In the set of thesis sentence examples below, there’s one that’s doesn’t actually answer the question. Can you spot it?
SAT essay prompt: Is financial wealth necessary for happiness?
Thesis #1: Anybody who lives in poverty can confirm that without money, we can’t lead the lives we want to.
Thesis #2: While many say that money can’t buy happiness, the truth is far more complicated, and money does in fact play a vital role in our general life satisfaction.
Thesis #3: By looking at cases like lottery winners, celebrities, and business tycoons, it’s pretty clear that money doesn’t always bring the bliss we might expect it to.
Thesis #4: We’d be wise to examine the lives of spiritual figures both historical and mythical, which are often spent in poverty but are clearly fulfilling, regardless.
Analysis: Does it answer the question? Is it relevant?
It’s not easy to find the problem here, so don’t lose confidence if they all look pretty good. Instead, rephrase the question and look again. Can you be happy without money? After that, take out any examples that are introduced to make the thesis a little simpler. Those details are just fine to include in your SAT essay thesis, but when checking relevance, they’re just clutter.
Then, rephrase the sentences to get at their most basic meanings. Here they are again, without the example clutter and using simpler vocabulary and phrasing.
1) Without money, we can’t live how we want to.
2) Money is vital for satisfaction.
3) Sometimes money doesn’t make us happy.
4) Some people have been fulfilled without money.
The problem should be a little bit clearer, now. Thesis 2 is a pretty clear rephrasing of the question, and is just fine. Number 1 uses negatives to make the same argument as thesis 2. Number 4 makes the opposite argument (which is perfectly valid) by providing cases when thesis 2 was not true, so that also answers the question. Thesis number 3, though, doesn’t give a yes or no answer. The question was whether happy people must have money, not if rich people must be happy.
The importance of thesis relevance
The truth is that there are more immediate factors in how your SAT essay gets graded. Since this kind of problem can be pretty subtle, there’s a chance that the essay grader won’t even notice it, at least not at first. But it tends to snowball; an irrelevant thesis leads to irrelevant examples, and suddenly your essay that should be about the importance of money is instead about how Lindsay Lohan is going to die an early death.
And then, even if your vocabulary is polished, your grammar is rock-solid, and you’ve used up the whole front and back of a paper, you’re going to get around an 8 or 10 out of 12 at best.
And if those language skills are lacking as well as the thesis being irrelevant? Well, you can see where that might lead.
Always read the question twice and make sure your answer to it is logical so you don’t get off track.
About Lucas Fink
Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.
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The Dalai Lama says the purpose in life is to seek happiness.
If we are unhappy, then we should rearrange our lives so that we are on the path toward happiness, he says.
The concept seems simple enough. Even toddlers understand happiness. I think that often times, they understand the term more than adults do because a child experiences emotions on a purer level.
A child knows happiness, sadness, hunger, joy, maybe even fear before he/she develops a language to identify it. Experience, movies, television, news, friends, school, family, pets and millions of ideas enter our memory banks and convolute simplicity.
We become bound by language. Our ideas and thoughts are limited by what words we can frame. Culture and societal norms affect us, influencing conformity or non-conformity. We find that in order to live comfortably in this fast-paced, technologically globalized world, we must keep up with the ones coming up with the ideas. Then we must fight to maintain our place in society.
A brilliant idea one year is worthless the next. As a result, stability suffers, but efficiency enhances. It’s because of the idea that we advance, not the resource. Next, we forget what happiness really is. We come to a collective idea that happiness is this or that. It’s what T.V. tells us. And we find ourselves trying to emulate the Kardashians; or we accept our lives for what they are and try to maintain as best as we can. We confuse change with instability, two separate concepts. We work toward goals that answer the question “what makes us money,” forgetting to ask ourselves “what makes us happy?” We forget what happiness is.
What is happiness? I often think of The Dalai Lama’s thesis statement from his book “The Art of Happiness,” and wonder exactly what happiness is?
For everyone, happiness is different. My happiness is not your happiness. Your truth is not my truth. Presently, I still can’t identify what my happiness is to adjust my path toward it.
I would love to rearrange my life, but there’s no clear direction where I’m headed. I can’t say that if I get a car and a house, I will be happy. I cannot say that material wealth leads to contentment. There’s a serious problem with society that most of us seek exactly that because we think it leads to happiness. I think it leads to greed, narcissism, insecurity, etc. I could be wrong, though. I’ve never been rich, so I’ll let you know where it led me if I do.
What I can guess, however, is that regardless of our ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel (excuse the cliché), we must keep moving. We must remain positive. We must realize that the only physical certainty is death and that if we look hard enough, we will find something before me meet that certainty.
You may ask, what if I don’t find happiness and all of that time is wasted? Think about if you didn’t do anything. The chances of finding happiness in an apathetic or indifferent state is far less than if you were active about it. Imagine entering a contest and losing or winning. If you don’t enter at all, you won’t lose, but you surely won’t win either. You’ll just be where you were the day before.
When Lama Tenzin Dhonden, the Dalai Lama’s peace emissary, came to speak at my school, I asked him what happiness is. Before I could obtain it, I had to know what I was obtaining.
“Do you know what it feels like when you’re unhappy?” he said.
I said yes, and he told me that was a good start. The fact that I asked that question means that I have examined my mind, he said.
I have thought of my question a lot since then and I still don’t know where my happiness lies. But I have taken action and believe that I’m on a good path to discovering it, regardless of whether I can see the end result. For the record, I can’t. There’s no certainty except for death, remember?