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Literary Historical Examples Sat Essay Examples

Writer’s block is the curse of the SAT essay section, but not because the prompts are too difficult, as an SAT newbie might imagine. In fact, the problem is that they’re too easy. You’re asked to answer incredibly general questions, and often it’s hard to come up with intelligent and specific examples to support such vague prompts.

One of the most commonly made mistakes on any section of the SAT is simply running out of time, most often on the essay section. Unfortunately, the SAT is ALL about time management. It’s so terribly easy to get sucked into the lull of brainstorming that you end up wasting half your time collecting supportive examples and start writing too late to finish. When I first started studying for the SAT, I was no different. English was my favorite subject in high school, and I was used to forming complex theses and fully expanding my ideas. I quickly came to realize that the SAT essay is an entirely different animal. You should spend AT MOST five minutes brainstorming and outlining, and in the next 20 minutes, your pencil should hardly leave the page. Easier said than done.

The truth is, there’s no way can you write a decent two-page essay in 25 minutes if your brain slides into derp mode within the first minute of brainstorming. If only you didn’t have to come up with supporting examples on the spot…

Actually, you don’t! That’s the best part. Save some time by preparing your essay examples IN ADVANCE. Mentally fill three “cans” of supporting examples under three different categories – history, literature, and other (current events, science, etc.) – so you can approach the SAT essay with “canned examples” already in your pocket. I learned this strategy from my father, Chris Borland, owner and operator of Borland Educational, when he first coached me on the SAT.

With three whole years of high school under your belt, you have a plethora of sources at your fingertips: find the ones with the greatest amount universal themes that could apply to almost any SAT essay prompt. A few canned examples are listed below:

History Can: Important Events and People

  • World War II and the Holocaust (Adolf Hitler) – authority, racism, punishment, genocide, hiding one’s true identity, alliances, war
  • Civil Rights Movement (Rosa Parks, MLK) – human rights, racism, freedom, determination
  • Hollywood Blacklist – McCarthy era, censorship, communism, artists
  • Industrial Revolution – inventions, energy use, difference in social classes
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. — Civil rights, freedom, rights for all, racism, equality, making a difference

Literature Can: Novels, Poems, Plays and Speeches

  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien: war, loss, fear, insanity, morality, friendship, memoir
  • Daddy by Silvia Plath: relationships, family, gender, mortality, confinement, the supernatural
  • The Crucible by Arthur Miller: deceit, gender, redemption, religion, chaos, hidden agenda, community, colonization
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding: violence, isolation, survival, teamwork
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: love, forgiveness, gender, social cues, hidden pasts, religion
  • The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling: heros, good vs evil, magic, fate, family
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: corruption, love, loss, money, greed,

Other: Current Events, Science, Films, etc.

  • Presidential Election of Barrack Obama: leadership, civil rights, American government
  • Henrietta Lacks and HeLa cells: development of medicine, betrayal, racism
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin: poverty, home, fairy tale, death, childrens’ perceptions, bildungsroman

You can use your canned examples in your essay, or at the very least, use other examples inspired by your canned examples. When a prompt asked me about taking risks, an adventure novel in my canned examples (namely Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne,) inspired me to list all of my other favorite adventure novels as examples.

An important note: don’t be afraid to use a historical event as an example just because you can’t remember the leader of a particular movement or can’t remember the time span of a certain war. If you miswrite a date or a name, the College Board does not hold it against you and will NOT dock points off your essay score. Why? The College Board simply wants to see whether or not you can construct a solid argument that you can support with evidence. As long as the evidence supports your thesis, you’re golden. With that said, try to be as accurate as possible, and don’t invent historical events that never occurred!

Canned examples will help you brainstorm less and write more. Nail the SAT essay by preparing these examples in advance.

Like this:



Click Here to download my e-Book about historical, literary, and personal examples to use for the SAT Essay, with quotes, impressive vocab words, and more!


Do you know what to write about on the day of the SAT?

This blog post will get students started thinking about what evidence they bring to the SAT essay so that they always have something to say!

Preparing your evidence for the SAT essay in advance is one of my top 10 tips for the essay.

This post is a miniature version of my complete e-Book on 30 of the most effective examples to use as supporting evidence in your SAT essay body paragraphs.

I wrote that e-Book so that a student warming up for the SAT essay could easily get access to good SAT essay evidence examples that he or she can use to answer a broad variety of SAT essay prompts.

In the book, I provide a brief summary, an SAT vocabulary word and meaning, two memorable quotes, and 10 key facts about EACH of the 30 evidence examples (which come from a variety of fields like sports, literature, history, personal experience, etc).

That report will be incredibly valuable to you if you worry about “not knowing what to say” when you see the SAT essay prompt.

Today we’ll get a mini-version of those SAT Essay Examples:

In this post, I’m going to give a quick overview of some top historical examples for the SAT Essay.

We won’t necessarily have the time to get into those cool quotations, summary paragraphs, etc that are contained in the complete e-Book version, but there will still be a lot of great info.

There are many great examples from history to use for the SAT essay, but here are five that you may already know about. I’ve identified some common SAT essay topic themes that each piece of evidence will work for.

1) The Fall of Rome (476 A.D.)

The Roman Empire was among the most powerful civilizations, yet it crumbled into ruin. How can we write about it on the SAT?


