The SAT Essay has changed drastically from what it looked like from March 2005-January 2016. On the plus side, you’ll now be asked to do the same task every time: read an argument meant to persuade a broad audience and discuss how well the author argues his or her point. On the minus side, you have to do reading and analysis in addition to writing a coherent and organized essay.
In this article, we’ve compiled a list of the 11 real SAT essay prompts that the CollegeBoard has released (either in The Official SAT Study Guide or separately online) for the new SAT. This is the most comprehensive set of new SAT essay prompts online today.
At the end of this article, we'll also guide you through how to get the most out of these prompts and link to our expert resources on acing the SAT essay. I’ll discuss how the SAT essay prompts are valuable not just because they give you a chance to write a practice essay, but because of what they reveal about the essay task itself.
SAT essay prompts have always kept to the same basic format. With the new essay, however, not only is the prompt format consistent from test to test, but what you’re actually asked to do (discuss how an author builds an argument) also remains the same across different test administrations.
The College Board’s predictability with SAT essay helps students focus on preparing for the actual analytical task, rather than having to think up stuff on their feet. Every time, before the passage, you’ll see the following:
- evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
- reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
- stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.
And after the passage, you’ll see this:
“Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [her/his] audience that [whatever the author is trying to argue for]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.
Your essay should not explain whether you agree with [the author]’s claims, but rather explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [her/his] audience.”
Now that you know the format, let’s look at the SAT essay prompts list.
11 Official SAT Essay Prompts
The College Board has released a limited number of prompts to help students prep for the essay. We've gathered them for you here, all in one place. We’ll be sure to update this article as more prompts are released for practice and/or as more tests are released.
SPOILER ALERT: Since these are the only essay prompts that have been released so far, you may want to be cautious about spoiling them for yourself, particularly if you are planning on taking practice tests under real conditions. This is why I’ve organized the prompts by the ones that are in the practice tests (so you can avoid them if need be), the one that is available online as a "sample prompt," and the ones that are in the Official SAT Study Guide (Redesigned SAT), all online for free.
Practice Test Prompts
These eight prompts are taken from the practice tests that the College Board has released.
Practice Test 1:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Jimmy Carter builds an argument to persuade his audience that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should not be developed for industry."
Practice Test 2:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Martin Luther King Jr. builds an argument to persuade his audience that American involvement in the Vietnam War is unjust."
Practice Test 3:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Eliana Dockterman builds an argument to persuade her audience that there are benefits to early exposure to technology."
Practice Test 4:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Paul Bogard builds an argument to persuade his audience that natural darkness should be preserved."
Practice Test 5:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Eric Klinenberg builds an argument to persuade his audience that Americans need to greatly reduce their reliance on air-conditioning."
Practice Test 6:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Christopher Hitchens builds an argument to persuade his audience that the original Parthenon sculptures should be returned to Greece."
Practice Test 7:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Zadie Smith builds an argument to persuade her audience that public libraries are important and should remain open"
Practice Test 8:
"Write an essay in which you explain how Bobby Braun builds an argument to persuade his audience that the US government must continue to invest in NASA."
Special note: The prompt for Practice Test 4 is replicated as the first sample essay on the College Board’s site for the new SAT. If you’ve written a sample essay for practice test 4 and want to see what essays of different score levels look like for that particular prompt, you can go here and look at eight real student essays.
within darkness by jason jenkins, used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Resized from original.
Free Online Practice
This prompt comes from the CollegeBoard website for the new SAT.
“Write an essay in which you explain how Dana Gioia builds an argument to persuade his audience that the decline of reading in America will have a negative effect on society.”
The Official SAT Study Guide (for March 2016 and beyond)
The Official SAT Study Guide (editions published in 2015 and later, available online for free) contains all eight of the previously mentioned practice tests at the end of the book. In the section about the new SAT essay, however, there are two additional sample essay prompts.
Sample Prompt 1:
“Write an essay in which you explain how Peter S. Goodman builds an argument to persuade his audience that news organizations should increase the amount of professional foreign news coverage provided to people in the United States.”
The College Board modified this article for the essay prompt passage in the book. The original passage (1528 words, vs the 733 it is on the SAT) to which this prompt refers can also be found online (for free) here.
Sample Prompt 2:
“Write an essay in which you explain how Adam B. Summers builds an argument to persuade his audience that plastic shopping bags should not be banned.”
There are still a couple of minor differences between the article as it appears in The Official SAT Study Guide as an essay prompt compared to its original form, but it’s far less changed than the previous prompt. The original passage to which this prompt refers (764 words, vs the 743 in The Official SAT Study Guide) can also be found online (for free) here.
hey thanks by Jonathan Youngblood, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped and resized from original.
