The Essay

SAT Writing Practice Questions

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The essay is scored by experienced and trained high school and college teachers. Each essay is scored by two people who won't know each other's score. They won't know the student's identity or school either. Each reader gives the essay a score from 1 to 6 (6 is the highest score) based on the SAT essay Scoring Guide.

Sample Essay Prompt

You have twenty-five minutes to write an essay on the topic assigned below.

Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.

Many persons believe that to move up the ladder of success and achievement, they must forget the past, repress it, and relinquish it. But others have just the opposite view. They see old memories as a chance to reckon with the past and integrate past and present.

Adapted from Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, I've Known Rivers: Lives of Loss and Liberation

Assignment: Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

Sample Scored Essays

These scored essays were written in response to the essay question above. Click on a score to see a sample essay with that score.

Score = 6 (Example 1)

Essay

Without our past, our future would be a tortuous path leading to nowhere. In order to move up the ladder of success and achievement we must come to terms with our past and integrate it into our future. Even if in the past we made mistakes, this will only make wiser people out of us and guide us to where we are supposed to be.

This past year, I was auditioning for the fall play, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." To my detriment I thought it would be a good idea to watch the movie in order to prepare. For two hours I studied Elizabeth Taylor's mannerisms, attitude, and diction, hoping I could mimic her performance. I auditioned for the part of "Maggie" feeling perfectly confident in my portrayal of Elizabeth Taylor, however, I was unaware that my director saw exactly what I had been thinking. Unfortunately, I didn't get the part, and my director told me that he needed to see "Maggie" from my perspective, not Elizabeth Taylor's.

I learned from this experience, and promised myself I would not try to imitate another actress, in order to create my character. Perservering, I was anxious to audition for the winter play just two months later. The play was Neil Simon's "Rumors," and would get the opportunity to play "Chris," a sarcastic yet witty role, which would be my final performance in high school. In order to develop my character, I planned out her life just as I thought it should be, gave her the voice I thought was right, and the rest of her character unfolded beautifully from there. My director told me after the first show that "Rumors" was the best work he'd ever seen from me, and that he was amazed at how I'd developed such a believable character. Thinking back to my first audition I was grateful for that chance I had to learn and to grow, because without that mistake I might have tried to base "Chris" off of someone I'd known or something I'd seen instead of becoming my own character. I utilized the memory of the Elizabeth Taylor debacle to improve my approach to acting and gave the best performance of my life so far.

Why this Essay Received a Score of 6

This essay effectively and insightfully develops its point of view ("In order to move up the ladder of success and achievement we must come to terms with our past and integrate it into our future") through a clearly appropriate extended example drawing on the writer's experience as an actor. The essay exhibits outstanding critical thinking by presenting a well-organized and clearly focused narrative that aptly illustrates the value of memory. The essay also uses language skillfully, demonstrating meaningful variety in sentence structure ("To my detriment I thought it would be a good idea to watch the movie in order to prepare. For two hours I studied Elizabeth Taylor's mannerisms, attitude, and diction, hoping I could mimic her performance. I auditioned for the part of "Maggie" feeling perfectly confident in my portrayal of Elizabeth Taylor, however, I was unaware that my director"). Despite minor errors, the essay demonstrates clear and consistent mastery and is scored a 6.

Score = 6 (Example 2)

Essay

Memories act as both a help and a hinderance to the success of someone. Many people advise you to learn from the past and apply those memories so that you can effectively succeed by avoiding repeating your past mistakes. On the other hand, people who get too caught up with the past are unable to move on to the future.

Elie Wiesel's memoir Night perfectly exemplifies the double nature of memories. Wiesel, a Jewish man, suffered heavily throughout the Holocaust and Night is rife with horrific descriptions of his experience. These memories help to spread the view of what life was like. Through recounting these memories, Wiesel is able to educate world readers about the atrocities committed in hopes that the same blatant violations of human rights are never repeated again. Through reliving the Holocaust through his writing, Wiesel was inspired to become proactive in the battle for civil rights. Some would point to his peaceful actions and the sales of his book and label him a success.

Despite the importance of recounting such memories, Wiesel acknowledges the damage that memories can also cause. Following his liberation from the Auschwitz concentration camp, Wiesel was a bitter, jaded man. He could not even write Night until several years later. The end of the novel describes Wiesel's gradual but absolute loss of faith throughout the experience. His past experiences haunted him for several years, rendering him passive. It was not until he set aside his past that he could even focus on the future. Had he remained so consumed with the pain and damage caused in the past, he may never have achieved the success that he has attained.

Overall, Wiesel's experiences exemplify the importance of the past as a guide. Wiesel's past experiences helped to guide him in later life, but it was not until he pushed them aside that he could move on. To me this means that you should rely on your past without letting it control you. Allow your past to act as a guide, while making sure that you are also living in the present and looking to the future.

