Ace the Writing on Standardized Tests

Ace the writing on standardized tests
Students CAN prepare for the standardized writing tests

Most high school juniors are thinking a lot about standardized tests as they get ready to take the SAT or ACT this spring.

Unfortunately, most have not prepared for these writing tests. While the standardized tests for writing are considered optional, students should check with the colleges on their lists because many schools require at least one writing component on a standardized test.

There’s no need to worry. We have some tips and resources to help students maximize standardized test scores and minimize stress by learning key writing skills that readers want to see on the SAT and ACT writing tests.

To start, consider that many students think big words will lead to a big score; that isn’t true. Using words that make a student uncomfortable on any standardized test can lead to miscommunication, and lower scores. Students who want to impress SAT or ACT readers need to express their ideas clearly.

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

Meanwhile, here are some tips to share with the Class of 2019.

SAT and ACT Do’s 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.

Written by Joe Kane, a Senior Writing Coach for Wow Writing Workshop. When he’s not coaching students on college essays, or SAT and ACT standardized test 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).