How Do You Get the Most Out of These Prompts?
Now that you have all the prompts released by the College Board, it’s important to know the best way to use them. Make sure you have a good balance between quality and quantity, and don’t burn through all 11 of the real prompts in a row – take the time to learn from your experiences writing the practice essays.
Step By Step Guide on How to Practice Using the Article
1. Understandhow the SAT essay is graded.
2. Watch as we write a high-scoring SAT essay, step by step.
3. Pre-plan a set of features you’ll look for in the SAT essay readings and practice writing about them fluidly. This doesn't just mean identifying a technique, like asking a rhetorical question, but explaining why it is persuasive and what effect it has on the reader in the context of a particular topic. We have more information on this step in our article about 6 SAT persuasive devices you can use.
4. Choose a prompt at random from above, or choose a topic that you think is going to be hard for you to detach from (because you’ll want to write about the topic, rather than the argument) set timer to 50 minutes and write the essay. No extra time allowed!
5. Grade the essay, using the essay rubric to give yourself a score out of 8 in the reading, analysis, and writing sections (article coming soon!).
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5. Choose the prompts you think will be the hardest for you so that you can so that you’re prepared for the worst when the test day comes
7. If you run out of official prompts to practice with, use the official prompts as models to find examples of other articles you could write about. How? Start by looking for op-ed articles in online news publications like The New York Times, The Atlantic, LA Times, and so on. For instance, the passage about the plastic bag ban in California (sample essay prompt 2, above) has a counterpoint here - you could try analyzing and writing about that article as well.
Any additional articles you use for practice on the SAT essay must match the following criteria:
- ideally 650-750 words, although it’ll be difficult to find an op-ed piece that’s naturally that short. Try to aim for nothing longer than 2000 words, though, or the scope of the article is likely to be too wide for what you’ll encounter on the SAT.
- always argumentative/persuasive. The author (or authors) is trying to get readers to agree with a claim or idea being put forward.
- always intended for a wide audience. All the information you need to deconstruct the persuasiveness of the argument is in the passage. This means that articles with a lot of technical jargon that's not explained in the article are not realistic passage to practice with.
We’ve written a ton of helpful resources on the SAT essay. Make sure you check them out!
15 SAT Essay Tips.
How to Write an SAT Essay, Step by Step.
How to Get a 12 on the SAT Essay.
SAT Essay Rubric, Analyzed and Explained.
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In this article, I'll tell you where to find all official, printable SAT practice tests and answer keys. This comprehensive guide gives you access to more SAT practice tests than any other online guide. In addition, you'll learn key strategies that'll help you make big improvements on SAT practice tests you can print out.
Free Printable SAT Tests (New 1600 Format)
Currently, there are eight available practice tests for the redesigned SAT, all of which have been provided by the maker of the SAT itself, the College Board. These tests are the absolute best ones to use for your SAT studies since they're the most similar to the test.
Practice Test 1: Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations | Essay
Practice Test 2: Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations | Essay
Practice Test 3: Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations | Essay
Practice Test 4: Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations | Essay
Practice Test 5: Questions | Answers |Answer Explanations | Essay
Practice Test 6: Questions | Answers |Answer Explanations | Essay
Practice Test 7: Questions | Answers |Answer Explanations | Essay
Practice Test 8: Questions | Answers | Answer Explanations | Essay
Don't forget to fill in your answers with the SAT answer sheet.
Disappointed with your scores? Want to improve your SAT score by 160 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:
Free Printable SAT Tests (Old 2400 Format, 2005-2016)
These next tests follow the old 2400 format of the SAT, with separate Reading, Math, and Writing sections. (By contrast, on the current SAT, your Reading and Writing scores are combined for a total Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score.)
Despite their somewhat out-of-date structure, these tests can be useful for your studying. Just keep in mind all of the major differences between the old and current SAT. I recommend using these tests more as training sessions than as full-on practice for the SAT.
Official SAT Printable Practice Test 2013-14: Questions | Answers
Official SAT Printable Practice Test 2012-13: Questions | Answers
Official SAT Printable Practice Test 2007-08: Questions | Answers
Official SAT Printable Practice Test 2004-05: Questions | Answers
It might look as though I've skipped a few years here, but I actually haven't: all of the tests for the years not listed are repeats of those above, including the 2011-12, 2010-11, 2009-10, 2008-09, 2006-07, and 2005-06 practice tests. So if you find these tests on other forums or websites, don't waste your time taking them since they're the exact same as the ones already listed.
We're going way back into the past for this next set of SAT tests.
Free Printable SAT Tests (Very Old 1600 Format, Pre-2005)
Before the SAT underwent a redesign in 2016, the last time it had changed was in 2005, back when it jumped from a 1600-point scale to a 2400-point scale.
