SAT Sample Reading-Test: Essay Question

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

The new SAT features only one question that requires you to place words on paper, an optional essay. As you read the sample essay passage, consider how the author uses the following:

  • Facts, examples, and other types of evidence to support his assertions

  • Logical structure to link ideas and evidence

  • Elements of style, such as appeals to reason, word choice, and so forth, to make his case

Sample Essay

The following passage is excerpted from The NOW Habit at Work, by Neil Fiore (Wiley). Read the passage and follow the directions at the end.

Sample Passage

In Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, Paul Ekman describes how to determine if people are lying by observing the universal microfacial expressions of anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise, and contempt. Even if a person doesn’t consciously know that you’re lying or trying to cover up your true feelings, she will have a gut reaction that something isn’t right. The hidden and often subconscious message embedded in your words, actions, facial expressions, and body movements reflects your true attitude and affects your energy level. Others may subconsciously notice the disconnection between your words and your nonverbal message and sense that you’re not telling the whole truth.

We all know how leaders often preach one thing and do the opposite, causing their actions to contradict their words and professed beliefs. Colleagues have said of Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and founder of logotherapy [a form of psychotherapy], that when he advocated that every life has meaning, there was a unity between his words, his actions, and the way he lived.

Are your messages and actions integrated around your higher brain and executive self? You may want to examine how your actions and stated values are aligned with what you consciously and rationally believe. Then ask yourself, “Is my walk congruent with my talk? What underlying and overarching beliefs are revealed in the way I talk to myself and others? Is it all struggle and sacrifice?” Are you saying, “Life is tough and then you die” or “You have to work harder, but it will never be good enough”?

Even more powerful than your actual words is the impact of what you think and expect from yourself and others. Research has repeatedly shown that teachers who are led to believe that certain children have high intelligence scores paid more attention to those children and encouraged them to do their best. As a result, the test scores and behaviors of those children improved significantly, even though these children actually had the lowest intelligence scores in their class. The teachers’ beliefs and expectations influenced their behavior and had real, positive effects on the children they taught. The same is true of your beliefs about yourself and your employees.

Beliefs and expectations influence much more than just your attitude. What you believe affects your brain and body the way a placebo pill — an inert substance presented as effective medicine — improves depression and physical symptoms in as many as 30% of patients. You might want to consider, therefore, telling yourself, your children, and your employees that you believe in them and their willingness to learn and do good work and that you are a firm supporter of their worth and truer, higher self. You may find it more effective to communicate to yourself and others that life is an interesting puzzle, a mystery that you were meant to solve and that you have the innate ability to do so. Your words and actions might communicate that you enjoy your life and are optimistic about your future. Pessimists tend to be more accurate about the odds of success but give up sooner, while optimists keep trying until they come up with a creative solution and are happier. You may want to communicate the message “You’re going to make it, even though you don’t know how. Something will come to you, and you will pick yourself up and stand on your own two feet.”

Being optimistic is one way to motivate yourself to keep taking another shot at success and face the inevitable challenges of life while hoping to turn lemons into lemonade. An optimistic view of life — and of yourself, your co‐workers, and employees — will turn your mind toward what’s going well and has the effect of lowering depression. Research by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center found that those who wrote down three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week had a significant increase in happiness and a decrease in depressive symptoms. Remarkably, the participants got so much value out of the exercise that they continued on their own for more than six months, and when tested again, they were found to be even happier. Other research points to the importance of meaning in life — interest in exploring a sense of purpose or mission for one’s life — as contributing to happiness, healthy self‐esteem, and effectiveness.

Directions: Write an essay in which you analyze how Fiore makes an argument that one’s true beliefs influence both self and others. In your essay, discuss how Fiore uses the elements of style listed before the passage, as well as other stylistic choices, to strengthen his argument. Focus your response on the most important aspects of the passage.

Do not explain whether you agree or disagree with Fiore. Instead, focus on how the author builds his argument.

Essay Solution

Here are some possible points to make in your essay:

  • The main argument is that everyone gives “messages” to others, either through words or body language and facial expression. Positive messages create positive results, and negative messages do the opposite.

  • At the end of paragraph one, the author appeals to fear by warning: “Others may subconsciously notice the disconnection between your words and your nonverbal message” and sense the lie.

  • In the third and fourth paragraphs, a series of rhetorical questions (asked for effect, with no answer from the author) draw the reader into the discussion and provoke reflection on the topic.

  • Sophisticated vocabulary choices, such as executive, aligned, and congruent, create a serious, businesslike tone. These words imply that the reader (even one who has to look up the definitions!) is serious and businesslike. That impression, flattery or not, may make the reader more open to the writer’s argument.

  • The research experiment on teachers’ attitudes and the information about placebos discussed in paragraphs five and six provide scientific backing for the author’s ideas.

  • The conclusion refers to “meaning in life” and unifies the passage by taking the reader back to the example of Viktor Frankl.