The Good Essay

Things to do…

  1. use FOCS: Focus, Organization, Conventions, Support
  2. nail down what the prompt is asking
  3. lay out a game plan or outline that homes in on the prompt
  4. include support or examples
  5. make sure your writing isn't straying from the prompt
  6. write as long as you can
  7. use vocabulary words that aren't "elementary school"

Example Essay

Suppose this prompt was given (notice it's typical of SAT types of prompts—it is broad and philosophical in nature):

The concept of "success" is usually highly valued. How should success be defined and measured?

Most, if not all, societies place value on success. "Most Likely to Succeed" is a normal superlative awarded to American high school seniors each year to the person who is, well, most likely to succeed. Success, is a very subjective concept, however - one man's success is another man's failure. What's more, different societies measure success in different ways. The measurement of success is also ambiguous. It could be the sum total of one's life or simply a series of goals completed in succession. Success might be a person's overall happiness. In the end, in becomes clear that, although shaped by societal norms, success must be weighed and evaluated by the individual him or herself.

Success can be a difficult concept to pin down. Is it an accumulation of money? Of power? Of respect? Few people would argue that a business executive with a corner office and six-figure salary as being unsuccessful. So, money must play a part of success. A wise and caring priest, with meager earnings, no home of his own, but a congregation of adoring parishioners must also be successful. This priest's success is based on characteristics such as the respect of others, his experiences in life, advice and counseling that he gives, or empathy to a grieving widow. So, qualities less tangible than something like a corner office or money must also be a part of success.

Success normally is interpreted as reaching the high peak of the mountain, so to speak. But, what if a person reaches a peak, yet simply a lower peak. A hiker who just finished climbing a 12,000 foot mountain would certainly not be discouraged at her accomplishment simply because there is also a 14,000 foot mountain in the range. As and example, suppose a mentally handicapped person sets the goal of gaining and retaining a job. The person links with a training agency, works through the training process, meets and interviews with potential employers. After several tries, he finally is awarded a job at a local grocery store. The manager is aware of the person's handicap, but also is aware of his determination and is willing to give him a week's trial. The job is at minimum wage doing nothing more than retrieving the grocery carts from the parking lot. After the week's end, the manager is very pleased. The worker was prompt, neat, friendly, and efficient at solving a constant problem for the store—carts constantly littering the parking lot. The man is awarded a full time job. In this example, despite the "lowly" job, few would argue with this man's success. Success, then must also entail two more aspects: first, setting a goal (no matter how small) and achieving that goal yields success, and secondly, success is not only how high one soars, but fulfilling one's potential.

Many define success as whether a person has achieved happiness. This is a viable definition - what more can a person want?! For example, a husband, wife with steady and satisfying jobs, healthy and well-adjusted children, a common but safe house, and a labrador retriever in the backyard, all add up to a happy and successful family. This is the American Dream. But, things are simply not that simple. A Fortune 500 CEO with apparently everything going her way may suffer from depression. Though unhappy, almost no one would say she was unsuccessful. Or the other way, a panhandler who is so happy that he sings to the nearby pigeons would get few "highly successful" votes.

To further confound any definition of success, different societies view success in different terms. In America, the dollar sign is unavoidable in terms of success. A doctor is successful, Donald Trump is successful, reality TV stars who may have no real talent but who live paparazzi lifestyles are deemed successful. There are of course non-examples in America. For instance, an altruistic woman who commits her life work to creating, funding, and administering a homeless shelter in a poor neighborhood would be successful, though likely rather poor herself. Or, a district attorney who turns down a lucrative offer to join an elite private law firm because she is driven to prosecute criminals by staying with the DA office. Though less rich, she is successful none-the-less. Still, these examples are not the norm in America. The idea of the "American Dream" has material wealth embedded into it.

Other cultures or societies may or may not agree with America's version of success. Asian countries likely would agree with America's viewpoint, or event take things a step further. Other areas of the world might place less value on the material components of success. The Caribbean islands' laid back and easy-going lifestyle certainly doesn't jive with America's view of success. And, many eastern cultures seem almost to not value wealth. For instance, a Buddhist monk would never be caught amassing a nest-egg. To do so would go against his belief system of simplicity. Still, a happy Jamaican reggae singer or a Buddhist monk would likely be considered successful by most looking on, and by themselves.

In the final analysis, a person must judge his or her own success. Money, respect, achieving goals, family, happiness are all common values that contribute to success. Although society and culture will indeed frame a person's viewpoint, each individual must weight his or her own values to determine a measure of success.

Why this essay is good

Remember FOCS? Focus, Organization, Conventions, Support

  1. It's focused on the prompt: define success and how is it measured. Both of these were addressed.
  2. It's logically organized.
    • There is an introduction that outlines the main topics: success is subjective to each person, societies view it differently, it could be the sum of all or one goal, and finally it comes down to the individual.
    • There is a body which expands on each of the items introduced.
    • There is a conclusion. Notice the transitional device, "In the final analysis…" This cues the reader that the essay is wrapping up.
  3. The writer uses conventions correctly - he has a command of English. there are few, if any, spelling, grammar, etc. errors. Also, he can vary sentence types and structures.
  4. It uses lots of examples to support a point. Notice how frequently you read, "For example…" or "For instance…"
  5. It's long. It would be hard to write more in the somewhat short time given on an SAT or ACT exam.
  6. When appropriate, it doesn't use "elementary school" words. Examples: "ambiguous" instead of "unclear", "parishioners" instead of "people", "amassing" instead of "making."

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