Popular Essay Topics For Sat

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Writing Sample Essays

Essay Task

Write a unified, coherent essay about the increasing presence of intelligent machines. In your essay, be sure to: 

  • clearly state your own perspective on the issue and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective
  • develop and support your ideas with reasoning and examples
  • organize your ideas clearly and logically
  • communicate your ideas effectively in standard written English

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of those given, in partial agreement, or completely different.

Get more information about preparing for the writing test.

The passionate discussion last week about the propriety of the now-infamous “reality television’’ essay question on the SAT – including more than 350 comments posted on The Choice – has had one noticeable reverberation: it has pulled back the curtain a bit on how the College Board and Educational Testing Service approach the essay portion of the exam.

After I quoted Angela Garcia, executive director of the SAT, as arguing that “pop culture’’ was a relevant and relatable “reference point’’ on which test-takers “would certainly have an opinion,’’ my colleague Jane Karr, editor of The Times’ Education Life supplement, asked the board if it would supply some examples of essay prompts from past SAT’s that had sought to mine a similar vein.

What follows are some of those actual prompts (and, in response to some of your queries to me, a prompt, as I understand it, is more than just a question — in part because it often contains declarative statements.) If you read to the bottom, you’ll also find a television-themed prompt provided to Ms. Karr by ACT, the SAT’s chief rival.

Just before we get to the business at hand, though, a prompt of my own: I hope you’ll use the comment box below to let us know what you think of these examples, and whether you see them as more or less effective — and appropriate — than the prompt that has been the subject of so much buzz.

The first, from the November 2009 SAT, defines “popular culture’’ broadly:

Popular culture refers to television shows, movies, books, musical selections, artworks, products, activities, and events that appeal to the interests and desires of large numbers of people. Popular culture tells us a lot about the people of a society. Some people may criticize popular culture or deny its influence on their lives, but one thing is clear: popular culture typically displays the ideas and principles that people value most.

Are the values of a society most clearly revealed in its popular culture?


This SAT prompt, from October 2005, seems to almost foresee the rise of Hollywood-fueled Twitter feeds:

1. Celebrities have the power to attract “communities” of like-minded followers; they provide an identity that people can connect to and call their own. Celebrities are trusted; they stand for certain ideas and values to which followers can express allegiance.
–Adapted from William Greider, “Who Will Tell the People?”

2. Admiration for celebrities is often accompanied by contempt for “average” people. As we focus on the famous, other people become less important to us. The world becomes populated with a few “somebodies” and an excess of “near-nobodies.”

–Adapted from Norman Solomon and Jeff Cohen, “Wizards of Media Oz”

Is society’s admiration for famous people beneficial or harmful?

Here, from December 2006, is an SAT prompt on media and reality that could be a companion to the more recent TV-show prompt:

All around us appearances are mistaken for reality. Clever advertisements create favorable impressions but say little or nothing about the products they promote. In stores, colorful packages are often better than their contents. In the media, how certain entertainers, politicians, and other public figures appear is more important than their abilities. All too often, what we think we see becomes far more important than what really is.

Do images and impressions have too much of an effect on people?

And then, in October 2009, SAT-takers were asked to opine on the state of the news:

Good news is, for the most part, no news. It is not sufficiently compelling or important to make leading stories and front pages in the media, certainly not as often as bad news. Bad news sells, or so it seems from the books, newspapers, and television reports that fill our lives. But in this endless focus on the bad, the media present a distorted view of the world.

–Adapted from Richard B. McKenzie, “The Paradox of Progress: Can Americans Regain Their Confidence in a Prosperous Future?”

Do books, newspapers, and other media focus too much on bad news?

Finally, that same month, other takers of the SAT were asked about something near and dear to many, but perhaps not all: their cellphones:

An Internet phone service is offering unlimited free telephone calls for anyone who signs up. There is only one catch: the company will use software to listen to customers’ phone conversations and then send customers advertisements based on what they have been talking about. For example, if they talk about movies with their friends, advertisements for movies will appear on their computer screens. Commentators have voiced concern about customers’ giving up their privacy in exchange for phone service.

Should people give up their privacy in exchange for convenience or free services?

And here, at last, is the one, similar prompt that administrators of the ACT gave to us:

As the amount of time students spend watching television increases, teachers debate whether television channels should be required to devote at least 20 percent of their programming to educational shows about topics such as science and history.

Some teachers support this policy because they think television is an ideal teaching instrument with a very large and very receptive audience. Other teachers do not support this policy because they think what is considered educational by some could be considered merely entertaining by others.

In your opinion, should television channels be required to devote at least 20 percent of their programming to educational shows?

In your essay, take a position on this question. You may write about either one of the two points of view given, or you may present a different point of view on this question. Use specific reasons and examples to support your position.

Now it’s your turn, Choice readers. Please use the box below to tell us what you think of these prompts. And if you have not yet read the reality-television prompt, you can find it in this blog post.

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