ACT/SAT Essay Prompts and Sample Essays with Comments & Grades

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ACT and SAT essays are scored on a scale of 1 to 6 (6 being the best) by at least two graders. The scores are then added together for a final composite score.

If the scores of the graders differ by more than one point, then a third grader grades the essay, providing a score which is then doubled to compute the final composite score.

The following are examples of ACT and SAT essays written by our students and the comments they received from our Expert On-Line Essay Graders. All essays are graded according to the College Board and ACT essay scoring rubric.

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Sample SAT Essay Prompt

Let There Be Dark

As you read the passage below, consider how Paul Bogard uses evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims; reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence; and stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.


Adapted from Paul Bogard, “Let There Be Dark.” ©2012 by Los Angeles Times.
  

1 At my family’s cabin on a Minnesota lake, I knew woods so dark that my hands disappeared before my eyes. I knew night skies in which meteors left smoky trails across sugary spreads of stars. But now, when 8 of 10 children born in the United States will never know a sky dark enough for the Milky Way, I worry we are rapidly losing night’s natural darkness before realizing its worth. This winter solstice, as we cheer the days’ gradual movement back toward light, let us also remember the irreplaceable value of darkness. 

2 All life evolved to the steady rhythm of bright days and dark nights. Today, though, when we feel the closeness of nightfall, we reach quickly for a light switch. And too little darkness, meaning too much artificial light at night, spells trouble for all. 

3 Already the World Health Organization classifies working the night shift as a probable human carcinogen, and the American Medical Association has voiced its unanimous support for “light pollution reduction efforts and glare reduction efforts at both the national and state levels.” Our bodies need darkness to produce the hormone melatonin, which keeps certain cancers from developing, and our bodies need darkness for sleep. Sleep disorders have been linked to diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression, and recent research suggests one main cause of “short sleep” is “long light.” Whether we work at night or simply take our tablets, notebooks and smartphones to bed, there isn’t a place for this much artificial light in our lives. 

4 The rest of the world depends on darkness as well, including nocturnal and crepuscular species of birds, insects, mammals, fish and reptiles. Some examples are well known—the 400 species of birds that migrate at night in North America, the sea turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs—and some are not, such as the bats that save American farmers billions in pest control and the moths that pollinate 80% of the world’s flora. Ecological light pollution is like the bulldozer of the night, wrecking habitat and disrupting ecosystems several billion years in the making. Simply put, without darkness, Earth’s ecology would collapse. . . . 

5 In today’s crowded, louder, more fast-paced world, night’s darkness can provide solitude, quiet and stillness, qualities increasingly in short supply. Every religious tradition has considered darkness invaluable for a soulful life, and the chance to witness the universe has inspired artists, philosophers and everyday stargazers since time began. In a world awash with electric light . . . howwould Van Gogh have given the world his “Starry Night”? Who knows what this vision of the night sky might inspire in each of us, in our children or grandchildren? 

6 Yet all over the world, our nights are growing brighter. In the United States and Western Europe, the amount of light in the sky increases an average of about 6% every year. Computer images of the United States at night, based on NASA photographs, show that what was a very dark country as recently as the 1950s is now nearly covered with a blanket of light. Much of this light is wasted energy, which means wasted dollars. Those of us over 35 are perhaps among the last generation to have known truly dark nights. Even the northern lake where I was lucky to spend my summers has seen its darkness diminish. 

7 It doesn’t have to be this way. Light pollution is readily within our ability to solve, using new lighting technologies and shielding existing lights. Already, many cities and towns across North America and Europe are changing to LED streetlights, which offer dramatic possibilities for controlling wasted light. Other communities are finding success with simply turning off portions of their public lighting after midnight. Even Paris, the famed “city of light,” which already turns off its monument lighting after 1 a.m., will this summer start to require its shops, offices and public buildings to turn off lights after 2 a.m. Though primarily designed to save energy, such reductions in light will also go far in addressing light pollution. But we will never truly address the problem of light pollution until we become aware of the irreplaceable value and beauty of the darkness we are losing.

Write an essay in which you explain how Paul Bogard builds an argument to persuade his audience that natural darkness should be preserved. In your essay, analyze how Bogard 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 Bogard’s claims, but rather explain how Bogard builds an argument to persuade his audience.

 

 

Student #1

Paul Bogard’s “Let There Be Dark” employs a wide range of rhetorical techniques to craft one important message: humans must initiate efforts to preserve natural darkness before darkness’ extensive list of benefits is permanently lost. Bogard’s argument is built upon his appeal to the broad spectrum of benefits offered by natural darkness, including those pertaining to health, the environment, and the economy. Utilizing outside sources to back the validity of these benefits, Bogard completes his message with a tone of hope, imploring his audience to join him in his course.

