Two Sample SAT Essays—Up Close
Two Sample SAT Essays—Up Close
Below is our sample essay question, which is designed to be as close as possible to an essay question that might appear on the SAT. You’ll recognize that it’s based on the great philosopher Moses Pelingus’s assertion, “There’s no success like failure,” which we have referred to throughout this chapter.
This particular essay topic presents you with a very broad idea and then asks you to explain your view and back it up with concrete examples. Not every SAT essay topic will take this form, but every SAT essay question will require you to take a position and defend it with examples.
Here’s the sample prompt again:

Consider carefully the following quotation and the assignment below it. Then plan and write an essay that explains your ideas as persuasively as possible. Keep in mind that the support you provide—both reasons and examples—will help make your view convincing to the reader.

     

                                                “There’s no success like failure.”

What is your view on the idea that success can begin with failure? In an essay, support your position using an example (or examples) from literature, the arts, history, current events, politics, science and technology, or from your personal experience or observation.

Below are two different versions of responses to our sample essay question. We provide examples of a 6 essay and a 4 essay, complete with a brief analysis of each essay and how they differ from each other. We evaluate both essays according to three sets of criteria:
  • Our four essential essay ingredients
  • The SAT grader’s checklist
  • A checklist based on our Universal SAT Essay Template
As you read both examples, note that we have marked certain sentences and paragraphs to illustrate where and how the essay does or does not abide by our Universal SAT Essay Template.
A 6 Essay

Learning the lessons taught by failure is a sure route to success. (THESIS STATEMENT) The United States of America can be seen as a success that emerged from failure: by learning from the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, the founding fathers were able to create the Constitution, the document on which America is built. (BEST SUPPORTING EXAMPLE [1]) Google Inc., the popular Internet search engine, is another example of a success that arose from learning from failure, though in this case Google learned from the failures of its competitors. (NEXT BEST SUPPORTING EXAMPLE [2]) Another example that shows how success can arise from failure is the story of Rod Johnson, who started a recruiting firm that arose from Johnson’s personal experience of being laid off. (NEXT BEST SUPPORTING EXAMPLE [3])

      The United States, the first great democracy of the modern world, is also one of the best examples of a success achieved by studying and learning from earlier failures. (TOPIC SENTENCE FOR EXAMPLE 1) After just five years of living under the Articles of Confederation, which established the United States of America as a single country for the first time, the states realized that they needed a new document and a new more powerful government. In 1786, the Annapolis convention was convened. The result, three years later, was the Constitution, which created a more powerful central government while also maintaining the integrity of the states. By learning from the failure of the Articles, the founding fathers created the founding document of a country that has become both the most powerful country in the world and a beacon of democracy. (FOUR DEVELOPMENT SENTENCES TO SUPPORT EXAMPLE 1)

      Unlike the United States, which had its fair share of ups and downs over the years, the Internet search engine company, Google Inc., has suffered few setbacks since it went into business in the late 1990s. (TOPIC SENTENCE FOR EXAMPLE 2) Google has succeeded by studying the failures of other companies in order to help it innovate its technology and business model. Google identified and solved the problem of assessing the quality of search results by using the number of links pointing to a page as an indicator of the number of people who find the page valuable. Suddenly, Google’s search results became far more accurate and reliable than those from other companies, and now Google’s dominance in the field of Internet search is almost absolute. (THREE DEVELOPMENT SENTENCES TO SUPPORT EXAMPLE 2)

      The example of Rod Johnson’s success as an entrepreneur in the recruiting field also shows how effective learning from mistakes and failure can be. (TOPIC SENTENCE FOR EXAMPLE 3) Rather than accept his failure after being laid off, Johnson decided to study it. After a month of research, Johnson realized that his failure to find a new job resulted primarily from the inefficiency of the local job placement agencies, not from his own deficiencies. A month later, Johnson created Johnson Staffing to correct this weakness in the job placement sector. Today Johnson Staffing is the largest job placement agency in South Carolina, and is in the process of expanding into a national corporation. (FOUR DEVELOPMENT SENTENCES TO SUPPORT EXAMPLE 3)

      Failure is often seen as embarrassing, something to be denied and hidden. But as the examples of the U.S. Constitution , Google, and Rod Johnson prove, if an individual, organization, or even a nation is strong enough to face and study its failure, then that failure can become a powerful teacher. (THESIS STATEMENT REPHRASED IN BROADER WAY THAT PUSHES IT FURTHER) The examples of history and business demonstrate that failure can be the best catalyst of success, but only if people have the courage to face it head on.

