Sat Essay Topics History

Our essay topics have been closely modeled on those in the SAT. You can also do the essays given in the first section of each of the tests in the Official Study Guide.

Each of the topics consists of a prompt and an assignment.

  • Prompt:
    "That which we obtain too easily, we esteem too lightly. It is dearness only which gives everything its value."
    Thomas Paine

    Assignment:
    Do we value only what we struggle for? Plan your response, and then write an essay to explain your views on this issue. Be sure to support your position with specific points and examples. (You may use personal examples or examples from your reading, observations, or, knowledge of subjects such as history, literature, science.)

  • Prompt:
    If we are afraid to reveal our lack of knowledge we will not be able to learn. In order to make progress we must admit where we are now. Such an admission of ignorance is not easy. As Thoreau says, “How can we remember our ignorance which our growth requires, when we are using our knowledge all the time?”

    Assignment:
    Does the present system of education encourage us to admit our lack of knowledge, or is there too much pressure to demonstrate the acquisition of knowledge? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    “A little inaccuracy saves a world of explanation.”
    C.E.Ayers

    Assignment:
    Is it always essential to tell the truth, or are there circumstances in which it is better to lie? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    Many societies believe that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human right. But it is also true that attainment of happiness remains elusive. Perhaps Bertrand Russell had it right when he said, “To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”

    Assignment:
    What gives us more pleasure and satisfaction: the pursuit of our desires or the attainment of them? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    “The price of greatness is responsibility.”
    Winston Churchill

    Assignment:
    Do we expect too much from our public figures? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    “A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.”
    Alexander Pope

    Assignment:
    Do we learn more from finding out that we have made mistakes or from our successful actions? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    “What man calls civilization always results in deserts. Man is never on the square – he uses up the fat and greenery of the earth. Each generation wastes a little more of the future with greed and lust for riches.”
    Don Marquis

    Assignment:
    With our modern awareness of ecology are we likely to make sufficient progress in conservation, or are we still in danger of damaging the earth beyond repair? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    A man who waits to believe in action before acting is anything you like, but he is not a man of action. It is as if a tennis player before returning the ball stopped to think about his views of the physical and mental advantages of tennis. You must act as you breathe.
    Georges Clemenceau

    Assignment:
    Is it true that acting quickly and instinctively is the best response to a crisis? Or are there times when an urgent situation requires a more careful consideration and a slower response? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    There is usually a kernel of truth in the words Oscar Wilde puts in the mouth of his most outrageous characters – they wouldn’t be funny otherwise. One such gem that is worth pondering is: The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.

    Assignment:
    Is it true that when we most need advice we are least willing to listen to it? Or is good advice always welcome? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Prompt:
    “Independence? That’s middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.” Bernard Shaw expected to provoke controversy with these words, but I would agree with him that these days there is too much emphasis on independence. While it is certainly true that excessive dependence on others is not a sign of maturity, total independence of others is neither attainable nor desirable: we need to be mature, and unselfish enough to recognize our interdependence.

    Assignment:
    Do we put too much emphasis on self-reliance and independence, and are we afraid of admitting that we need other people in our lives? Plan your response, and then write an essay...

  • Introduction

    Showcase your achievements and knowledge to colleges by taking the U.S. History Subject Test. It’s a great way to enhance your college application and stand out in the admission process.

    Start practicing

    Test Basics

    Scoring, Timing, Number of Questions

    PointsMinutesQuestions
    200-8006090 (Multiple Choice)

    Getting Ready for the Test

    Additional Things to Know

    Questions on the U.S. History Subject Test may be presented as separate items or in sets based on quotes, maps, pictures, graphs or tables.

    Please note that this test reflects what is commonly taught in high school. Due to differences in high school classes, it’s likely that most students will find questions on topics they’re not familiar with. This is nothing to worry about. You do not have to get every question correct to receive the highest score (800) for the test. Many students do well despite not having studied every topic covered.

    Important:

    Important Notes

    Offered in August, October, November, December, May, and June.

    Anticipated Skills

    • Familiarity with historical concepts, cause-and-effect relationships, geography, and other data necessary for understanding major historical developments
    • A grasp of concepts essential to historical analysis
    • An ability to use historical knowledge in interpreting data in maps, graphs, charts, or cartoons

    Recommended Preparation

    • One-year comprehensive course in U.S. history at the college-preparatory level
    • Independent reading or study of historical topics covered on the test
    • Review of U.S. history textbooks, with careful attention to areas of weakness and trends within major periods (timelines are useful tools for doing this)

    Topics on the Test

    Material*Approximate % of Test
    Political history31–35%
    Economic history13–17%
    Social history20–24%
    Intellectual and cultural history13–17%
    Foreign policy13–17%

    *Note: Social science concepts, methods, and generalization are incorporated into this material

    PeriodsApproximate % of Test
    Pre-Columbian history to 178920%
    1790 to 189840%
    1899 to the present40%

    Download the SAT Subject Tests Student Guide (.pdf/6.3MB) for more information on the topics.

    Practice Resources

    Start practicing.

    Download for free:

    Buy at the bookstore:

    The Official SAT Subject Tests in U.S. and World History Study Guide

    Get ready for the History Subject Tests with official tests from the test maker. This guide features:

    • Two full-length, previously administered U.S. History Subject Tests
    • Two full-length, previously administered World History Subject Tests
    • Detailed answer explanations for all test questions
    • The most up-to-date test-taking tips and approaches

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    The Official Study Guide for All SAT Subject Tests, Second Edition

    Get the only study guide available for all 20 SAT Subject Tests.
    Features include:

    • 20 full-length, previously administered Subject Tests
    • Detailed answer explanations for all test questions
    • The most up-to-date tips and approaches on selecting which tests to take, the best time to take the tests, and how to best be ready for test day
    • The latest versions of the instructions, background questions and answer sheet
    • Detailed descriptions of every Subject Test, including topics covered and recommended course work
    • Two audio CDs for all six Language with Listening Tests

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