Sample Essay Responses
This information refers to the current SAT and is in effect through the January 2016 test date. Get information about the redesigned SAT, which starts March 2016.
The essay prompt
The SAT® essay question consists of a short (no more than 80 words long) quotation or statement on an issue. Here is a sample prompt:
Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.
Even scientists know that absolute objectivity has yet to be attained. It's the same for absolute truth. But, as many newspaper reporters have observed, the idea of objectivity as a guiding principle is too valuable to be abandoned. Without it, the pursuit of knowledge is hopelessly lost.
Adapted from "Focusing Our Values," Nieman Reports
Assignment: Are people better at making observations, discoveries, and decisions if they remain neutral and impartial? Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.
Sample student essays
Each of the following essays is reprinted exactly as it was originally written (in response to the prompt above), including grammatical mistakes. An explanation of why the essay received the score it was given follows the each essay.
Score of 6
Objectivity by researchers has not, and probably never will be attained. People will always have biases; some will be created by cultural values and others by personal views. The search for objectivity lies in the realm of philosophy along with the search for reality. Even though objectivity can never be reached, people are better at making observations, discoveries, and decisions if they attempt to set aside their biases.
As I have learned in my Theory of Knowledge class, perception and thought are intimately connected. While the same rays of light may enter two different peoples eyes, what they see may be very different. The brain takes the input from the eyes and processes it to form an image. That image is not the only thing the brain produces; it also provides extra information based on generalizations and bias. This unconscious addition of information changes the observation of an object. By attempting to reduce the addition of extraneous information being added to the observation, by being objective, a true observation of an object can be more closely approximated.
Discoveries, especially in the scientific realm can be doubly affected by a lack of objectivity. Since scientific discoveries are based on observation, all of the problems associated with observation apply as well to discoveries. Additional problems occur in the analysis of data collected by a scientific experiment. In a recent experiment in physics class, almost all of the students in my class analyzed the data incorrectly. However, armed with the knowledge that zero percent error is never possible, we were satisfied with the results. Our personal belief in the validity of the method of analyzation we chose, and lack of objectivity, led to our incorrect discovery in the field of energy. A lack of objectivity can clearly be seen to be a problem in my last student council election as well. The most popular person was chosen for president, not the objectively best candidate. Since then, the president has done nothing for our school. If the people involved had attempted to set aside their biases and pursue the goal of objectivity, it is less likely that errors would have been made.
Bias will always be a part of human life. It can, however, be limited in how much we let it affect us. The less we allow bias to influence, the more objective we are, the less likely we are to come to false opinions, discoveries, and bad decisions.
Why this essay received a score of 6
This essay effectively and insightfully develops the main idea (Even though objectivity can never be reached, people are better at making observations, discoveries, and decisions if they attempt to set aside their biases) with clearly appropriate reasons and examples, demonstrating outstanding critical thinking. Well organized and focused, the essay shows clear coherence and smooth progression of ideas (While the same rays of light may enter two different peoples eyes, what they see may be very different. ... This unconscious addition of information changes the observation of an object). It also consistently displays skillful use of language and meaningful variety in sentence structure (Objectivity by researchers has not, and probably never will be attained. People will always have biases; some will be created by cultural values and others by personal views. The search for objectivity lies in the realm of philosophy ... ). This outstanding essay exhibits clear and consistent mastery and earns a score of 6.
Score of 5
Objectivity may be an excellant guiding focus when one is writing journalistically, or when one cares for simple knowledge in general. Yet I believe that it is only when you truly throw your heart into something and are able to see things from a larger perspective than what your head can teach you are you really able to live.
Objectivity teaches you not to care, not to get involved, and thus enables you to make more discoveries and gain more knowledge. Yet if you cannot see things from points of view other than the academic, what is the point? The film "The Medicine Man," for example. The characters are torn between using the last amount of a cure for cancer on a sick child or analyizing it to learn how to make more. For the good of the world, they should have chosen the latter. They chose instead to save the child and this choice from a scientific standpoint may have been incredibly wrong. But from a moralistic view, it couldn't have been more right. When you decide not to take aside, not to take a stand; you lose your identity as a person and become a stainless steel labratory—cold and empty.