Why This Essay Deserves a 6
First, we need to assess whether this essay contains the four essential ingredients of a great SAT essay. Here they are, just to refresh your memory:
  1. Positioning: The strength and clarity of the position on the given topic.
  2. Examples: The relevance and development of the examples used to support your argument.
  3. Organization: The organization of each paragraph and of the essay overall.
  4. Command of Language: Sentence construction, grammar, and word choice.
This essay serves up all four SAT essay ingredients. It takes a very strong and clear stance on the topic in the first sentence and sticks to it from start to finish. It uses three examples from a very diverse array of disciplines—from Internet technology to history and politics to a profile of an entrepreneur—and it never veers from using these examples to support the thesis statement’s position. The organization of the essay follows our Universal SAT Essay Template perfectly, both at the paragraph level (topic sentences and development sentences) and at the overall essay level (intro, three meaty example paragraphs, a strong conclusion). The command of language remains solid throughout. The writer does not take risks with unfamiliar vocabulary but instead chooses a few out of the ordinary words like beacon, deficiencies, and innovate that sprinkle just the right amount of special sauce throughout the essay. Sentence structure varies often, making the entire essay more interesting and engaging to the grader. Finally, no significant grammar errors disrupt the overall excellence of this SAT essay.
Here’s a quick-reference chart that takes a closer look at this 6 essay based on the actual SAT’s evaluation criteria for graders and based on our Universal SAT Essay Template.
SAT CRITERIA FOR 6 ESSAYS YES OR NO?
Consistently excellent, with at most a few minor errors. YES
Takes a clear position on the topic and uses insightful relevant examples to back it up. YES
Shows strong overall organization and paragraph development. YES
Demonstrates a superior command of language, as shown by varied sentence structure and word choice. YES
OUR UNIVERSAL SAT ESSAY TEMPLATE CRITERIA YES OR NO?
Thesis statement in first sentence of paragraph 1. YES
Three examples listed in paragraph 1 in order from best to worst. YES
Topic sentence for example in paragraph 2. YES
3–4 development sentences to support paragraph 2’s example. YES
Topic sentence for example in paragraph 3. YES
3–4 development sentences to support paragraph 3’s example. YES
Topic sentence for example in paragraph 4. YES
3–4 development sentences to support paragraph 4’s example. YES
Conclusion paragraph contains rephrased thesis statement. YES
About 15 sentences total. YES
A 4 Essay

Failure can sometimes lead to success. (THESIS STATEMENT) Many Internet commerce businesses have learned from the terrible failures of the dot-com boom and bust, and today are in much stronger more successful positions than they were just a few years ago. (SUPPORTING EXAMPLE [1]). Another example proving that failure sometimes leads to success is that of Arnold “Arnie” Wagner, a heavy metal drummer who learned to play the drums in a better different style after a crippling car accident almost killed him and his band. (SUPPORTING EXAMPLE [2])

      Not all Internet businesses vanished when the dot-com boom went bust—some picked up the pieces, learned from their mistakes, and moved on.The Internet boom was good to online shoppers but not so great to online businesses. Shoppers reaped the benefits of all kinds of great deals and online promotions, while e-commerce businesses did themselves in. Some Internet companies realized the mistakes others were making, such as offering too deep discounts and not charging for shipping, and they now have benefited by not suffering the same pitfalls. Only the failure of other business made this happen. (FOUR DEVELOPMENT SENTENCES TO SUPPORT EXAMPLE 1)

      Arnold “Arnie” Wagner is one of the best drummers alive today. (NO TOPIC SENTENCE TO SUPPORT EXAMPLE 2) He’s sure lucky to be alive! Arnie lost his right arm in a car crash just as his band Darkness Falls was beginning to establish success. Rather than give up and fail with his one arm, Wagner took the problem on courageously and decides to view it as an opportunity to change his drumming style. He has a special drum kit designed for him, complete with electronic pedals controlled by foot, which leads him to a new style and his band to even greater heights of success. (FIVE DEVELOPMENT SENTENCES TO SUPPORT EXAMPLE 2)

