SAT Essay: Determining the Heartbeat Words and Theme Content
It's worth repeating (and repeating, and repeating): Your essay won't score any points, no matter how well written, if it's off topic. That means your very first goal in the seconds after you open your SAT test booklet is to read the essay assignment and understand exactly what it says. While the assignment almost always begins with a question asking whether you agree or disagree with the point of view of the prompt, you should not answer it at this stage.
The first question you should answer, no matter the assignment, is: What is the essential idea, and what word or words express it? Because those words are vital to your understanding of the assignment, and because repeating them throughout your essay—like a pulse—shows your reader that you're staying on topic, we'll call them the "heartbeat words." In the first example, the heartbeat words are dangerous and choice. In the second, plan and perspective are the words you're looking for.
Review each of the assignment questions that follow. The italicized words show the heartbeat terms.
- Do people truly benefit from hardship and misfortune?
- Is it more valuable for people to fit in than to be unique and different?
- Do people place too much emphasis on winning?
- Can a group of people function effectively without someone being in charge?
- Is it always better to be original than to imitate or use the ideas of others?
Identify and circle the heartbeat words for each of the following five prompts. When in doubt, choose more words than fewer.
- Should we admire heroes but not celebrities?
- Are people more likely to be productive and successful when they ignore the opinions of others?
- Has today's abundance of information only made it more difficult for us to understand the world around us?
- Can knowledge be a burden rather than a benefit?
- Is identity something people are born with or given, or is it something people create for themselves?
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