If you throw your heart into something, and believe in it with all you have in you, you may find something you didn't know you were looking for. In the San Juan Islands, there is a place I care deeply about and have for the past ten years. It was the most beautiful piece of property I'd ever seen, grzed & wooded and placed neatly on the edge of a mountain lake. But others didn't see it the same way and made plans to turn my forest into a casino. However, I gathered friends who felt the same and we stayed in the woods for over a week, protesting. The land was saved. I afterwards discovered that there was an old man who lived there, who would not have budged if it killed him. Had I been a mere objective observer, I would have allowed the destruction of a beautiful forest & a peaceful old man. I have a heart, though, and I can take aside. I can protect those things that mean so much.
So tell me, what is the use of objectivity if it turns you into a lifeless robot? There is so much more than that, so have a heart & take it!
Why this essay received a score of 5
This focused essay demonstrates strong critical thinking in developing its point of view (When you decide not to take aside, not to take a stand; you lose your identity as a person and become a stainless steel labratory—cold and empty). The essay uses reasoning and appropriate examples from the film The Medicine Man and from the writer's own experience to support the idea that one needs "a larger perspective than what your head can teach you." The essay demonstrates coherence and progression of ideas through its series of distinctions: head vs. heart, science vs. morality, objectivity vs. taking sides, destruction vs. life. The essay also uses language effectively (So tell me, what is the use of objectivity if it turns you into a lifeless robot? There is so much more than that, so have a heart & take it!). To achieve a higher score, the essay needs to insightfully explain the limitations of objectivity rather than just announce them. This essay demonstrates reasonably consistent mastery and receives a score of 5.
Score of 4
People who have a neutral perspective, are be able to see much more than those who do not. Neutrality causes one to be unbiased and unjudgemental, thus helping him/her observe much more from his/her surroundings. For example, it is crucial for a judge to remain neutral so that he/she can fairly understand both sides and resolve the conflict. If a judge was biased, then how many court cases would have unfair verdicts? Very many would because one party would have an unfair advantage over the other if the judge was not impartial.
People who only make observations from one point of view are blind to many interesting observations/discoveries that they could have made. My next door neighbor, for instance, is a very stodgy and conservative woman. She dislikes very many people based on their attire, tastes, and careers, but she does not realize that many of them, although not similar to her, are very affluent, and decent people who are worthy of being friends with.
Sometimes people can be decieved into developing a stong perspective on something and it is nearly impossible for them to remain impartial. For instance in Ralph Ellison's novel, Invisible Man, the nameless narrarator is brainwashed by the Brotherhood into developing a purely Communist approach to life. However, in the end, after many problems and dilemmas concerning the party, he finally realizes that he was only developing his principles from one perspective and that he wasted a part of his life being used for the Communist purposes of alienated minds.
The Puritans are another example of limited and biased lives. Most Puritans never realized that they only saw and lived their religious dogmas and they never even had a chance to observe or discover other ways of life, which they might have found more suitable for them.
I think that neutrality opens up many doors to new discoveries, observations and decisions. By having the ability to approach a topic or subject from any side helps one appreciate his/her environment more.
Why this essay received a score of 4
This essay demonstrates adequate mastery in developing its point of view (People who only make observations from one point of view are blind to many interesting observations/discoveries that they could have made). The essay displays competent critical thinking in providing several adequate examples of biased individuals making poor judgments, from a judge and a "stodgy and conservative" neighbor to the narrator of Invisible Man. The essay is adequately organized around these examples "of limited and biased lives" and displays some progression of ideas. The essay also exhibits adequate facility in the use of language (Sometimes people can be decieved ... the nameless narrarator is brainwashed by the Brotherhood into developing a purely Communist approach to life). To achieve a higher score, the essay needs to use language more effectively, make fewer mechanical errors, and provide additional focused evidence relevant to the topic. This essay is competent and earns a score of 4.
Score of 3
People make better observations, discoveries and decisions when they are neutral and impartial to a subject while keeping an open mind.
Better observations are made a point of view is complete and unskiewed. An observer with a complete view can see the whole picture and not leave any aspects out of the drawn conclusion. A skiewed view allows the observer to see the side of a subject that they want to see which can have misleading side effects.