      Failure doesn’t have to end there. Often people and businesses use other’s failures or even their own to learn from mistakes and try not to repeat them. Proof? Today Arnie Wagner is still on top of the drumming world, and many online businesses continue to thrive. (THESIS STATEMENT TOUCHED ON, BUT NOT REPHRASED IN BROADER WAY THAT PUSHES IT FURTHER) The examples of history and business demonstrate that failure can be the best catalyst of success, but only if people have the courage to face it head on.

Why This Essay Deserves a 4
This essay does an adequate job serving up all four SAT essay ingredients. It’s competent overall but not exceptional. That’s the key difference between 4 essays and 6 essays. The 4s are like average students: They do the work the night before, turn it in, and get back a passing grade that keeps their parents off their back. The 6s are above excellent students: They do their homework days in advance, turn it in early, and impress teachers with the superior quality of their work.
More specifically, this 4 essay takes a stance on the topic in the first sentence and sticks to it, but the stance is not resoundingly clear from the start: “Failure can sometimes lead to success.” The thesis statement is vague and makes the essay’s positioning wishy-washy, which makes it weaker overall than the 6 essay’s unwavering stance. It does use examples to support its position, but its examples are not as sophisticated or as varied as the examples in the 6 essay. They’re also not linked together with transitions and occasionally veer slightly off topic. The organization of the essay follows our Universal SAT Essay Template closely, but not perfectly. For starters, it contains only two examples. Though not disastrous, including only two examples limits the breadth of your support. It also makes the strength and quality of your examples all the more crucial, since having only two will make the grader scrutinize them more closely than if your support were spread over three examples.
At the sentence level, this essay does include a thesis statement and a topic sentence in the first example paragraph, but the structure begins to derail at the beginning of the second example paragraph. The writer introduces the drummer Arnie Wagner, but not in a way that is directly related to proving the thesis statement. The paragraph meanders toward a topic sentence, but never regains a sure footing. The conclusion refers back to the thesis statement in broad terms (“Failure doesn’t have to end there”), but it does not tie the essay together as well as the broadening conclusion found in the 6 essay. The command of language remains acceptable throughout. Compared to the 6 essay, this 4 essay contains significantly more spelling and grammar errors, most notably the jarring tense shift in paragraph 3. The entire passage is written in the past tense, but suddenly shifts into the present tense with the sentence that begins, “He has a special drum kit. . . .” This essay also features repetitive sentence structure that makes it a much duller read than the 6. The 4 contains no special sauce whatsoever, another contributing factor to its average quality overall.
Here’s a closer look at this 4 essay based on the SAT’s evaluation criteria for graders and based on our Universal SAT Essay Template. Pay special attention to the difference in criteria for 4 essays and 6 essays, and to the deficiencies in the 4 essay as compared to the 6 (the NOs in the YES/NO column). The 4 essay’s NOs pinpoint its weaknesses, which we just discussed.
SAT CRITERIA FOR 4 ESSAYS YES OR NO?
Consistently solid, with at least several minor errors and a few more serious weaknesses or mistakes. YES
Addresses the topic presented adequately. YES
Uses examples to support a position on the topic. YES
Shows acceptable organization and development throughout. YES
Competent but not consistent command of language, with several errors in grammar and usage and only slight sentence variation. YES
OUR UNIVERSAL SAT ESSAY TEMPLATE CRITERIA YES OR NO?
Thesis statement in first sentence of paragraph 1. YES
Three examples listed in paragraph 1 in order from best to worst. NO
Topic sentence for example in paragraph 2. YES
3–4 development sentences to support paragraph 2’s example. YES
Topic sentence for example in paragraph 3. NO
3–4 development sentences to support paragraph 3’s example. NO
Topic sentence for example in paragraph 4. NO
3–4 development sentences to support paragraph 4’s example. NO
Conclusion paragraph contains rephrased thesis statement. YES
About 15 sentences total. YES
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