The directions for the SAT essay will ask you to “support your position” with examples
“taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations. If you choose examples from your reading or studies you will write an “academic” essay. If you choose examples drawn from your experience or observations you will write a “personal” essay. Both styles are perfectly valid and both can produce double-digit scores. According to the College Board about half of all essays are personal and half are academic. The average score for both types of essays is a 7.2.
Historically, I have always taught students to be “switch hitters” who can skillfully write persuasive essays that use either compelling personal stories or forceful historic examples. Over the years I have found that some students are better at turning personal anecdotes into an essay while others prefer to write about historic figures. It is important to point out that each type of essay has its own specific style. For example, successful personal essays often begin with a quote, tell a story and then build to a thesis statement. In contrast, successful academic essays typically begin with a thesis statement followed by two or three examples and end with a restatement or conclusion.
Within the past year or so I have noticed that it is becoming increasingly difficult for personal essays to receive a 12. For example, one of my students wrote an exceptional October 2012 personal essay that received an 11. In contrast, a significant number of my students have written academic essays that have received 12s. As a result, I have focused more and more effort on developing materials to support academic essays.