On every SAT Essay, you'll have to read an argument meant to persuade a broad audience and discuss how well the author argues his or her point. The passage you'll have to read will change from test to test, but you'll always need to analyze the author's argument and write a coherent and organized essay explaining this analysis.
In this article, we've compiled a list of the 14 real SAT essay prompts that the College Board 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.
UPDATE: SAT Essay No Longer Offered
In January 2021, the College Board announced that after June 2021, it would no longer offer the Essay portion of the SAT (except at schools who opt in during School Day Testing). It is now no longer possible to take the SAT Essay, unless your school is one of the small number who choose to offer it during SAT School Day Testing.
While most colleges had already made SAT Essay scores optional, this move by the College Board means no colleges now require the SAT Essay. It will also likely lead to additional college application changes such not looking at essay scores at all for the SAT or ACT, as well as potentially requiring additional writing samples for placement.
What does the end of the SAT Essay mean for your college applications? Check out our article on the College Board's SAT Essay decision for everything you need to know.
SAT essay prompts always keep to the same basic format. 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/their] audience."
Now that you know the format, let's look at the SAT essay prompts list.
14 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 10 that are in the practice tests (so you can avoid them if need be), the ones that are available online as sample prompts, and the ones that are in the text of the Official SAT Study Guide (Redesigned SAT), all online for free.
Practice Test Prompts
These 10 prompts are taken from the practice tests that the College Board has released.
"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."
"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."
"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."
"Write an essay in which you explain how Paul Bogard builds an argument to persuade his audience that natural darkness should be preserved."
"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."
"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."
"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"
"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."
"Write an essay in which you explain how Todd Davidson builds an argument to persuade his audience that the US government must continue to fund national parks."
"Write an essay in which you explain how Richard Schiffman builds an argument to persuade his audience that Americans need to work fewer hours."
Special note: The prompt for Practice Test 4 also appears on the College Board's site with real sample essays written in response. If you've written a practice essay for practice test 4 and want to see what essays of different score levels look like for that particular prompt, you can go there 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 College Board website.
"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."
This prompt comes from Khan Academy, where it is listed as an alternate essay prompt to go along with Practice Test 2:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Leo W. Gerard builds an argument to persuade his audience that American colleges and universities should be affordable for all students."
The Official SAT Study Guide 2020
The Official SAT Study Guide (editions published in 2015 and later available online for free) contains all 10 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 (accompanied by articles to analyze).
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."
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."
hey thanks by Jonathan Youngblood, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped and resized from original.
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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 14 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: Understand how the SAT essay is graded.
#2: Follow along as we write a high-scoring SAT essay, step by step.
#3: 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 official essay rubric to give yourself a score out of 8 in the reading, analysis, and writing sections.
#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. 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 (Official SAT Study Guide 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 wider than anything 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. If you're just getting started, we recommend beginning with our top SAT essay tips for a quick overview of the essay task and what you need to know.
A little more familiar with the SAT essay but still not quite sure how to write one? Follow along with our step-by-step guide to writing the SAT essay.
Looking to earn a high score? Learn what it takes to get the highest score possible on the SAT essay here.
Plus, if you want a reference linking you to all of our great articles on the SAT essay, be sure to check out our ultimate SAT essay guide.
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Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.