Sat Essay Prompt Can Success Be Disastrous

Welcome to the first post in our series of 10 SAT Essay Theme Guides. Check back next Tuesday for the second installment. 🙂

For students who have been asked since they were five years old what they wanted to be when they grow up, success and goals are familiar topics. But does that make them an easier topic to write an academic essay on? You’ll have to answer that for yourself, but take a look at the following guide on these SAT essays to help you succeed! (Ha, see what I did there? No, not funny? Oh okay, going to go cry in a corner now…)


Past Prompts:

  • When some people win, must others lose, or are there situations in which everyone wins?
  • Can success be disastrous?
  • Is moderation an obstacle to achievement and success?
  • Do people succeed by emphasizing their differences from other people?
  • Is solitude—spending time alone—necessary for people to achieve their most important goals?
  • Is real success achieved only by people who accomplish goals and solve problems their own?
  • Do people have to pay attention to mistakes in order to make progress?
  • Are optimistic, confident people more likely than others to make changes in their lives?
  • Do idealists contribute more to the world than realists do?
  • Are people likely to succeed by repeating actions that worked for them in the past?
  • Is it better to aim for small accomplishments instead of great achievements?
  • Are people likely to be dissatisfied rather than content once they have achieved their goals?


Recommended Reading

1. Outliers (book) by Malcom Gladwell.

This is by far the most helpful source for intelligent and statistically proven ideas on how success is reached. If you have the time I highly suggest getting this book from your local library because it’s an entertaining quick read by one of my personal favorite authors. It covers everything from what makes professional hockey players successful, to the complicated relationship IQ has to success. If you don’t have time to read the full version, I suggest the wiki synopsis.

2. The Key to Success is Grit (TED Talk) by Angela Lee Duckworth

If you’re looking for a good argument against high IQ equating success, Duckworth provides a great insight into the minds of hundreds of her students sometimes perplexing success and failure in the light of IQ. It’s 6 minutes of praise for the hardworking.

3. “Does ‘What You Know’ Beat ‘Who You Know’?” (online article) on Lifehacker

This might not be the best source to quote directly, but it does provide some interesting perspectives to jog your brain in this direction.

Example Outline

Prompt: Is solitude—spending time alone—necessary for people to achieve their most important goals?

Thesis: Solitude is not necessary to reach goals, because people’s most important goals are often achieved with the help of others.

  • Professional hockey players need the help of coaches, training partners, and teams to hone their skills in order to achieve their goal of winning matches. [source:Outliers]
  • Scientists use research methods like blind experiments to independently verify the important scientific discoveries. This means they literally cannot achieve their goal of significant scientific achievement without the help of other researchers.
  • One of the most traditionally agreed-upon important steps in becoming a successful businessperson is building a social network. [Lifehacker Article].


The Example Essay

In light of the fact that the wheel has already been invented, here is the Sparknotes examples and explanations of two example essays. Enjoy (or at the very least try).

Common Mistakes

1. Using yourself as an example. It’s very tempting, and easy to think of examples from your own life, but I caution against the personal anecdote in these essays. The reason being your success is pretty much unproven—it’s simply not strong evidence unless you have some sort of high-level award or national rank. Try to only use your life events as a last resort.

2. Using cliché examples. C’mon now, you know everyone is going to use Jay Gatsby. If he’s really the only one you can think of, he’s better than using your story about getting second place in the swim meet. But if you’re aiming for a higher score it’s really much more impressive if you can pull out some more sophisticated evidence.

3. Oversimplifying ideas. If you’re trying to argue simply that IQ=success, pause. At what age do you measure that IQ? What constitutes success—is it big bank on Wall Street, or artistic flow and personal happiness? These are rather complex ideas, try not to gloss over them as you might in conversation with your friends.

4. Failing to recognize counterarguments. Again to use the IQ=success assertion, you need to recognize that there are many other factors that go into success. Talk about grit. Talk about personal networks. Refute that these are more important than your point, and add them into your thesis to make it more nuanced.


The Takeaway

Essays on this theme often seem deceptively simple. If you’re aiming for a high-scoring essay and are looking to polish your already strong writing skills try to avoid personal anecdotes and write complex thesis statements.


About Cassidy Mayeda

Cassidy recently graduated from San Dieguito High School Academy located in Southern California, and is looking forward to studying at Barnard College at Columbia University next fall. She loves pretty much everything from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, to classic American Literature, but above all learning new things and meeting new people. Like her older brother Zack (who also works at Magoosh!), she also enjoys drinking copious amounts of coffee.

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SAT Essay Sample from the Official SAT Study Guide Practice Test 4

The old saying, “be careful what you wish for,” may be an appropriate warning. The drive to achieve a particular goal can dangerously narrow one’s perspective and encourage the fantasy that success in one endeavor will solve all of life’s difficulties. In fact, success can sometimes have unexpected consequences. Those who propel themselves toward the achievement of one goal often find that their lives are worse once “success” is achieved than they were before.

Assignment:  Can success be disastrous? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

SAT Sample Essay - Score of 6

The power of success can be disastrous when placed in the wrong hands. Naturally, there are those who will always choose to manipulate conditions to succeed in their own endeavors, not taking into consideration the lives of those around them. On the other hand, there may be those who do not necessarily pursue selfish ends, but simply do not know where to take success once it has been achieved, thus resulting in their own self-sabotage.

Throughout history, we have seen success used wrongfully in the hands of the unworthy. Powerful leaders of nations, kingdoms, and empires, having succeeded in gaining leadership, have then used their influence wrongfully in achieving their own selfish (and sometimes twisted) goals. Nero, the Roman emperor who beat his pregnant wife to death and has been suspected of instigating the great fire of Rome in an attempt to boost his own political influence. Henry VIII of England, for whom women were beheaded for not bearing him a son, and who is rumored to have eaten eight chickens a night while English peasants starved. The notorious Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, who carried out the Spanish Inquisition. The list is endless. Even in literature, we see the corruption and downfall of society and mankind as a whole as a result of the abuse of success in the possession of those who do not deserve it, as seen in William Shake- speare’s tragedy of King Lear. In the story, societal order is replaced with chaos when there is a power shift from Lear to his evil daughters, Regan and Goneril. This order only returns to a slight degree when virtue (in the form of Lear’s good daughter, Cordelia) returns to England. Success is hazardous when awarded to the unvirtuous.

However, there may be those who are not necessarily evil of greedy in their pursuits, but merely do not know how to handle success. This proves to be just more disastrous to the individual than to anyone else, since it is the individual who will then sabotage his own success to return to his former comfort zone. Success is meant to be grown upon, not exploited or feared.

Success, when achieved by the unworthy or inexperienced, is a most disastrous element. Success is not about being happy at the expense of those about you –it is about using one’s newly gained happiness to improve the lives of others. If one reflects on the wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, one will never go astray: “To know that one person has breathed easier because you have lived -this is to have succeeded.”

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