SAT essay prompts from March 2015

SAT Essay prompts March 2015

This article is designed to help students prepare for their SATs. It outlines some practice questions and answers based on the latest official SAT essay prompts, which were released by the College Board in March 2015, as well as some advice for constructing an argument and planning and writing an essay. If you would like to see the official list of essay prompts, please visit the essay prompt section on the College Board website. Note that each new set of essay prompts replaces the former set. (Note: There appears to be a number of typos on the current page (as of 2015-04-14). For several of the prompts, the context paragraphs do not match the essay prompts given.)

As outlined below, each prompt involves a single issue or idea (which prompts you to think critically about it). For these three prompts, the issues are self-discipline, art and collaboration. For each issue, there is a question and some arguments for and against, as well as some things to consider before writing an essay about that specific issue. Remember, these questions and arguments are just examples and will differ in your actual exam.

Essay Prompt 1: Is Self-Discipline Valuable?

For: Yes. Self-discipline helps us control negative and potentially damaging behavior and emotions. It helps us to say no to things that might initially seem like a good idea, but might have negative consequences. People without self-discipline have fewer boundaries and are not fully aware of how their actions affect others.

Against: No. Self-discipline restricts creative freedom and makes social interaction more difficult. If someone spends too much time disciplining himself, he might suffer from a lack of spontaneity and low self-confidence. Self-discipline emphasizes organization and control, and might lead to anxiety or depression when situations cannot be controlled.

Considerations: Before starting your essay, you should consider the terms of the question. In this case, establish what self-discipline means and then consider whether it’s valuable according to your experience, studies, or observations. As with any essay, you will first need a strong argument. Your argument might be that self-discipline is an important quality that many people develop when working towards set goals. Although you’re arguing for self-discipline, you should aim to construct a balanced argument with points for and against. When making a point for self-discipline, you might say that self-discipline is good for people who need strict organization to achieve goals, such as athletes or actors. You can then make a point against self-discipline, perhaps saying that too much self-discipline for certain people might lead to addictive or selfish personality traits.

Essay Prompt 2: Can Art Change Your Life?

For: Yes. Art changes us every day by moving and inspiring us. Many people are inspired by a favorite book, film, or song that has changed their perspective on the world. Art allows us to explore ideas, emotions, and thoughts from a perspective different from our own.

Against: No. Art’s job is to entertain and distract us and simply cannot change the way we think and act. Art cannot stop climate change or end wars; neither can it change people’s religious or political beliefs.

Considerations: Again, first consider the terms of the question by thinking about what art is and how it might have changed your life or the lives of others. What about the Bible? Isn’t that a work of art that has changed people’s lives? What about American folk music from the 1960s or certain popular music today (hip hop, indie, electronic, metal, etc.)–do you think that has changed people’s lives? To answer these questions, remember to consider whose lives have been changed and in what ways. Also, what does “change” mean? Change is a very broad term and can be interpreted how you like, as long as you make a convincing argument by arguing for and against. Change might be positive or negative, it might be personal, or it could apply to an entire country.

Essay Prompt 3: Is Collaboration Useful?

For: Yes. Human society and individual relationships need collaboration to succeed. Most great discoveries in science and many advances in works of art and architecture have been created in collaboration. Society would not function without collaboration, and it would take individuals much more energy and time to achieve the same results.

Against: No. Collaboration often leads to conflict between groups and people, or results in compromise, where neither group get what they want. If individuals were to work on their own, the finished product would be more personal and closer to the original idea.

Considerations: What is collaboration and in what context are you going to write about it? You might consider “collaboration” in relation to politics, business, TV, or music, or you might think about important scientific discoveries or works of art that relied on the work of more than one person. You might also think about collaboration between areas of study. Do artists collaborate with scientists? Do musicians work with film directors? As with any essay, it’s important to give specific examples to support your arguments. Examples show the essay reader what evidence you have, making your argument more convincing. All of your examples should include names, titles of work, and dates to the extent that you’re able to remember them. A common but also effective kind of example is the quotation. When quoting, remember to make it clear who is speaking and how this relates to the point you are making. If you’re talking about scientific discoveries, for example, you might consider Isaac Newton’s famous quotation, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

SAT Essay planning and writing

Before starting any essay it’s important to plan what you’re going to say. When you’re planning your essay, you may wish to take up to three minutes to consider what your argument is and what the structure of your essay will be. At this point, it might be useful to try to summarize your argument into one simple sentence and to note down the main points for each section of your essay.

Once you have your argument, you should think about your introduction. Put simply, your introduction sets out your main argument and says succinctly what you are going to say in the whole of your essay. In the middle section of your essay, each point you make to support your argument should include evidence in the form of examples (quotations are especially useful here). All essays should end with a conclusion, which recaps what you have said and reasserts your main argument, preferably with a slightly different take on your main points.

