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ACT and SAT Essay Examples: General to Specific

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Today we’re going to illustrate how you can narrow overly-broad essay examples into ones that are more manageable in scope. The ACT and SAT prefer examples that are specific and concrete. Using evidence that is vague and hypothetical will generally earn you fewer points than using targeted examples that directly support your thesis will. The general rule for ACT/SAT evidence is that you want to use examples that actually happened (or sound like they could have happened) and can be summed up in a few sentences.

Civil Rights

Don’t try to cover the entire struggle for African-American civil rights in your essay. Instead, chose a specific event from the civil rights movement that relates directly to your position. These include (but are not limited to) the bus boycott, lunch counter sit-ins, the march on Selma, and King’s Washington, D.C. speech.

Marriage Equality

Rather than summarizing the entire gay marriage debate, pick a particular state-level initiative (such as California’s Proposition 8). You could also cover the recent Supreme Court case. Just don’t try to tackle the SCOTUS decision, the Prop 8 decision, and the Stonewall riots in the same essay.

World War II/ Nazis

Focus on a particular Nazi, a particular concentration camp, or a particular battle. If you’re dealing specifically with resistance to the Nazis, choose a particular event, group, or individual, such as the French Resistance or Oskar Schindler.


Chose a story (religious or secular) that precisely illustrates your position. If you’re talking about religious reform, go with someone like Martin Luther or the Biblical Jesus. Avoid vague, sweeping statements about a particular religion or religion in general.


Don’t try to compress the entire history of a particular type of product into an ACT/SAT essay paragraph. Focus on the rise of Ford Motors instead of the history of the automobile as whole. Better yet, focus on the development of just the Model T. Similarly, focus on the development of the iPhone (or even a particular version of the iPhone) instead of smart phones in general.

Personal Experiences

Talk about non-historical/non-academic examples as if they actually happened to you or someone close to you. If you’re trying to argue that patience is a virtue, don’t talk about someone breaking his or her leg. Talk about that time that you broke your leg and spent the summer stuck in your room. Whether the broken leg story is true or not doesn’t matter. The essay graders can’t verify the validity of your personal experiences. All they care about is whether or not the experience sounds genuine.

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