Why this Essay Received a Score of 6

This essay exhibits outstanding critical thinking by effectively and insightfully developing its point of view ("you should rely on your past without letting it control you") through the clearly appropriate example of Elie Wiesel's Holocaust memoir, Night. The essay demonstrates clear coherence and smooth progression of ideas, carefully contrasting Wiesel's success in using his memories to gain attention for his cause with the difficulty Wiesel faced in dealing with those same powerful memories. The essay uses language skillfully to convey Wiesel's struggle ("Despite the importance of recounting such memories, Wiesel acknowledges the damage that memories can also cause. Following his liberation from the Auschwitz concentration camp, Wiesel was a bitter, jaded man. He could not even write Night until several years later"). The essay demonstrates clear and consistent mastery and receives a 6.

Score = 5 (Example 1)

Essay

Memories and past experiences serve as a rail, a guiding support, for people in an effort to succeed in the present. People not only learn from the past, but the very act of going through something provides experience for a person who is to "move up the ladder of success and achievement".

Some view failed experiences as a hinderance to future success. This is very untrue because history has a tendency of repeating itself, and in recognizing past failures, one can learn how to successfully approach similar situations in the future. An example of this is looking back in history to WWI. Sedition acts at this time allowed for the imprisonment of anyone who voiced an opinion against the president, or against the war. America recognized this shady time in its past, and instead of covering it up in a movement towards a more democratic nation, these acts were published in textbooks and taught to students. Americans saw the poor judgement of this situation and later with the war in Iraq, approached "patriotism" differently. With this present war, those adverse to the war are able to voice their opinions without fear of imprisonment or death. In seeing the undemocratic ways of an earlier era, America was able to recognize the bad and try to reform it. If the Sedition Acts had been forgotten then what is to say that they wouldn't come back? Remembering the failed times insures that improvement is possible.

In my personal experience, I have found that the very act of living through something not only matures me, but also provides skills and knowledge. In remembering past events, I am able to use them as reference, and sometimes assurance. A personal example, somewhat juvenile, but also effective, is when my first pet died. I was devastated and wanted to just clear my mind of the event, but I didn't. After time, I recovered, but maintained the memory of this horrible tragedy. Later in life, another pet died. I looked back to that memory as a guide and learned from it that in time I would be fine and to just hang on. In this situation, a memory served as a reference and catalyzed in my personal growth and recovery.

Memories, good or bad, assist people in obtaining success. Whether used as reference for guidance, or lessons on what not to do, past experiences can only offer a gap between the steps on the ladder of success. Forgetting the past can and will only erase experience and knowledge from a person and in affect hinder one in seeking achievement. In looking at historical repeats and personal events, it is clear that old memories can only aid in success.

Why this Essay Received a Score of 5

This essay effectively develops its point of view ("Memories and past experiences serve as a rail, a guiding support, for people in an effort to succeed in the present") through the appropriate examples of dissent during wartime and grieving for a pet, thus demonstrating strong critical thinking. Well organized and focused, the essay demonstrates coherence and progression of ideas ("In seeing the undemocratic ways of an earlier era, America was able to recognize the bad and try to reform it. If the Sedition Acts had been forgotten then what is to say that they wouldn't come back? Remembering the failed times insures that improvement is possible"). The essay also uses appropriate vocabulary and demonstrates effective variety in sentence structure. To earn a 6, this writer needs to achieve smoother progression of ideas by using language more skillfully (the phrase "past experiences can only offer a gap between the steps on the ladder of success" seems to express the opposite of what the writer intends). The essay demonstrates reasonably consistent mastery and receives a 5.

Score = 5 (Example 2)

Essay

I agree with Ms. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot in saying that some people "see old memories as a chance to reckon with the past and integrate past and present." Many people are so troubled by things that happened in their past that they are not able to focus on the present. For example, in the book Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko, Tayo, the main character, can not concentrate on the present because he constantly hounds himself over things that happened during World War II and his troubled childhood. However, past memories can help people to succeed in the present. An historical example of people learning from the past would be the Marshall Plan. After the conclusion of World War II there were many countries around the world in need of economical assistence to help rebuild their war torn countries, and the United States would have to be the one to provide that assistence. Many American politicians thought it was foolish for the US government to spend money abroad on countries that would not be able to repay the loan for a long time. However, George Marshall, a former general and later Secretary of State under President Truman, remembered how the exact same argument of "why should we spend money on war torn nations that really owe us reparations?" had been used after World War I towards Germany. The lack of assistance towards Germany after World War I had caused a gigantic economic depression in Germany that had made the Mark (German money) virtually worthless. The German people became so desperate that they started supporting an extreme German nationalist named Adolf Hitler, who eventually started World War II. Marshall knew that if the US did not help war torn Germany and, especially, Japan, we could eventually have a World War III on our hands.

