Think Differently: Part III


Thank you for those of you who have patiently waited for the third installment of this series. As promised, today I’ll give you the rundown on the best sources for example topics so that you can start gathering them before your test day. Without further ado, here are the top three sources!

1. Literature- Many of your essay graders are going to have a strong background with literature, so using examples from that category are going to be well-received when done well. The warning that comes with this category is that the best literature tends to make the best examples. I have read examples from graphic novels (let’s just call them comic books) and books like “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”. Any lessons we can glean from these sources isn’t going to be afforded the same weight as Shakespeare and Dickens. If you aren’t currently reading anything that can be categorized as good literature, think about picking up a new book and challenging yourself. It’ll do you good far beyond the SAT essay.

2. History- The benefit of historical examples is that your graders are going to have a good idea of the background facts needed to set the scene for the situation you present. That means that you can spend less time setting up your example and more time doing the analysis of how your example fits the prompt. As I mentioned in my earlier post, as long as you avoid the cliche and overused example you have a wide selection to choose from, as nearly all historical examples are useful and powerful when tied well to the prompt.

3. Current events- This is a category that’s often overlooked as a source of examples. I think that may be because high school students are so busy in their own world that they aren’t as aware of the world events happening around them. If you can take the time to read the news for a few weeks before your test you are very likely to come across current examples that are relevant to your prompt. Current event examples are especially useful when used with historical examples because it shows that your position has a broad applicability through time.

Keep these sources in mind as you start thinking about potential essay topics!

 Think Differently: Part I


One of my life goals is to be on Jeopardy. I don’t have the encyclopedic trivia knowledge of a Ken Jennings or a Brad Rutter, but I like to think that given the right categories on the right night I could win. I stumbled across a Jeopardy fan forum online a few weeks ago and found a game that intrigued me. The game is called Think Differently. The goal is to give a correct answer that as few of the other players will give as possible.


For instance, if asked to name a U.S. President lots of people would likely name Barack Obama or George Washington, making them less than ideal choices. William Harding or John Tyler would be much better answers as they are far less likely to be chosen by many other competitors. The game asks you to do divergent rather than convergent thinking, which many would argue is a better test of intelligence.


Aside from enjoying the game, I was drawn back to thinking about SAT essays. Imagine a prompt that asks you to discuss a leader with big ambitions. Who would you talk about?


Take a minute and think about it and then scroll down.















I hope you didn’t say MLK or Hitler. Unfortunately, the chances are very good that one or both of those men popped into your head, and they certainly fit the category. However, they’re such obvious answers that they are likely to headline thousands of answers. Consciously or not, graders are likely to compare what you have to say about Hitler or MLK about what others are said, and you are very unlikely to have done the best analysis of either man in the thousands of essays that are out there. So I encourage you to think differently.


Instead of MLK and Hitler, what if I discussed Woodrow Wilson and Chip Kelly? Wilson had grand ambitions for the League of Nations in the post-WWI world as a steadying force that might prevent a global conflict. Kelly believed that a fast-paced spread attack could work just as well in the NFL as it had in college football. Both men are leaders with big ambitions and both give you a great opportunity to discuss the themes presented in the prompt. They’re also much less likely to be cited by many other test-takers. Your analysis of Woodrow Wilson or Chip Kelly is very likely to be the best analysis of those leaders that your grader reads all day. By thinking differently you can differentiate yourself, lessen the competition and improve your chances of getting a great score.


Stay tuned for the next blog in this series in which I describe how you can prepare to give unique answers.

 2013 Examples for Your Essay


We have reached that time of year where the “Best of 2013” stories start popping up on all the websites you frequent. Take a moment and click through a few of them. The information you find there may just be useful.

Current events are a great way to connect generic essay prompts to more concrete ideas that readers more easily connect with. The problem is that current events seem not to stay current very long and the constant flood of information we receive tends to wash out the relevant bits to the prompt in front of us when test day stress kicks in. So how do you get the focus you need while still maintaining a broad pool of examples from which you can draw?

That’s where those top stories lists can come in handy. Current events provide concrete examples that can help prove a point, without needing significant explanations to explain their significance. For instance, if I said “George Zimmerman” in an effort to explain something about race relations, “stand your ground laws”, or criminal justice in the media, you will instantly understand what I was talking about. If I said the “Boston Marathon bombings” you could instantly connect that to ideas of terrorism, how social media has changed news, or how people come together in a time of tragedy.

Hopefully those connections show you how handy current events can be for connecting abstract ideas to subjects that your readers will instantly understand.  Let’s use the following prompt as an example to see how this might work:


“Do we value only what we struggle for?”


This is exactly the type of prompt question that many students will struggle with because it doesn’t immediately call to mind relevant examples. It seems too abstract. However, if you’ve recently looked over a list of current events, you’re likely to find something that you can connect with this topic. For instance, if you’re trying to show that we do only value what we struggle for, you might bring up the murder case of Aaron Hernandez. You might discuss his NFL career and how he’d just come into millions of dollars and a comfortable lifestyle. You could then make the argument that he didn’t value his freedoms until there were taken away from him, and that if he’d struggled more he would have been less likely to put himself in position where he would lose that freedom.

If instead you wanted to say we don’t only value what we struggle for, you might bring up the royal baby, Prince George. For the people of Britain his birth wasn’t a struggle or a burden, but they got immense joy from his birth. They value another life that can continue their line of royal succession without having to struggle.

Take a look at those best of 2013 lists this week. You might just find an example that will help put your essay over the top!