Remember

Essay prompts usually focus on one issue or idea, but that doesn’t mean you should respond to an essay question in a particular way. Usually, essay prompts focus on broad ideas, as you’ve seen above with questions about self-discipline, art and collaboration. The readers are looking for your own interpretation of the issue, according to what you have experienced and studied. Finally, remember to stick to your chosen argument throughout and to provide a balanced argument that you think best answers the question.

If you’ve found this article useful it would be great to get some feedback, even it’s just a “like” or a simple thank you. In my experience as a tutor and a writer, constructive criticism is especially welcome. Good luck to everyone preparing for their SATs.

The Redesigned SAT (2016): An Overview

Studying for the SAT
Summary: The SAT will change significantly in the spring of 2016. These changes will affect high school students of the class of 2017. Students should strongly consider taking the ACT in addition to the SAT and see which they perform better on. Some (but not all) important changes include: The types of questions will change. The essay section will be optional (but always check with colleges to see whether they require the essay). The new SAT will have a “no-calculator” section. The scoring will change from a maximum of 2400 to a maximum of 1600 (as it was before the 2005 changes). All students taking the new SAT should be familiar with the U.S. Declaration of Independence and other “founding documents.” See the Official College Board page for the 2016 SAT for more information.

If you’re planning to attend college in the United States in the fall of 2017 (or later), there’s a good chance that you’ve already heard that the SAT will undergo significant, even radical, changes in two years’ time.

TestMagic is keeping updated with all the changes, and we will keep all of you updated. Right now, there are not too many details available, but here’s an overview of what College Board has announced:

  • The graduating class of 2017 is affected. These students will have to take the 2016 SAT (unless they take the current SAT in the fall of their junior year or earlier).
  • A computer SAT will be available in certain places. This change is more significant than it may at first seem to be!
  • The PSAT given in October 2015 will reflect changes to the SAT
  • There will be three sections on the new SAT:
    • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW for short)
    • Math
    • Essay (“optional;” see more below)
  • The verbal sections will require analysis and will include a wider variety of material and types of writing.
  • The math will reflect real-world situations.
  • The new SAT will be approximately three hours long; the “optional” essay will be 50 minutes long. (Exact times have not yet been decided–research on optimal times is still being conducted.)
  • There will be a “no-calculator” math section on the 2016 SAT
  • No more deductions for incorrect answers! So on the new test, be sure to answer each question.
  • Essay will be “optional” in theory
  • Vocabulary will be a bit easier and less esoteric. Two words mentioned that could appear on a future 2016 SAT: empirical and synthesis. Examples of words that we conjecture would not appear on the new SAT: pusillanimouspulchritude, and fulsome.
  • Scoring goes back to 400-1600 (200-800 for each EBRW and Math), with a separate score for the essay (No official mention of whether the essay will still be scored on a 0-6 scale)
  • Each new SAT test will include questions about the “Founding Documents,” such as the American Declaration of Independence or discussions of these documents.
  • Free SAT test preparation will be offered through a collaboration between College Board and Khan Academy

College Board has announced that it wishes to make the new SAT more realistic and more aligned with what students learn in school and do away with the more “puzzle-like” sections of the test. Overall, the math should reflect real-world problems and situations that people encounter and the verbal sections will cover a wider range of topics and subjects and will now require more analysis than previous SATs did.

Studying for the SAT
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jamieleroy/

So, why the changes? In the world of testing, there has been a long controversy over standardized tests and whether they are fair. Over the decades, many of the best-known admissions tests (such as the GRE, the GMAT, and the TOEFL) have become more realistic in their content. For example, in years past, the TOEFL (a test of English proficiency) included dialogues recorded by actors. Now in their place, the test has recordings of real conversations that people have. The SAT itself discarded the analogies (DOG is to PUPPY as CAT is to ???) in 2005, but retained the “sentence completion” questions (Isaac was quite ——-; rarely did he call attention to himself.).

In the coming weeks, we will address the changes to the SAT thoroughly and will keep all of our students and their parents updated on the changes so that they are ideally prepared to apply to college.

In the meantime, please leave a comment or a question!

Don’t call them “dramas”

Pointing up
Summary: Don’t call them dramas. Call them television programs.

Quick tip: If you’re writing about serialized Chinese television programs, don’t call them “dramas” in your essays. Instead, refer to them as Chinese television dramas (or Korean if they’re Korean, Mexican if they’re Mexican, etc.).

Why? Well, “drama” is a broad term that refers to many different types of performances, so “dramas” by itself is too vague. And whoever reads and scores your SAT essay may very likely not know what you mean if you simply write “dramas.”