Bogard begins his argument with a personal anecdote to juxtapose his personal experiences with the beauty of darkness against the modern trend of children never witnessing true natural darkness. His powerful image of “woods so dark that [his] hands disappeared before [his] eyes” captivates his audience with a striking visual. Also, Bogard’s use of the statistic of “8 of 10 children… never know[ing] a sky dark enough for the milky way” reinforces the sense of urgency for preserving darkness that he builds through out the passage.

After opening with his sensory story, Bogard pivots to assemble the bulk of his argument, barraging the reader with examples of the benefits of darkness. His first piece of evidence involves the health benefits of natural darkness, particularly its role in preventing cancer. After beginning his point by including the support of two highly reputable health organizations, the WHO and AMA, to provide a sense of validity to his argument, Bogard highlights the benefits of darkness and a good night’s sleep. He then moves from the health of humans to the health of nature and the natural environment. Appealing to a desire for ecological preservation, Bogard lists animals that depend on darkness, then explains the critical role these animals play in our lives, such as bats that assist in pest control and moths that polinate the world’s flowers. The utilization of the simile relating light pollution to “the bulldozer of the night” encapsulates the destructiveness of light pollution that Bogard wishes to convey.

Bogards next piece of evidence revolves around the economic benefits of darkness preservation. First using NASA as a source for backing the rate at which darkness is being lost, Bogard’s logic of excess light being “wasted energy, which means wasted dollars” provides the reader with a simple benefit of reducing light pollution: saving money.

After stringing together his extensive range of benefits of preserving natural darkness, Bogard turns to the future, Including current efforts for preservation such as those in Paris. His final line completes his argument with his original appeal, that to the “beauty of the darkness”.

Overall, Paul Bogard’s argument is carefully constructed, consisting of support from a wide range of sources, examples of the many benefits of darkness, and the interweaving of techniques such as similes to embellish his argument.

Comments & Final Grade

READING: 4

Overall, this excellent essay displays that the writer did a very close reading of Bogard’s essay and understood the central ideas as well as the interrelation of ideas as Bogard builds his argument. The student discusses most of the persuasive and stylistic elements Bogard uses, with a few exceptions—paragraph 5 is never addressed, which addresses the more meditative, soulful aspects of darkness: for example, as a source of inspiration for art (Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”). Although the use of a simile is noted, the almost magical language Bogard uses to describe a night sky (“meteors left smoky trails across sugars spreads of stars”) could have been explored in more depth. Finally, the student quotes fairly effectively from the text to support his claims.

 

ANALYSIS: 3

In terms of analysis, the two main weaknesses in this essay are the omission of the analysis of paragraph 5 from Bogard’s essay and the student’s lack of analysis in the second-to-last paragraph (beginning with “After stringing together…”) about why Bogard turns toward the future. It’s not enough just to say that the author “turns to the future.” What is his purpose in doing so? What effect does that have on the reader? What emotion is he trying to tap in the reader? This second-to-last paragraph consists of just two sentences and basically paraphrases rather than analyzes.

 

WRITING: 4

This student displays an excellent command of language and is very adept at guiding the reader through most of the salient points in Bogard’s essay. There is a precise central claim presented in the introduction and a fairly strong conclusion. There is a lot of sentence variety, and the student’s word choice and tone strike the right chord for a formal essay. Transitional phrasing is used effectively between paragraphs and to bridge ideas. A few typos appear in the essay that don’t detract from meaning (e.g., in the first sentence, possessive form should be “darkness’s”; in paragraph 2, “throughout” is one word;  in paragraph 3, the correct spelling is “pollinate”; in the first sentence of paragraph 4, the possessive form is “Bogard’s”; in paragraph 5, “Including” should not be capitalized).

Student #2

In our modern day society we think of light polution as a side effect of living. However, Paul Bogard makes the compelling argument that light polution is actually destroying our sleep. Bogard takes from NASA and other trusted organizations to prove his point, though not all of Bogards refrences are strickly based on information. Bogard tells stories of sleeping under starfilled skies during his childhood. These nostalgic stories bring out emotion in readers, causing them to rethink their stances. Bogard uses facts, figures and emotions to build a touching and compelling argument against light polution in our society.

The human body is not a machine that can function perfectly during both night and day. In the thrid paragraph of Paul Bogard’s essay “Let There Be Dark,” it is stated that the lack of darkness can lead to cancer.

