SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

Train the SAT Essay with Real Examples


One of the best ways to learn the SAT essay is to look at example submissions by other real students.  By judging these example essays yourself, you'll understand much better what SAT graders are looking for.  You'll also learn from these examples what to do and not to do.

Here at PrepScholar we grade numerous essays with a real live human grader as part of our SAT preparation process.  This gives us real, actual, student submissions to real College Board SAT prompt essays.  We have anonymized two real actual student submissions below and shared them in hopes of helping you improve on the SAT.

We have found that one of the best ways to prepare for the SAT essay is go through the exercise of reading through the essays of other real students.  There are two parts to the exercise: the first part is pretending you're the grader and assigning the student a grade.  This lets you get inside the head of a grader, and understand what the grader is looking for.  The second part of the exercise is to notice and understand what makes a good essay good and a bad essay bad.


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.


Example SAT Essay Prompt:

The following two example essays were in response to the following prompt actually given on an SAT, paraphrased:

Background: An incorrect and cynical view of how people behave says that humans are mainly driven by selfish motives: wanting money, power, or fame.  However, history gives us a lot of cases of people who gave up their own good for a cause or idea that they thought was more important than sometimes their own lives.  Conscience -- the strong voice from within that tells us moral right from wrong -- can be a more compelling force than money, power, or fame.
Prompt: Is conscience a more powerful motivator than money, fame, or power?


The First Essay

While reading the essay, and before reading our answer, note the following:

- What grade would you give this essay and why? The lowest possible is 2/12, and the highest is 12/12.  The essay scoring rubric is here.

- What did you like most about the essay and the least?



Before reading onwards, make sure you do the exercise above to the most out of this.

This is essay ended up receiving a six out of twelve.  The main positive points was that it had mostly correct grammar and spelling. It also used examples that were well organized.  However, the lower score was due to the fact that the examples didn't strongly support the thesis.  A mandate, a command, by a philosopher (Plato) hardly proves that people actually are unselfish.  The example from The Shining of pathological psychology seems evasive of the main prompt, and psychopathy hardly seems to be proof that people act in accordance to their conscience.  


The Second Essay

Again, while reading the essay, and before reading our answer, note the following:

- What grade would you give this essay and why? The lowest possible is 2/12, and the highest is 12/12.  The essay scoring rubric is here.

- What did you like most about the essay and the least?




This is essay ended up receiving a twelve out of twelve, putting it in the top percentile of essays as scored by the SAT.  This essay has impeccable grammar, spelling, and is well organized.  More than then first essay you saw, the examples here provided great justification for the main thesis.  The examples are incredibly relevant and significant.  The diction is tight, and phrasing well-chosen -- for example "cloud judgment" and "silence the whisper of conscience" are great creative uses of imagery.  


What's Next?

The college admissions process has become so competitive that it's helpful to plan well in advance for SAT/ACT prep during high school. Here are a few guides to help your thinking:

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points, or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

Raise Your ACT Score by 4 Points (Free Download)


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Dr. Fred Zhang
About the Author

Fred is co-founder of PrepScholar. He scored a perfect score on the SAT and is passionate about sharing information with aspiring students. Fred graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor's in Mathematics and a PhD in Economics.

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