  • Leadership: Incompetent emperors and military leadership may have played a part in the decline of the empire
  • Civic duty: The spoiled Roman citizens began to hire more and more mercenaries to defend their borders – paid soldiers with no personal loyalty to the Empire. The Romans may have been better off if they had defended themselves, instead of paying and trusting outsiders to take care of them.
  • Imperialism: The Roman Empire was too big to govern effectively and outer territories were not well-defended.
  • Decadence: The upper-class of the Roman Empire had so much wealth that they may have been complacent about the dangers to their empire; the oppressed lower classes may have wanted the Empire to fall, as this would benefit them directly.

2) The American Civil War (1861-1865)


In the civil war, brother fought brother. Some fought for freedom, others fought for oppression. Says a lot about human nature, doesn’t it?


  • Freedom: One of the major causes of the war was the country’s division over the possession of black slaves and some historians see the war as one huge battle for human freedom and independence.
  • Divided loyalties: Families were divided on the issues and often found themselves arguing or even physically fighting one another, in order to support their beliefs.
  • Leadership and authority: The southern states rebelled against Lincoln’s leadership and denied his authority over them; he was forced to go to war in order to reassert that authority and leadership.
  • Violence as a solution: The American Civil War is an historical example of violence being the only apparent solution to an impossible problem – reuniting a divided nation and asserting Lincoln’s presidential authority.

3) The Vietnam War (1955-1975)


A time of confusion and argument. Moral issues became clouded, making it very flexible evidence for a variety of SAT essay prompts.



  • Power and imperialism: The powerful United States was staging a self-interested, imperial, political intervention in a foreign country; many have argued that it was not our place to do so, and we should have simply let the Vietnamese choose their own form of government.
  • Fear and violence: Fear of worldwide Communist takeover motivated a violent response: an armed military intervention in a distant foreign country.
  • Lost youth: The young male soldiers (frequently African-American) who were drafted to fight had little choice and were forced to risk their lives in a conflict that didn’t benefit them at all.
  • Exploitation by the powerful: It was mainly the poor males who were drafted; the rich and powerful politicians were looking out for their own interests at the expense of their less-powerful fellow citizens.
  • “Is more/bigger always better?”: The massive American army was still unable to dislodge the highly-motivated guerilla warriors of North Vietnam.
  • Courage facing impossible odds: The Viet Cong were facing an enemy enormously more well-armed and powerful than themselves, but believed so strongly in their cause that they refused to give up and eventually forced the more powerful U.S. army out of their country.

4) The American Black Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968)

Forces fighting for change battle with forces of oppression as blacks in the USA fight for freedom and human rights.


  • Change and Protest: Both violent and non-violent protests, like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Freedom Riders, and sit-ins were effective in calling attention to the plight of black Americans, and also put economic and social pressure on existing instutitions that encouraged racial discrimination.
  • Rebellion against authority: Rosa Parks, MLK Jr., and Malcolm X were all heros and rebels against the white establishment.
  • Personal rights: African-Americans demanded equal rights as human beings, and refused to allow their human dignity and rights to be violated any longer.
  • Oppression: Segregation was designed to oppress and control African Americans, and it worked for a time, but eventually it became unendurable and led to a form of uprising.

5) Woodstock (1969)


Ever heard of the Hippies? Woodstock was a music festival that represented hopes and dreams for a generation. Peace, love, rebellion, rock music, and a dark side.


  • Art’s relationship to society: The music and lyrics greatly affected the society of the era, calling attention to the mistake of the Vietnam War and the equality of all human beings.
  • Youth vs. elders: Woodstock was attended mainly by young men and women who wanted something “different” than the lives that their parents and authority figures were offering them.
  • Rebellion and risk-taking: Drugs, nudity, loud rock music, and escape from authority were all major themes of this massive music festival.
  • Idealism vs. pragmatism: Woodstock was essentially founded on ideals of youth, rebellion, and free thinking; however, because the festival organizers were perhaps not the most practical people, the festival was overrun by 10 times as many people as was expected.
  • Extra: Jimi Hendrix shredding “The Star-Spangled Banner” on electric guitar (considered one of the defining moments of Woodstock; Hendrix called attention to the corruption of the once-pure ideals of the United States by incorporating violent and agonizing sounds into the national anthem. The electric-guitar version of the old-school anthem was a clear sign of the times and the upcoming social changes.)

Want deeper analysis and more SAT Essay Evidence?

These five top historical examples for the SAT essay are at least enough to get you started on your SAT essay prep.

Ideally, you should have between 5 and 10 well-researched history and literature examples that you feel comfortable writing about, supported by quotations and specific evidence, before the day of the test.

Ready to get deeper into thematic analysis, supporting quotations, and broader selections of evidence? Check out my SAT Essay Examples Book with 30 more examples to use for any SAT essay topic!

Further Reading:
What is the SAT Essay?
Top 5 Literature Examples for the SAT Essay
The Top 10 Tips for Your SAT Essay
How to Write a Great 5-Paragraph Essay

Additional Resources:
Top 30 Examples to Use for SAT Essay Evidence (e-Book)
Write the Best SAT Essay of Your Life! (e-Book)
Conquer SAT Vocabulary (Video Course)

Be sure to join my free SAT mailing list before you go! I’ll send my Urgent Report on SAT Reading and other exclusive test prep content for subscribers only!

I'm a professional SAT tutor and 2400-scorer on the SAT. Also, a blogger, website author, textbook-writer, musician, teacher, traveler, and environmentalist :) I love to beat standardized tests with students, because I think it's ridiculous to judge the value of a human being based on an SAT score - it's just a number! I also write for and run an SAT prep website and blog at www.eSATPrepTips.com Stop by and check it out!

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