“Our bodies need darkness to produce the hormone melatonin, which keeps certain cancers from developing, and our bodies need darkness for sleep.” (3) Without darkness, the body cannot sleep. Some people have tried to work around that fundamental rule, but failed. Bogart brings up the point that a lack of sleep can cause some sevear medical problems, such as: depression, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Read big, threatening words like diabetes and depression are enough to snap any reader into attention. fear always has, and always will be a great motivator for the human race. Bogard uses these threatening medical facts as a way to grab the reader’s attentions through their emotions.

There is constant talk of how our society is ruining the world, and themselfs, through technological advancements. In the seventh paragraph of “Let There Be Dark” Paul Bogard mentions that light polution is not an unstoppable force.

“Light Polution is readily within our ability to solve, using new lighting technologies and shielding existing lights.” (7) Bogard brings up his ideas on how to stop the light epidemic. Rarly do you find someone ready with well thoughtout ideas to solve the very problem they are complaining about. Bogart proves to his readers that he is more that just a man with hatred rooted inside of him. Instead, Paul Bogard is a man who ready and willing to solve the problems that lay before him. Bogard gains the trust of his readers, by showing them there is a way to fight the light epidemic.

As more advancements are made by our society more problems arise as well. For the most part, technological advancements have made day to day life easier Though, our day to day lifes have also been filled with countless arguments of how we are ruining our planet. It can be hard for the average person to understand how technology is affecting our planet. Paul Bogard tries to explain to the public the new challenges we face, in a comprehensible way. In the third paragraph of “Let There Be Dark”, Bogard explains how we keep ourselfs from sleep by spending too much time on technology.

“Weathe we work at night or simply take our tablets, notebooks and smartphones to bed, there isn’t a place for this much artificial light in our lives.” (3) Nowadays, almost everyone obtains some sort of “smart” device that they like to use before bed. Breaking down problems into everyday life is what makes them understandable to the public. Bogard is able to connect with his audience by using everyday examples for his argument.

Most members of the average public are not science or english majors. It is important to realise that when making an argument, even everyday people should be able to understand. Paul Bogard perfects the idea of crafting an complex argument that is easy to understand. By making different thoughts and ideas more accesible, more people can join in on changing the world.

Comments & Final Grade

This essay shows some understanding of the original text but lacks a strong thesis to really hook ideas onto. The writer starts off by saying the author’s argument is that “light pollution is destroying our sleep,” but, by the end, the student is down to “more people can join in on changing the world,” which shows that he’s lost the thread of the argument in an effort to use evidence from the text. Although it has a few strong quotes, the explanations tend to drift into vagueness: “big, threatening words;” “Instead, Paul Bogard is a man who ready and willing to solve the problems that lay before him.” (this is an empty platitude and says nothing about the text); “our day to day lifes have also been filled with countless arguments of how we are ruining our planet” (filler; off topic to the essay). Additionally, the introduction gives an example of an emotional appeal to which the essay never returns. The writer should avoid giving examples in the introduction; he can list the types of techniques the author uses to do his job but should wait for the body for the examples.

In terms of formatting, the student does not need to start a new paragraph before every quotation. Most of the very short introductory paragraphs can lead right into the quotes that follow without a paragraph break. Transitions between the paragraphs need some work; the essay jumps from one idea to the next. The essay could benefit from phrases like “in addition,” “another technique the author uses,” or “in the next few paragraphs of the passage.” “Pollution” is misspelled every time. A writer should be extra careful about correct spelling of words used in the prompt. “Themselfs” and “ourselfs” should be “themselves” and “ourselves.” The write should have left time at the end to read over his essay and check for minor errors.

READING: 2, ANALYSIS: 2, WRITING: 3

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Sample ACT Essay Prompt

Parental Expectations Based on Gender

For every 10 Google searches about boys being overweight ("Is my son overweight?") there are 17 about girls ("Is my daughter overweight?"). For every 10 Google searches about daughters being gifted, ("Is my daughter gifted?"), there are 25 for boys ("Is my son gifted?"). This recent study of Internet search data suggests that parents may hold different expectations for their children based on gender; it appears that parents may be want their girls thinner and their boys smarter.

The data on the search is accurate, but is the explanation? Do parents hope for different things for their sons and daughters?

 

Read and carefully consider these perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about parents' expectations of their children.

Perspective One

 

Perspective Two

 

Perspective Three

Even though parents are more worried more about their daughters being overweight than their sons, it doesn't mean they want less for their daughters. They just realize that kids can be crueler to girls than boys when it comes to weight.