More discoveries are made when people keep an open mind. If Columbus said no this isn't India, and went home to try again, then he wouldn't have discovered America. When people fail at a task, they often find something they weren't looking for, which may be greater than the original task.
Effective decisions are made when leaders look at the whole picture and see an issue from all sides. By seeing different perspectives it is easier to predict accurate reactions to the decision. A close minded leader may make a decision that would help him/herself or one group of people but ignore the needs of many others. A good decision supports as many people as possible.
In conclusion, observations, discoveries, and decisions should be made with a complete view, an open mind and many different perspectives on a topic.
Why this essay received a score of 3
The essay demonstrates some critical thinking in developing a point of view (People make better observations, discoveries and decisions when they are neutral and impartial to a subject while keeping an open mind). Offering three reasons in favor of impartiality (Better observations are made; More discoveries are made; Effective decisions are made), the essay features some organization and coherence. However, these reasons are thinly developed, with support consisting of general and at times unclear ideas (A skiewed view allows the observer to see the side of a subject that they want to see which can have misleading side effects). The essay sometimes uses weak vocabulary and lacks variety in sentence structure (An observer with a complete view can see the whole picture and not leave any aspects out of the drawn conclusion). To achieve a higher score, the essay needs to use more competent critical thinking—the point about Columbus needs to be clarified, for instance—and improved language facility to offer stronger support for its position. This essay is inadequate and is scored a 3.
Score of 2
Since the dawn of time, man has been looking for the truth and the reasons for life. As more water passes under the bridge advances in life, science, and technology are being made. People who don't learn to progress remain behind. As Malcolm X said, "Speak your mind and you will be heard." People who remain neutral and impartial about in decisions of life: No one can ever say or do the right thing all the time. But it is those who seize the moment and speak their mind who learn to advance. If you don't choose a side to follow you will remain unknown and unheard.
The job of discovering new ideas and futhering existance is a very excrusiating task, yet it is still possible and must be done. These are the scientists, doctors, and lawyers of our time. If our forefathers were impartial about the decisions of this country, the United States would not exsist. It is better to lead in one direction and turn back if you were wrong, than to follow no path and stay neutral.
People make mistakes and change their minds, but begining with a cause always leads in the correct direction. Life might come at you like a ton of bricks, but sticking with your observations and choices leads to a better place.
I have made many observations and decisions (no discoveries) that have been both good and bad. You learn to life by what you hold and if you remain neutral you will never begin to form your own ideals and choices. Life may throw curve balls at you put you must learn to fight back with the power of speak and knowledge.
As for mankind, people are beginning to create better discoveries and make better desisions. By continuing on this path it will lead to a better tomorrow. We will never finish this goal, but in the end we will win. Life is a lesson, you learn it when your through.
Why this essay received a score of 2
This seriously limited essay attempts to develop a point of view on the issue (It is better to lead in one direction and turn back if you were wrong, than to follow no path and stay neutral), but provides insufficient evidence to support the position, offering only a collection of loosely connected thoughts and undeveloped examples. The essay relies far too heavily on unsupported assertions (Life might come at you like a ton of bricks, but sticking with your observations and choices leads to a better place). The essay also displays very limited facility in the use of language (Life may throw curve balls at you put you must learn to fight back with the power of speak and knowledge). To achieve a higher score, this essay needs to develop its examples fully and specifically instead of following them with unsupported general claims. This essay demonstrates little mastery and receives a score of 2.
Score of 1
In order to make a better observations, discoveries, and decisions, people can't stay neutral and impartial. They should have the enthusiasm to explore and discover. Objective is too valuable to be abandoned, without it, people will lose sense of direction for their future and hope. So in this world, there is no absolute objectivity. Objectivity is a guideline for people to achieve their desire goal.
Why this essay received a score of 1
This minimal essay demonstrates very little mastery. It develops no viable point of view, offering instead only a few confused ideas about absolute objectivity. The result is a disjointed and incoherent essay (Objective is too valuable to be abandoned, without it, people will lose sense of direction for their future and hope. So in this world, there is no absolute objectivity). To achieve a higher score, the essay would have to develop a clear point of view and support that point of view with relevant reasons and examples. This essay is fundamentally lacking and receives a score of 1.