Note: There is a large Chinese population in San Francisco, and many young “ABCs” (American-born Chinese) refer to these nighttime “soap operas” as dramas. Other people may refer to similar programs from their cultures with different terms. For example, some Spanish speakers may refer to them as “novelas.” If you’re using a word or term that many people have not heard, it’s always a good idea to explain that term in your writing so that the reader will not be confused.

For example, the following writing might be confusing for some readers:

*For example, in a drama I was watching, there was a poor but pretty girl who fell in love with a handsome and rich boy.

This would be better:

For example, in a Chinese television program I watched, there was a poor but pretty girl who fell in love with a handsome, rich boy.

One related point–avoid using television programs as examples. Literary works tend to get higher scores. But if you can’t think of anything else, a writing about a television program is better than not writing anything.

A new version of the Common App is coming. Thank goodness.

There’s a new version of the Common App coming on August 1, 2013, and they’re calling it CA4.

So, what’s wrong with the current version of the Common App? Well, a lot of things. It’s a noble effort, and it saves a lot of time for applicants and admissions committees alike. But it does have a few shortcomings. For example:

  • If you want to make a correction to your application, it’s difficult to do so. There’s a way to edit previous versions of your Common App, but it’s a bit tricky.
  • It does not have a rich-text editor. What’s that? In plain English, that just means that you can’t format your writing with bold, italicsunderlines, etc. Why does that matter? Actually, it matters a lot. In many situations, applicants need to write about books, movies, music pieces, etc., and it’s not only difficult or tedious to use quotation marks, underscores, or asterisks for formatting, doing so typically counts against your total character count, meaning you can’t write as much as you’d like.
  • The editor is tricky to compose in–it doesn’t save automatically, and if you compose in Google Docs or OpenOffice, slight formatting changes occur, which could make your application look sloppy.

I haven’t seen any news or previews of the new platform, but I hope it will address some or all of these issues. Of course, I’ll keep you updated with news when I learn more.

More information: https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/CA4.aspx

Sample email: I made a mistake on my application

Blurry TestMagic window sign, with flowers in focus.

So you made a mistake on your Common App? And the college you applied to has instructed you to contact the admissions office directly to make the correction? (Stanford does this, for example.)

As always, you must be professional. Whatever you write very well may become part of your application.

First, here’s an example of how NOT to write (and yes, I may exaggerate for effect):

First email at 12:14 PM:

*oh hai i made a mistake on my application, so can you fix it for me? my sat is actually 1920, not 1290. okay thanx.

Second email at 2:17 PM:

*oh hai, i forgot, my name is my full name. kthxbye!!!111

I hope that that communication is obviously wrong. If it’s not, please, let’s have a talk! Or talk to someone who has experience with writing for help (such as an English teacher or someone who has a professional job).

This is a better version of the email:

Dear Admissions Officer,

Unfortunately, I recorded some information incorrectly on my Common App. I tried to update it myself, but it’s locked, and I can’t make the change myself. I checked your site’s FAQ, and it said I should email you with corrections. My SAT score is 1920. The score of 1290 is incorrect.

Thanks in advance for your assistance .

Best regards,

My Full Name

Obviously, if you’re going to use this email, please use this as a template only. In other words, don’t just copy and paste this email–edit it to make it your own.

Think twice before you write that clever status message

TestMagic Daisy

Quick advice, everybody:

Anytime you make a post on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, your school website, some random essay website, or whatever, you’ve got to believe and understand that whatever you write could be seen by pretty much anyone in the future.

For example, this is BAD:

*half a grade off for one day late? (WTHeck) mr foshizzle????!!!!!! (hecka) (angry)!

This is better:

Note to self: Always plan for the unexpected.

Why? In the future, some admissions officer or job interviewer may come across your post and decide to reject you for it. No kidding. It happens.

SAT vocabulary: quotidian

What does quotidian mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word quotidian

First, before you read about the word quotidian, try this quick vocab quiz:

quotidian most nearly means

(A) plausible
(B) timely
(C) intangible
(D) mundane
(E) colossal

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word quotidian.

Part of Speech of quotidian

quotidian is an ADJECTIVE.

Pronunciation quotidian

Here’s how to pronounce quotidian:

IPA: /kwoʊ.ˈtɪ.di.ən/

Glossary-style: [kwoe-TIH-dee-un]

Definition of quotidian

quotidian means: common, ordinary, trivial (Ex: quotidian duties, such as putting away one’s clothes). daily; occurring or recurring every day (Ex: quotidian dialysis; quotidian report).