 

Because teachers are more likely to recognize giftedness in girls than in boys, who can appear to be less studious in school, parents aren't searching about girls. Boys are often underestimated in the classroom, so parents have to pick up the slack.

 

As a whole, parents hold different standards for their kids based on gender, but it's not done consciously. Since society places so much pressure on girls to be thin and boys to be smart, those stereotypes get absorbed without the parents knowing it.

 

Essay Task

Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on parents' expectations for their children based on gender. In your essay, be sure to:

  • analyze and evaluate the perspectives given
  • state and develop your own perspective on the issue
  • explain the relationship between your perspective and those given

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial agreement, or wholly different. Whatever the case, support your ideas with logical reasoning and detailed, persuasive examples.


You may wish to consider the following as you think critically about the task:

Strengths and weaknesses of the three given perspectives

  • What insights do they offer, and what do they fail to consider?
  • Why might they be persuasive to others, or why might they fail to persuade?

Your own knowledge, experience, and values

  • What is your perspective on this issue, and what are its strengths and weaknesses?
  • How will you support your perspective in your essay?

 

Student #1

Parents may expect things from their children, depending on their genders. Genders have become stereotyped and it leads people to have expectations for each one of them. Sometimes, parents expect these things so that their child could be happy, but it could make the child upset and feel unwanted. Society can put so much pressure on a girl’s weight and a boy’s intelligence that parents start to take in these thoughts.

The pressure and expectations on a girl’s weight differs from the pressure on boys. Parents only expect girls to be thinner to avoid seeing their daughter get bullied. Peers can be more harsh to fat girls than they can be to fat boys. Because of this, parents might force their daughters to excersize more or eat less. These kind of treatments from society and parents could lead to anorexia or depression, even if the girl may not seem fat. I don’t think anyone should care about the weight of anyone. People should only pay attention to themselves. Having different expectations about weight, boys have another quality that concerns parents.

Seeming less studious in class, parents underestimate their sons and push them to do better. Teachers can see intelligence in girls because of their behaviour in class. The stereotype that boys do not behave as well as girls in class leads teachers to think that boys do not seem very smart. Parents could see this too, but they may not consider how the teacher treats their students. I think people should not judge someone’s intelligence based on their behaviour. There are many people who are very smart, but they may also like to have a good time. Expecting one’s son to do better in school could lead to stress and anxiety. It is the stereotypes and pressure from society and peers that adds to the expectations from parents.

Parents can absorb thoughts from others without realizing it. Their standards start to hurt the child because of what peers think. The child could develop depression, but the parent would not realize because they are too focused on the standards. Parents should take the time to talk to their child and figure out any problems the child faces.

Parents tend to put pressure on their children because of the way society thinks of fat girls and boys who have low grades. Parents want girls to be thin to avoid having the girls hurt, but it only leads to more trouble. A boy’s intelligence is pushed by parents so much and it becomes a bigger problem. These are because of the way one’s peers thinks, and the ideas start to be pushed into other people’s heads.

Comments & Final Grade

IDEAS AND ANALYSIS: 3

Overall, this essay discusses the issues presented in a fairly simplistic way and does not analyze the issues in depth or put forth the writer’s own viewpoint in a cohesive way. Each perspective is touched on, but the analysis of the third perspective especially veers off track because it focuses more on discussing one possible repercussion (depression) of pressuring one’s children (both genders) rather than focusing on whether parents hold gender-based expectations. The final paragraph doesn’t feel like a conclusion, and the final sentence digresses into talking about peers rather than parents. Stay on message.

 

DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT: 3

There is some attempt on the part of the writer to develop his ideas (e.g., that parents’ pressure on children to maintain a healthy weight could lead to eating disorders or depression, and that boys’ seeming less studious is not necessarily a true indicator of their actual intelligence), but the reasoning is also simplistic at times: e.g., “I don’t think anyone should care about the weight of anyone. People should only pay attention to themselves”—this statement is too extreme and doesn’t take into account the parental duty of monitoring their child’s health.

 

ORGANIZATION: 3

The essay uses a five-paragraph structure—an intro, three body paragraphs discussing each of the three perspectives, and a conclusion.  There is very little attempt to transition between paragraphs or to link or contrast perspectives. Each body paragraph seems to stand alone.

 

LANGUAGE USE: 3

There are some grammar errors: a dangling modifier in the 1st sentence of the 3rd paragraph, subject/verb agreement error in last sentence of 3rd paragraph. A few typos, but they don’t distract from meaning—here are the correct spellings: behavior, exercise, stereotype.

