I have read literally thousands of SAT essays, and I know that many students mention examples from history in their 25 minute essay. However, students do just that – they mention history. In 25 minutes, the average student has difficulty coming up with the details necessary to really support an essay and therefore only brings in superficial examples without adding any juicy details. The goal is to memorize and include concrete examples and interesting facts (and, if possible, even a date) for three historical moments.
Take a look at this weak historical detail included in response to the following prompt: “Can success be disastrous?”
During the Civil War, the North was competing with the South, and the North succeeded, freeing the slaves but leaving some people unhappy.
What is this proving? Everyone knows that slavery was abolished. This is a superficial, boring account of the Civil War, exactly the type of account that will prevent you from achieving a top score on the SAT essay. And, “some people unhappy”? This is another superficial statement that gives less-than-clear direction.
As a grader, I need concrete examples! Add flavor to your essay with battles, dates, names, places, etc.
From 1861 to 1865, the northern and southern United States entered into a period of bloody civil war; although the North’s success emancipated slaves, the country was thrown into a period of economic and social instability.
Ooh – much more interesting. I have a date; I have a place; I have a direction as to where the essay will be going. Now the writer can bring in details of the Reconstruction Era. These are new details – about the birth of the KKK, tax increases for the South, the oppressive Black Codes, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
I recommend that your historical moments include one war, one era, and one historical figure. These should be disparate moments in history so that all possible essay topics are covered. Don’t choose the Civil War, the Civil War Era, and Abe Lincoln!
To find a list of recommended historical moments to “own,” check out Write the SAT Essay Right! (on Amazon or Barnes & Noble) and look at page 63.