SAT Essay Help: Selecting Topics
Literature: Choose a book you know fairly well. Notice that many of the classics you're asked to read in high school are categorized as such because they contain universal themes. These themes don't go out of date or lose their relevance no matter how many decades or centuries have passed since they've been written. Examples include The Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, Romeo and Juliet, Animal Farm, The Scarlet Letter, and Lord of the Flies.
Arts and Music: While a description of a painting, sculpture, or concerto adds body and interest to your essay, it's the background and themes that will effectively answer the essay assignment. A composer such as Mozart; a specific work with an exciting, complex backstory like Picasso's Guernica; the history of body art; and the fate of the music industry are all subjects that have the depth and flexibility you're looking for.
History: If dozens of books have been written about an episode in history, you can safely assume that there are many angles from which to approach it. Conflicts such as World War II and the U.S. Revolution and Civil War are obvious choices, but other events can also work well. The Great Depression, Civil Rights Movement, and Watergate are complex and involve specific personalities, politics, and lessons that are relevant today. Know at least one historian's work that deals specifically or famously with the event you choose.
Science and Technology: Although you don't want to espouse ideas that many would consider radical, you don't need to worry about alienating your reader as you would if you were writing an application essay. That said, the best science and technology topics have ramifications in areas beyond science. Space travel, for example, can be discussed in terms of politics, ethics, and economics. Climate change, alternative energy sources, transportation, and gaming are other possibilities for science topics that lend themselves to multiple areas of discussion.
Historical Biography: Choose someone who has made her mark on history. Themes should include reasons for this person's importance, her relevance today, and qualities she exemplifies. (Was she known for honesty, perseverance, intelligence?) Be sure to include a couple of quotes that illustrate one or more of the themes you identify.
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