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SAT Link of the Week: Balloon Man

Do you ever feel like an SAT prompt is pushing you in a certain direction?  Does it seem like the test makers want you to answer a certain way?  Maybe the examples that you chose seem to support the opposite viewpoint, and you do not know how to answer the question.  Take a look at these previously released essay questions:

1.        Can knowledge be a burden rather than a benefit?

2.       Should people take more responsibility for solving problems that affect their communities or the nation in general?

The first question essentially asks whether something is possible.  It would be very hard to argue that knowledge is never ever a burden to anyone.  It seems as if the correct response would be that knowledge can be a burden.  However, remember that the people who score your essay want to see evidence of critical thinking.  It takes no thought to have your answer dictated by the prompt.  If the examples that you researched seem to show that knowledge is a good thing, there is a very simple way to get around this prompt.  Your thesis could say something like, “Of course there are times when knowledge appears to be a burden, but history, literature, and current events demonstrate that it is still preferable to have knowledge than to be without it.”  Then you could use your examples to show that even if knowledge placed a burden on a specific individual, in the long-term that knowledge paid off.

The second question uses the loaded term “responsibility.”  People tend to believe that taking responsibility for solving a problem is a good thing while shirking responsibility is for the lazy and unethical.  It seems like you should answer that people ought to take responsibility for solving problems.  Problems need to be solved, right?  However, maybe your examples show that things are accomplished when people work together.  Maybe depending on individuals is a bad idea because an individual has less power than a group.  Or maybe people need to listen to those in authority or allow those with more experience to at least have a chance of fixing a problem before jumping in with a lot of half-baked ideas.  You could easily answer the question by writing a thesis that says, “While encouraging people to take responsibility for society’s problems may seem like a good idea, history, literature, and current events show that a single person is less effective than an institution in creating lasting change.”  Or you might say, “History, literature, and current events show that the problems of an entire society are often too large to be comprehended by an individual.  When an individual believes that he has helped society by taking responsibility for events beyond his control, the actions of this person often have unintended consequences.”

Remember, there is never a “right” answer to an SAT essay prompt.

Exercise your ability to think critically by finding a way to use this article about a man’s aborted attempt to cross the Atlantic while suspended from balloons.  Look at how you could use the article for both prompts.  Will the knowledge that this man failed burden him even after he attempted something unique?  Or was the knowledge of his own ability essential to saving his life?  This may not be the best example for the second prompt, because the only problem that the man is trying to solve is how to get across the ocean using balloons, but think about the story in terms of responsibility.  Is this the independent spirit that brings new discoveries and inspires others to fight for their dreams?  Or is this evidence that people who overstep their reach endanger themselves and create additional problems for society?