On the SAT, you may be asked to choose sides in an argument and defend your position.
Frequently, the essay prompt asks students whether they agree or disagree with a given quote or idea. For example, here’s a real question from a previous SAT test:
“Nothing requires more discipline than freedom.”
Assignment: In your essay, discuss your view of the statement above. Be sure to use examples to explain your view. Examples can be from literature, the arts, politics, history, science, experience, observation, or current events.
For the purposes of the essay, you should either agree or disagree with the given statement.
Many students are wishy-washy, perhaps because they are afraid of giving the wrong answer. For example, an indecisive student might write:
Sometimes freedom requires great discipline, but sometimes it doesn’t.
This position statement is bad, because it does not take a clear and decisive stand. These kinds of openings tend to lead to essays that wander and are unfocused. They also tend to get low scores.
If you agree with the statement in the essay prompt, you might begin with a simple but effective affirmation of the idea, like this:
Freedom requires great discipline.
If you disagree with the statement, you might begin by turning the idea on its head:
Freedom is the absence of discipline.
Both of these statements make a clear point, and would lead to completely different essays, in part because they interpret the word freedom in radically different ways. The first approach might go on to discuss political freedom, while the second approach is likely to focus on personal freedom. Either argument could work as the launching point for a strong essay.
On the SAT essay, there is no “wrong” answer in the normal sense. If the essay is about the statement “crime doesn’t pay,” you may decide to argue that crime does pay. The judges aren’t going to grade your opinions. Instead, they are looking at how well you can defend them.
In cases like this, you should either agree with the statement and defend your position, or disagree with the statement and defend your position.
Never try to argue both sides.