Despite this massive shift in scoring, only a few major differences could be found between the very old 1600 SAT and the old 2400 SAT. Other than those, most of the test remained the same.
As a result, these very old SAT practice tests are a hidden gold mine that few students know of. By taking these tests, then, you'll have that much more of an edge over other test takers.
Before I give you the links, though, note a few important caveats:
- You can skip the analogies questions on Reading. These are the questions that look like "CAR : ENGINE ::." Since they're no longer on the SAT, there's no point in studying them.
- You can skip the comparison questions on Math. This question type presents two boxes and asks you to decide whether A or B is greater. Again, these won't be on the new SAT, so you don't need to worry about these.
- There is no Writing section on these tests, so make sure you use supplementary prep materials to study the grammar and question types you'll need to know for the new SAT's Writing and Language section.
Be grateful you don't need to answer some of these old-format questions—analogies were the primary reason that the SAT had a bad reputation for forcing students to memorize vocab!
Official SAT Test 2004-05: Questions | Answers
Official SAT Test 2003-04: Questions | Answers
Official SAT Test 2002: Questions + Answers
Official SAT Test 2001: Questions + Answers
6 Tips for Getting the Most Out Of SAT Practice Tests
Each SAT practice test requires around four hours of intense focus, so it's important you try to get the most out of them. Below are six critical strategies to follow each time you take a practice test.
#1: Print Out the Test and Take It on Paper
Because the SAT is a paper test (as opposed to a computer test), it's best to take the practice tests on paper.
Also, make sure you do your scratch work directly on the test. Don't get out separate pieces of scratch paper to use since on the actual test you won't get any scratch paper (but will be allowed to take notes directly in your test booklet).
Finally, if you're taking the optional Essay section, practice writing your essay using the lined paper included with your practice test.
#2: Use Strict Timing on Each Section
Although time pressure can be intimidating, it's important to follow official SAT time limits as closely as possible on practice tests.
Why? If, for example, you spend just two extra minutes on a section, this could raise your score by hundreds of points, as the extra time allowed you to answer more questions than you would've been able to within the official time limit. As a result, your practice SAT score becomes inflated and doesn't give you an accurate indicator of your actual scoring ability.
Here's an overview of the official time limits for each SAT section as well as how long you should spend (roughly) per question:
|SAT Section||Time per Section||Time per Question|
|Reading||65 minutes||75 seconds|
|Writing and Language||35 minutes||48 seconds|
|Math No Calculator||25 minutes||75 seconds|
|Math Calculator||55 minutes||77 seconds|
Make sure to give yourself breaks, too!
#3: Take the Test in One Sitting
The SAT is a marathon of a test, lasing around four hours on an early Saturday morning. Many of my students have told me how difficult it was to stay focused the entire time and keep themselves from making careless mistakes at the end.
Preparing for the SAT is like training for a marathon: you need to ensure you have enough stamina to make it through the test. And the best way to do this is to take each practice test in one sitting, as if you were taking the actual SAT.
If it's too difficult for you to find the time to take a practice test in one sitting, go ahead and split it up over several days—just make sure you adhere to the time limits for each section. Ultimately, it's better to do some SAT practice than none at all!
#4: Review Your Mistakes (and Your Correct Answers, Too)
Practice tests aren't just good for getting to know the SAT format and sections—they're also great for learning from your mistakes.
For every practice SAT test you take, spend time reviewing both questions you got wrong and questions you got right. If you don't know why you missed a question, don't just skip it and move on; doing this means you won't learn what kind of mistake you made, raising your risk of making it over and over again. This habit can hamper your score pretty drastically.
So make sure to approach your SAT prep with this in mind: quality over quantity. I'd rather have you take three practice tests with detailed review than six practice tests with no review.
#5: Take At Least 4 Practice Tests Before the Actual SAT
From my experience with thousands of students, this magic number works best at getting students really comfortable with the SAT in all major respects, including timing and endurance.
If you want to take more than four tests, go ahead and try it out—just make sure that you balance your prep with some focused studying on your weaknesses so that you can ultimately make faster progress.
#6: Use Supplemental Resources If Necessary
Some students are great at learning the ins and outs of the SAT through practice tests alone—they recognize their mistakes, understand why they made them, and avoid making them in the future.
But most students need additional help to pinpoint their weaknesses and teach them the skills and strategies needed for success on the SAT. If practice tests aren't enough for you, download our free guide to help you figure out which SAT prep method works best for you.
Want to get a perfect SAT score? Take a look at our famous guide to a 1600, written by an expert 2400 SAT scorer.
Aiming high on each SAT section? Then read our individual, in-depth strategy guides to help you reach an 800 on SAT Reading, SAT Math, and SAT Writing.
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