected in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences?
For this prompt, you are going to want to talk about your background in agriculture and life sciences. Perhaps you are deeply in-tune with the importance of landscape agriculture as a result of your relationship with your aunt when you were younger. Maybe you are extremely passionate about organic farming initiatives, and you’ve been thinking about sustainable farming ever since that one summer you went WOOFing on your best friend’s farm. Or maybe you are just interested in the cross-sectional studies of agriculture, biology, and sociology because you went to a summer camp in 9th grade. Either way, just make sure that whatever you talk about, you convey your true passion for CALS.
College of Architecture, Art, and Planning: Why are you excited to pursue your chosen major in AAP? What specifically about AAP and Cornell University will help you fulfill your academic and creative interests and long-term goals?
This prompt is best suited for those who are passionate about art and architecture. Perhaps your favorite class in high school was Architectural Design, and your notebooks can always be found with little doodles in the margins—this essay would be the place the explain that. But besides talking about your background in the field, it’s also wise to do a little bit of research on how Cornell’s AAP program specifically is best for you. As such, you should spend a bit of time on the Cornell AAP website and attempt to weave some unique details about the school into your own narrative regarding why you are so passionate about architecture and art.
College of Arts and Sciences: Describe two or three of your current intellectual interests and why they are exciting to you. Why will Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences be the right environment in which to pursue your interests?
If you know what you potentially want to study within the realm of the College of Arts and Sciences, this essay is the place to expand on that. Unless you have a dramatic passion for three different topics, it might be better to talk about two interests in great detail than three different topics sparsely (keep in mind that whenever you introduce one of your interests, you will have to spend valuable words on the exposition of that interest). Be sure to answer the prompt in full (“why they are exciting to you”), and you will get more mileage out of your essay if you can cite specific programs, classes, or professors to back up your claim that CAS is truly the best and only school for you.
College of Engineering: Tell us about an engineering idea you have, or about your interest in engineering. Describe how your ideas and interests may be realized by—and linked to—specific resources within the College of Engineering. Finally, explain what a Cornell Engineering education will enable you to accomplish.
Top applicants to Cornell Engineering will recognize that there are three parts to this essay, and all three should be addressed properly. First, regardless of whether you decide to talk about an “engineering idea” or more generally your “interest in engineering,” the ultimate goal is still to show you are passionate about engineering. You can do this by recounting your early experiences in engineering—how you first started playing with Legos, and then eventually joined your school’s Science Olympiad team—or by writing in great detail about a specific concept in engineering that interests you. Either way, you should transition into what it is about Cornell’s Engineering program that really entices you—doing some research may be necessary so that you can get specific. At the end of the essay, you should include what you think will happen after you graduate from Cornell Engineering—what specifically do you hope to achieve in the field of Engineering? Be more specific and ambitious than writing simply “I hope to get a good job.” What problem do you want to solve? Making planes faster? Developing rockets? In the end, the admissions officers should know what it is you are working towards.
School of Hotel Administration: Hospitality is the largest industry in the world and includes sectors such as hotel operations, food and beverage management, real estate, finance, marketing, and law. Considering the breadth of our industry, please describe what work and non-work experiences, academic interests, and career goals influenced your decision to study hospitality management? How will these contribute to your success at the School of Hotel Administration?
With this prompt, the admissions officers at the School of Hotel Administration hope to weed out the students who are not genuinely interested in the SHA. Feel free to talk in great detail about your background in “hotel operations, food and beverage management, real estate, finance, marketing, and law” using clear examples to support your narrative. Admittedly, this prompt isn’t for everyone, but then again, neither is the School of Hotel Administration.
College of Human Ecology: What do you value about the College of Human Ecology’s perspective, and the majors that interest you, as you consider your academic goals and plans for the future?
Do some research to fully understand what you believe the College of Human Ecology’s perspective is by visiting their website. There is no right or wrong answer (within reason), and it is important for you to do your own research because you will be better able to explain why you “value” the school’s perspective. Be sure to talk about the specific majors that you came across that interest you, and feel free to mention your past experiences in studying human ecology (maybe you founded a club in high school) as well as your future goals.
School of Industrial and Labor Relations: Tell us about your intellectual interests, how they sprung from your course, service, work or life experiences, and what makes them exciting to you. Describe how these interests may be realized and linked to the ILR curriculum.
Similar to many of the other prompts, this essay question asks you to explain why you are interested in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The best essays will include specific examples of when you were immersed in an experience related to Industrial and Labor Relations. Maybe when you were working with your father in freshmen year you realized something about the nature of labor, and you began to nurture that compassion for the rest of your high school career. Explicating that situation and what you learned from it while simultaneously linking it to the ILR curriculum will lead to an extremely powerful essay.
Again, even if you already know which specific school you are interested in applying to at Cornell, you should still take a look at the tips for each essay prompt above—since many of the prompts are similar, the advice will carry over. Best of luck!
Zack was an economics major at Harvard before going on indefinite leave to pursue CollegeVine full-time as a founder. In his spare time, he enjoys closely following politics and binge-watching horror movies. To see Zack's full bio, visit the Team page.