So you have your universal SAT essay examples and your #2 pencil. You’re rearing to go! But before you open that prompt and start writing like a madman, there are a couple of general rules you need to follow that could make or break your SAT essay score.
1. Generally avoid using personal examples. Do not talk about your love of cats. Do not give a moment-by-moment account of your first kiss. Do not make an analogy using your grandmother’s family-famous pecan pie. Do not use the words “you” and “my,” because the personal examples you use may very well be made up.
Unless you are actually a famous rock star or a real-life debutante whose personal life is splayed across magazine covers, your personal examples are not as obviously credible as historical or literary examples. You’ve been in high school for three years now, give or take a few months; the College Board wants to see that you’ve actually learned something there that you can communicate clearly and concisely.
Exception: If the prompt directly asks you for a personal response, try personal examples of challenges you’ve faced in structured environments, like with a sports or debate team, or of times you learned how to do something new, like riding a bike. These tend to be the easiest examples to use in an SAT essay that could support nearly any prompt.
2. Religion is a touchy subject. It’s fine to refer to a particular religion in your essay, but only objectively. Mentioning Mormons as American pioneers would be an appropriate blend of religion and history, but the SAT essay is not an appropriate vehicle for conversion messages. You may (accidentally or otherwise) offend people with something you write – say, if you hate on another religion or promote an especially radical one. You may offend the reader of your SAT essay, who may not agree with your personal opinions or beliefs regarding the religion you bring up. Your reader is not supposed to be biased, but we’re all human beings. Luckily, you have two readers grade your essay, just in case one grades unfairly, but it’s easier if you don’t go asking for trouble.
3. Politics is also touchy. Apply a neutral, journalistic approach to political events. For example, you could deliver a stronger argument to the success or importance of the civil rights movement by mentioning Barack Obama’s election in 2008 as the first African-American president of the United States. That is a fact that arguably wouldn’t be possible without the success of the Civil Rights Movement, but going on in detail about your personal opinions regarding Obama may encourage a bias in the grader of your essay.
The bottom line? You have a plethora of examples that could relate to any SAT essay prompt you come across: choose ones that are appropriate in this setting, and keep your audience in mind.