Why this Essay Received a Score of 5

This focused essay effectively develops its point of view and demonstrates strong critical thinking ("Many people are so troubled by things that happened in their past that they are not able to focus on the present. . . . However, past memories can help people to succeed in the present"). The essay uses appropriate reasoning and examples and demonstrates coherence and progression of ideas ("Many American politicians thought it was foolish for the US government to spend money abroad on countries that would not be able to repay the loan for a long time. However, George Marshall . . . remembered how the exact same argument . . . had been used after World War I towards Germany"). The essay also exhibits facility in the use of language. To earn a score of 6, the writer needs to achieve clearer coherence and smoother progression of ideas by integrating the example of Ceremony more effectively into the overall essay, perhaps through an extended comparison of Tayo's and Marshall's experiences of World War II. The essay demonstrates reasonably consistent mastery and is scored a 5.

Score = 4 (Example 1)

Essay

Interestingly enough, I fall in the middle of these statements. I believe that one should remember the past and learn from those events. However, I also believe that many bad memories harm the present and the future. The only way to continue, many times, is to forget and forgive.

My brother, who is college, has proved to me the importance of getting good grades and actively participating in extracorrecular activities. These two ideas helped him to get into the prestegious college of the University of Notre Dame. His education there will allow him to have a prosperous career as an adult. Reviewing these facts and ideas has led me to believe if I do the same, I will have a similar promising career. Consequently, I have gotten good grades and have seen interest from many prestigious programs.

Through my knowledge, I have learned that in many bad instances, time to forget is very important. Ireland, for example, had been persecuted for many hundreds of years from 1000 AD to 1900 AD. After being granted the Irish Free State, they attacked many parts of Britain for retribution of those many years of being oppressed. Consequently there has been on going hostility between the two peoples. This hostility has cost the lives of many hundreds of people. A quote once said, "Violence begets violence" is the perfect phrase for this warfare. The only way to stop the loss of life is to forget and forgive; start anew.

Different situations require different actions to proceed in a positive manner. Many times, people are required to use both elements. For example, let's forget this part and concentrate on how to bring this positive part into light. Both of the ideas on remembering and forgetting have their reasons for existing and both are positive.

Why this Essay Received a Score of 4

This essay provides adequate reasons and examples to support both aspects of its point of view ("I believe that one should remember the past and learn from those events. However, I also believe that many bad memories harm the present and the future"), thus demonstrating competent critical thinking. The essay is generally organized and focused and features coherence and progression of ideas. Facility in the use of language is adequate, despite some inconsistencies ("Through my knowledge, I have learned that in many bad instances, time to forget is very important"). The essay also has some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics. To earn a higher score, the writer should provide additional appropriate evidence and use critical thinking to extend the discussion of situations in which "people are required to use both elements." The essay demonstrates adequate mastery and receives a 4.

Score = 4 (Example 2)

Essay

The point of making mistakes is to learn from them. If you don't learn from what you do wrong, then making mistakes has no silver lining, it is purely bad. I have come to believe this through personal experience and watching others.

When climbing the "ladder of success," each step gets you closer to the top. Therefore each step is a mistake that you learned from, a good decision, or even a stroke of luck. How could a person climb that ladder without each and every wooden rung to help them? I am human, therefor, far from perfect, I make mistakes all of the time and I am a better person because of that. You could almost say that the more mistakes a person makes, the stronger a person they are, assuming of course that they learn from them.

As a child I stole cookies from the cookie jar, lied to my parents (still happens every once in awhile), and played tricks on my brothers. I, in turn, got in trouble with my parents and was punished. After that I learned that those things aren't okay. Now I tend to make different mistakes, such as, going to places that aren't safe for me, and giving up when things get hard. Life is a huge cycle of making mistakes and learning from them. That is why people can become so wise and strong in what they do, they make good out of the bad.

I also see people close to me using problems and mistakes to make a good situation out of a bad one. My parents, my brothers, and my closest friends are all slowly building up the knowledge to be successful. How can a person be more successful by forgetting what they have already learned? That doesn't push you forward it just holds a person back. Even if a person wanted to forget their past, they couldn't. It's like forgetting that if a stove is turned on and you touch it, it will burn you.

