Tag: ACT essay

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).

How to Prep for SAT and ACT Writing Tests

 

jed
Jed Applerouth

Guest Blog

By Jed Applerouth, PhD
CEO, Applerouth Tutoring Services

Students will need to flex their critical thinking and composition skills when they tackle the writing sections on both the SAT and ACT.  Last year, the SAT was completely redesigned, and the ACT made multiple updates. As a result, the essay sections for both tests are more rigorous than prior versions, however, these tests better reflect the kind of writing assignments students will typically face in college.

To succeed on either writing test, students need to get the basics right first. They need to understand the formats for the new essay prompts, and know what the graders will be looking for in a student’s response.

The SAT essay

The SAT essay writing exercise has been transformed from an opinion piece into an exercise in textual analysis and critical thinking; this is similar to exercises on certain AP exams. Students will be asked to read a short (600-700-word) persuasive passage and write an essay response that explains how the author develops and supports an argument.

It is irrelevant whether or not the student agrees with the author (the task of the old SAT essay); the student’s task on the new test is to articulate how the author uses evidence, rhetorical devices and structure to support a claim. Students will be evaluated on three measures:

  1. Reading of the provided text
  2. Analysis of the text
  3. Writing skills

To optimize their scores, students will need to:

  • Actively read the passage
  • Scour for evidence that supports the author’s main argument
  • Use quotes that demonstrate they understand the author’s argument
  • Write a structured, organized essay that stays on topic
  • Use smooth transitions between paragraphs
  • Have an introduction, body and conclusion
  • Use a variety of sentence structures
  • Skillfully use vocabulary
  • Write significantly longer essays

While longer essays typically generate higher scores, students will be evaluated on both the quality and the length of their essay. The College Board, which administers the SAT, has doubled the time (50 minutes!) allotted for the new essay, and will provide four pages (up from two) of paper to write.

The ACT essay

On the ACT’s revamped essay, students will get 40 minutes to analyze and respond to three distinct perspectives on a topic that concerns a broad, national issue. Students will be asked to:

  • Analyze and evaluate the three given perspectives
  • State and develop their own perspective
  • Explain why they agree or disagree with the perspectives given
  • Support their ideas with logical reasoning
  • Support their idea with detailed, persuasive examples

Essays will be evaluated using four metrics:

  1. Analysis
  2. Development and support
  3. Organization
  4. Language use

To generate higher scores, students must take their critical thinking up a level to identify the overarching themes across the three perspectives. For instance, do the perspectives address tension between change and tradition, or between the needs of an individual versus that of the collective?

Graders want students to critically evaluate the logic of the perspectives, and also to identify errors, assumptions, and potential pitfalls. Students need to organize their essay, use words properly, pay attention to grammar, transition smoothly between paragraphs and vary the sentence structure.

Is the essay optional?

Both the SAT and ACT have now moved their essays to the end of their tests; technically they are both optional. But many colleges require a writing test. It’s best for you to find out how a school uses the writing test in admissions before making the decision to not take it. We always encourage students to write the essay, even if they think their schools won’t require it. We’ve seen too many students discover after taking the test without the writing section that their new stretch schools require the essay. The additional time spent to stay for the essay can save a student unnecessary stress and headaches down the road.

The new SAT and ACT essays raise the bar for critical thinking and analysis, allowing students a chance to show off their thinking and writing skills. Students aiming for a highly competitive essay score would benefit from timed practice with the new forms and corrective feedback. This will help identify strengths and weaknesses early, allowing students to make adjustments and go into the official test ready to hit their optimal score.

 


Wow offers private coaching for the ACT and SAT writing tests. Each package is $350 and includes four 45-minute sessions with a Wow writing coach, spread over approximately four weeks. We can condense it into a shorter time frame if necessary to accommodate your child’s schedule. Between sessions, the student completes writing assignments that build on what they worked on during their last meeting. As a final assignment, the student writes a sample essay, which the coach will score using the official ACT or SAT rubric.