Explain more about quotidian, please

If something is quotidian, then it literally occurs every day. By extension, it is also common, expected, ordinary, and completely unexciting.

Example of quotidian

Here’s the word quotidian used in a sentence:

The premise of the reality television show was that one or two rich people would have to live a conventional middle-class life and have the same quotidian responsibilities that the rest of us have.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

Answer Click Here to Show the Answer!

SAT vocabulary: cacophony

What does cacophony mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word cacophony

First, before you read about the word cacophony, try this quick vocab quiz:

cacophony most nearly means

(A) idea
(B) luxury
(C) racket
(D) ilk
(E) glare

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word cacophony.

Part of Speech of cacophony

cacophony is a NOUN.

Pronunciation cacophony

Here’s how to pronounce cacophony:

IPA: /kə.ˈkɒ.fə.ni/

Glossary-style: [kuh-KAH-fuh-nee]

Definition of cacophony

cacophony means: a mix of harsh, discordant sounds; dissonance (Ex: the cacophony of car horns and police sirens).

Explain more about cacophony, please

cacophony simply means loud noise that hurts your ears. For example, imagine the worst, loudest sounds you can imagine–sirens wailing, dogs barking, babies crying, horns honking, all at once. That’s cacophony.

And the best part is that cacophony is very much pinky-up kind of word. Throw it into your writing or speech here and there, and people will be rightfully impressed with your high level of vocabulary.

Example of cacophony

Here’s the word cacophony used in a sentence:

Perceived as cacophony by some, the shouts, calls, and laughter of the playground was euphony [beautiful sounds] to Señor Chang, who reminisced nostalgically on his childhood.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

SAT vocabulary: mirth

What does mirth mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word mirth

First, before you read about the word mirth, try this quick vocab quiz:

mirth most nearly means

(A) anger
(B) act
(C) failure
(D) happiness
(E) desire

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word mirth.

Part of Speech of mirth

mirth is a NOUN.

Pronunciation of mirth

Here’s how to pronounce mirth:

IPA: /mərθ/

Glossary-style: [muhrth]

Definition of mirth

mirth means: happiness, gaiety, or jollity; pleasure or joy (Ex: a day full of mirth).

Explain more about mirth, please

mirth is simply happiness. The word mirth has some connatations of enjoying oneself in a the company of others, especially at holiday times, family meals, and yes, alcohol.

Finally, the word mirth sounds a bit old, so you’re more likely to come across it older writings than modern ones.

Example of mirth

Here’s the word mirth used in a sentence:

The New Year’s Eve party was marked by great mirth as friends celebrated the incoming year together.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz

Answer Click Here to Show the Answer!

SAT vocabulary: empirical

What does empirical mean? Read below for the definition.

Quick vocab quiz for the word empirical

First, before you read about the word empirical, try this quick vocab quiz:

empirical most nearly means

(A) large
(B) extant
(C) confirmable
(D) hard
(E) distant

Write your answer down, or just store it in that razor-sharp mind of yours. (If you can’t wait, the answer is below.)

Now let’s learn about the word empirical.

Part of Speech of empirical

empirical is an ADJECTIVE.

Pronunciation empirical

Here’s how to pronounce empirical:

IPA: /ɛm.’piɹ.ɪ.kəl/

Glossary-style: [em-PEER-ih-kul ]

Definition of empirical

empirical means: derived from or guided by experience or experiment (Ex: empirical evidence).

Explain more about empirical, please

Empirical evidence is evidence that has been obtained through observation, experimentation, or experience. Sure, that sounds logical you’re thinking. What other kind of evidence or information is there? Well, some people rely on the often-unreliable method of… guessing. Or intuition. For example, sometimes people attribute their success to a good-luck charm, such as a favorite pair of socks. Or they say, “I got a 2380 on my SAT because I memorized lots of vocabulary!” How do people know this? It is often the case that the utterers of these statements in fact based their statements not on empirical evidence but on intuition, suspicion, or more vaguely, a general hope for things to be the way they want them to be.

And when we make decisions, we rely on a variety of resources and information to make the best choice possible. Sometimes we base our decisions on past experiences; other times, we use our intuition or “gut feelings” to decide what to do. If we base our decisions information that has been carefully collected and measured, then we are using empirical data. empirical data or evidence is different from theoretical or intuitive information, which is derived from guesses or other “non-scientific” methods of obtaining information.

So, empirical simply means based on evidence as opposed to based on a theory, a guess, a “gut-feeling”, or the like.

Example of empirical

Here’s the word empirical used in a sentence:

Scientists are trained to gather empirical evidence to support their theories, not common sense.

If you’ve read this far, you’re a great student and will learn vocabulary quickly. You may now check your answer.

Answer to the quick vocab quiz