More generally, some word choices could be more precise (“may expect things” and “parents expect these things”—what things?) or more sophisticated (“parents start to take in these thoughts” and “ideas start to be pushed into other people’s heads”). Avoid wordiness. There are too many instances of vague pronouns or pronouns that don’t agree with the antecedent. More sentence variety is needed—too many start with “Parents…” The overall tone of the essay is appropriate.

Student #2

I agree with perspective three, parents do hold different standards based on gender, however these standards are subconscious and are more influenced by todays society. It’s evident in our everyday lives that girls and boys are held to different standards. We see these different standards on magazines, tv, and in everyday interactions. When you pick up a magazine it’s usually a model who has the “perfect body”; the perfect body in todays society is someone who is thin and tuned. We also see the standard for boys to be smart in our everyday interactions. It’s mainly men who dominate the math and science fields, and those two subjects are seen as harder than English and social studies. Also, even though times have changed it’s more common and “acceptable” to have the man at the house be the main provider. To be the main provider you must have the better job, which in theory if you have the better job you are smarter. Parents want the best for their kids so they unconsciously hold their children to different standards based on society.

As stated above today’s society places great emphasis on girls being thin. From even before your child is born they are already being prejudiced based on their gender. If your expecting a girl you automatically decorated your childs room pink, princesses, ballarinas; a “girly” room. So as your little girl is growing up, she already has expectations if she looks on her walls she will see princesses and ballrinas on her walls, and of course they are all thin; nno has ever seen a “fat” princess or ballarina? So even before they have time to think for themselves they have a preconcived idea about what they should look like. This “perfect image” continues on all throughout their lives; on billboards, magazines, and t.v. all the girls are thin and pretty. Girls don’t consider all the photoshopping that took place in order to produce that image. All they are focused on is what they can do to look like that. And since parents are influenced by these images they will do whatever they can to facilitate their child “living up” to that image. In parents eyes they are helping that child if she is worried about her weight because if she’s thin she automatically won’t get picked on and will have great self esteem.

Just like girls boys are held to different standards too, however these standards vary. Unlike girls, boys are held to higher academic standards. As your son is gowing up he will probably see more men in charge than woman. In America’s society it is still expected that men will be the C.E.O’s at companies, bosses, and the man in charge of the house. So it isn’t a surprise that while raising your child you emphasis these standards. You want your child to be happy and successful.Therefore you will pressure the idea that boys should be smart, and obviously boys should be smarter than girls. This idea is not done in a cynical way, in fact it’s quiet the opposite. Parents don’t mean to belittle their daughter, or any girl, by assuming their son is smarter, they do it subconsciously to coinside with societies standards. Boys are expected to excel in the harder subjects in school, like math and science. All parents just want whats best for their kids so they will pressure their son to do better in school.

Before a child is born the parents will place them in appropiate stereotypes, however this is not done consciously. Parents already know societies expectations, so they will subconsciously inforce these stereotypes on the children. Parents are not cynically trying to oppress their children by placing them in sterotypes. Instead they are looking out for their children. It’s a harsh and critical world in todays society. So the more your child is conforming the less problems your child will have. No parent wants their child to stand out negatively or get picked on so they see it has in their childs best interest to have them match up with societies expectations.

Comments & Final Grade

Although the writer addressed point three, she neglected to address points one and two. Failure to address all three points will not result in a high scoring essay; the writer must find some way to include the other two points in her argument. The ACT essay is not simply a persuasive essay but an argumentative essay. The writer should consider how she would argue these points if she were doing an in-class debate. The whole essay is spent defending why parents adhere to stereotypes. Are there parents who don’t? Why don’t they? Is every girl focused on her looks and uninterested in math and science? Do all mothers stay home? The writer could improve her analysis and support scores by broadening her response and thinking about the other side of the issue

 

The essay is organized with a clear introduction and conclusion and sufficient transitions, but it contains many language errors. Comma splices and semicolons need to be reviewed (e.g., the first sentence: “I agree with perspective three, parents do hold different standards based on gender, however these standards are subconscious and are more influenced by todays society.”) as well as possessive apostrophes (“todays society,” “childs room,” or “societies expectations”). “Ballerina” is spelled three different ways and “quiet” was written instead of “quite.” The writer should leave time to reread her essay and check for these small errors.

 

IDEAS AND ANALYSIS: 3

DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT: 3

ORGANIZATION: 4

LANGUAGE USE: 4

Essay Prompts used with the permission of Summit Educational Group,
Inc.

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