Better Than Flashcards: Score More Points on the SAT and ACT Essays

By Joe Kane
Senior Writing Coach
Wow Writing Workshop

Is your child ready to take the SAT or ACT this fall? Are they worried about the writing tests?

Many students think big words will lead to a big score, but that isn’t true. Using words that make a student uncomfortable can lead to miscommunication. If your students want to impress SAT readers, they will need to express their ideas clearly.

We can show them some strategies for writing in a way that’s clear and easy to understand. A few simple exercises will build confidence on test day. Learn more.

Meanwhile, here are some tips you can share with your kids.

SAT and ACT Dos and Don’ts

Do

  • Use a thesis. On the SAT, the last sentence or two of your first paragraph should make a claim about how effective the sample argument is. Did you find it convincing? Do you think it will convince other people? On the ACT, your thesis should clearly state your perspective on the topic and indicate how your perspective relates to the samples you read.
  • Use specific examples. One example at a time.
  • Reference specific ideas in the sample argument. Use paraphrase and direct quotes to point out especially significant ideas in the sample argument and respond directly to those ideas.
  • Restate your thesis. Summarize your main points. You can wrap up with something clever or insightful, but don’t add new evidence.
  • Leave time to edit. Readers know that this is a first draft, but saving five minutes to reread and revise your work is an essential part of putting your best foot forward.

Don’t

  • You do not need to restate the prompt. Your audience has the prompt in front of them.
  • Don’t repeat yourself. Your points should be distinct. There should be a reason for every word on the page.
  • No need to say, “I think,” “I believe,” “In my opinion,” etc. Just make your point. Your reader knows that your essay is written from your point of view. This is not to say you can’t include personal anecdotes. First person is acceptable, just don’t waste time/space with unnecessary statements.
  • This is not the place for grammatical experimentation. If you know how to use a semicolon, then go for it. If you’re not sure, don’t try it here.
  • You don’t need to pack your essay with big words to sounds smart. Words that seem like synonyms often have subtle differences in meaning, so only use words that you are completely comfortable with. Clearly communicating your ideas is much more impressive than using elevated language.

Joe Kane is a Senior Writing Coach for Wow Writing Workshop. When he’s not coaching students on college essays, or SAT and ACT writing prep, he can be found running creative writing workshops for youth in the Nashville area (and reading his own poems on the local NPR affiliate station).