Today I will discuss an advanced essay structure that is not often taught, and is in fact often discouraged by English teachers and SAT teachers alike.

Contrary to what many people believe, taking two sides of a thesis IS an acceptable approach in an essay. For many SAT prompts, there is no “right” answer, and arguing for one side opinionatedly can often make the essay degenerate into dogma.

So what is this two-sided thesis that students have been discouraged from writing?

In a two-sided thesis, the writer argues that both sides could be true, depending on the context. It approaches the essay prompt in a shade of grey, rather than viewing it as black and white, one side is wrong and the other is right.

Let’s use the sample prompt:

Are people more likely to achieve their goals by being flexible or by refusing to compromise?

I think you can easily think of instances where being flexible is favorable, and other instances where refusing to compromise was the correct approach. So think more deeply about the question. What kinds of situations favor flexibility and adaptability? And in what kinds of situations is stubbornness and uncompromising a better strategy?

These are what I came up with:

Flexibility better when:

The original strategy we used is clearly at a high probability of not being successful.

Uncompromising better when:

The goal we’re trying to reach requires long period of time investment and patience, during which people will be tempted to give up and try new approaches.

Perhaps you can’t put your finger on a deeper insight. That’s fine. You can just argue the points with specific examples, one for each side.

Let’s look at a skeleton of what that might look like in our essay. (Note, this is very vague and general, and should not be a model for good writing, which is specific and concrete).

The situation of Example 1 proves flexibility is better. In Example 1, the original approach was clearly not working because of reason X. No amount of stubborn persistence would have paid off because of some unbreakable physical/chemical/psychological law. It was not until they decided to be flexible in their approach that they achieved a breakthrough.

The situation of Example 2 shows that being uncompromising with one method can be the only viable approach. In Example 2, achieving the goal required time and patience, no matter what the approach tried was. Changing strategies midway towards the goal would have been counterproductive as the progress clock would have been effectively reset.

So, a two-sided thesis essay is the same as any other essay. You express your point of view, then develop it with examples. This approach allows for more nuanced thinking into the prompt question, giving the writer greater reign to express interesting insights and logical reasoning. Readers will also enjoy reading these intellectually stimulating essays which don’t take the same one-sided approach 90% of essays seem to do.