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Siddhartha at the SAT

The cover of Siddhartha | Photo from
The cover of “Siddhartha” | Photo from

Emily Cooper ’11
Business Manager

The cover of "Siddhartha" | Photo from

“Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse is a must-read while in high school. Not for its historical value, of learning about the founding of Buddhism, or its literary value, or even its educational value. Read Siddhartha because it has every possible theme in it that ever has been, and will be used on the SAT essay.

Being a number person myself, I dreaded the SAT essay section, questioning how I could possibly churn out a great piece of American literature on a clichéd topic in 25 minutes. That is until Siddhartha was assigned in English.

SAT essay question on overcoming adversity?

How about when Siddhartha sheds all material possessions and lives with the Ascetics?

Essay question on the value of friendship?

Use Siddhartha’s relationship with best friend, Govinda.

Essay question on how individuals learn about themselves?

Talk about Siddhartha not finding Nirvana while following the path of the Ascetics or Gotama, but having to discover it himself while studying the river.

Of course, if you haven’t read Siddhartha, none of the above will make sense, yet.

In addition to Siddhartha containing all of themes ever used on the SAT essay, referencing Siddhartha makes you sound highly intelligent

Imagine, referencing a scene from Siddhartha, a book chock full of symbolism and analysis, or the typical, “Romeo and Juliet’s death shows us that love should be taken slowly…”

So, unfortunately, even successfully using Siddhartha in your essay does not guarantee a perfect 12. Apparently, it’s very important to either reference a historical period or a personal experience.

Usually, a personal experience can be simpler as they can be embellished, changed or just altogether made up. Invented personal experiences are easier to connect to Siddhartha or literature. For example, “Like Siddhartha, who experienced adversity when he gave up all material goods, I too experienced challenges when my town lost power for a week due to a horrific storm and I had to live without many of the amenities I enjoy…” You can probably invent a better idea than that one but you get the idea.

But, even using and connecting both examples probably won’t earn you a 12. To achieve the 12, you need stylistic writing such as sentence length variation and descriptive adjectives.

So, by combining a literary and historical/personal example and fluent writing, you can earn a 12.

If, for some odd reason, you can’t connect Siddhartha (as unfortunately happened to me during my March SAT) try Lord of the Flies.

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