Why this Essay Received a Score of 4

This essay develops a point of view ("Life is a huge cycle of making mistakes and learning from them") with adequate reasons and examples, thus demonstrating competent critical thinking. Generally organized and focused around the notion that remembering past learning experiences is crucial for success, the essay is marked by coherence and progression of ideas ("As a child I stole cookies from the cookiejar, lied to my parents . . . , and played tricks on my brothers. I, in turn, got in trouble with my parents and was punished. After that I learned that those things aren't okay. Now I tend to make different mistakes"). The essay also exhibits adequate facility in the use of language, despite some errors ("I am human, therefor, far from perfect, I make mistakes all of the time and I am a better person because of that"). To attain a higher score, the writer needs to support and extend the essay's argument with additional focused examples of people learning, or not learning, from their experiences. The essay demonstrates adequate mastery and is scored a 4.

Score = 3 (Example 1)

Essay

Memories can be helpful to some and hinder others. I believe that memories from different aspects of ones life have different consequences. One memory may be bad and it may be best forgotten about, when trying to succeed. Though some memories may give on strength to suceed in achieving a higher status in life.

When a person completes a task they have done once before, it trigers a memory and lets the reader reflect on that particular time in life. For example, a sporting team at the local high school makes it to the state championships, but severly loses to their opponent, the next time they get to the state championships they may think about the past and how they lost before, and it may hinder there feelings and they may once again lose. This demonstrates how a memory can ruin a certain activity for ever. On the other hand a memory can also help someone to move up the ladder of success. As an example if a person has cancer and is given treatment then diagnosed in remission they feel like they have beat the cancer.

When the patient in remission is later told that the cancer has grown back, the patient might feel that they can kill the cancer again because when looking at the past they see they have beat it once why not beat it again. This demonstrates how a memory can be helpful to a person. In this case it did not help the person climb the ladder of success though it helped the to continue climbing the ladder of life to the extent that they were able to climb.

Those two short examples just go to demonstrate how memories of the past can both help and hinder a person in their path of not only success but also in the path of life.

Why this Essay Received a Score of 3

This essay develops a point of view ("Memories can be helpful to some and hinder others") and shows some critical thinking by providing examples of the positive and negative effects of memories. However, the examples are limited in focus, featuring some lapses in coherence and progression of ideas, and are thus inadequate to support the position. The essay also demonstrates occasional problems in sentence structure and mechanics. To achieve a higher score, this writer needs to use critical thinking to clarify and expand each example by adding additional focused reasoning and details. The writer also needs to avoid using run-on sentences (". . . when looking at the past they see they have beat it once why not beat it again"). The essay demonstrates developing mastery and earns a 3.

Score = 2 (Example 1)

Essay

I think it is wrong to believe that to move up the ladder of success and achievement, that they must forget the past, repress it, and relinquish it. Everything you did and saw in the past helps you to move on. Every single happy moment, every mistake you make is getting a part of you. Your actions become habits which creates your personality and helps you to make your own experience. Therefore memories help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present. Everything we do has to do with our experiences in the past, the way we get along with people or treat them, the way we turn out to be an adult. If you don't live with making your own decisions, mistakes, and your experience with people and the world or school you won't have any examples to compare or to handle any coming situations in the future. If you get everything told you by someone, you will always wait for other people to make decisions for you and won't have your own point of view. For succeed you have to know what you want, to find that out, you have to have been through some difficult situations in the PAST.

Why this Essay Received a Score of 2

Although it expresses a point of view ("I think it is wrong to believe that to move up the ladder of success and achievement, that they must forget the past, repress it, and relinquish it"), this essay is seriously limited, exhibiting weak critical thinking, insufficient use of evidence, and serious problems with progression of ideas. The essay also demonstrates frequent problems in usage, grammar, and sentence structure. To achieve a higher score, the writer needs to develop the point of view with reasons and specific examples instead of merely repeating the same vague ideas ("Everything you did and saw in the past helps you to move on. . . . Everything we do has to do with our experiences in the past"). The essay demonstrates little mastery and is scored a 2.

Score = 1 (Example 1)

Essay

My oppion on this topic are oposing memories and favoring them. People do succed with repeating their memories. They might have horrible memories but also succeed because they don't repeat the past. I also think memories should not rule the present. If you let the past overcome the preset you won't get any where. This is why memories should be guidelines, not rules. If you repeat the past it won't come out as well as it did because the world has changed. See the past will never change with the world, but the world will change to overcome the past. So in conclusion don't forget the past or live in it, and the past is only guidelines.

Why this Essay Received a Score of 1

This minimal essay demonstrates very little mastery, offering only a collection of general ideas in support of the writer's point of view ("don't forget the past or live in it, and the past is only guidelines"). The evidence presented is disorganized and unfocused, resulting in a disjointed essay. To earn a higher score, this writer needs to provide additional focused evidence that develops the point of view, including specific examples. The essay demonstrates very little mastery and receives a 1.

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