The SAT is a cruel mistress. She allows you just a few quiet minutes of gridding in your name and test center information, before immediately slapping you in the face with 25 minutes of adrenaline-inducing essay writing.
That’s right: You’re expected to process the prompt and then plan, write, and proofread an essay in less time than it takes Justin Bieber to do his hair. The good news is—the essay graders know this! They’re judging your essay as a “final first draft,” not as a Pulitzer-prize-winning piece of literature.
Below is an example of an essay that would receive a 6 (or a 12 total, as there are two readers grading each essay) on the SAT, followed by a breakdown of why the essay is successful:
The prompt comes from p. 699 of your Official SAT Study Guide: Can success be disastrous?
The world is littered with the carcasses of those who strove for success, only to find emptiness and despair. Relentlessly pursuing success can lead to death–as in the case of Jay Gatsby–or, more commonly, to disappointment and madness, as in the cases of Alexander the Great and Britney Spears. Success can have disastrous consequences.
Jay Gatsby, the anti-hero of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, was a man motivated by his need to succeed. Jay Gatsby said that his goal was to win the love of Daisy, but he was really motivated by a more common American dream: money. Gatsby only loved Daisy because her voice sounded “like money.” His whole life was spent pursuing financial and social success. Nothing good came from his desire for success; instead, Gatsby died, and almost nobody attended his funeral.
The case of Alexander the Great had similarly disastrous consequences. Conquering the known world was Alexander the Great’s main goal and he excelled at it. By his early 30′s, Alexander found that he had successfully gained power over everything he had ever wanted. But this didn’t satisfy Alexander. Instead, he was crushed by the disappointment that there was nothing left to conquer. Alexander was successful in achieving his incredible goal, but his success proved disastrous to his mental health, and he died soon after.
Britney Spears is another cautionary tale of success. From her early appearances on the Mickey Mouse club, to her musical superstardom, to her head-shaving public breakdown, Britney Spears proved how quickly your star can ascend and then crash back down. She achieved worldwide success shortly after she did puberty. It was obviously too much for her to handle, both mentally and emotionally. Her life of glamor and fame quickly fell apart. By all accounts her success was devastating to her personal life and mental health.
The pitfalls of striving for—and achieving—success are tragically apparent in the examples of Jay Gatsby, Alexander the Great, and Britney Spears. Those who hope to be famous and revered should take note. In some situations, success can have unexpected and unfortunate consequences.
This essay is well-written and well-reasoned, and almost entirely free of typos. It’s appropriately structured with an introduction, supporting body paragraphs, and a conclusion (or re-mix). The student does a good job of starting out the introduction with a “dazzler” — it’s a little melodramatic, but catchy. Then she lays out the examples she plans to use, and finally ends with a clear thesis statement.
It’s great that she gave 3 paragraphs-worth of supporting examples, but you don’t have to do that to get a good score on the essay–2 body paragraphs is all you need. The examples the student offers run the gamut from literature (using everyone’s favorite, The Great Gatsby), history and current affairs. Remember that you can also write a body paragraph about your own personal experiences, if you have a concrete example that supports your argument.
Finally, her conclusion does a good job of restating her argument, of reminding the reader of the examples she employed, and of not introducing any new arguments. Remember—the conclusion is the place to wrap things up, not to try to get in another argument that you didn’t have time to turn into a body paragraph. Also note that the essay isn’t incredibly long—it’s about 350 words. She’s definitely written enough, but not too much.
Good luck working on your essay-writing skills! The best way to improve your score is to practice—the more you work on your writing, the better you’ll do!