ACT writing & SAT Essay Requirements

Although many colleges have abandoned the ACT Writing or SAT Essay requirement, the College Board still encourages students to incorporate essay writing into their test prep. Skipping the essay might leave you rushing to fit in an additional test date if you decide to apply for a different college, and some colleges that require an SAT/ACT Essay will not superscore test dates without the essay. 

It's unlikely that your ACT or SAT Essay score will negatively affect your college application, and most students reach the 25th–75th percentile with minimal practice. Whether you've never written an ACT/SAT Essay or you didn't reach the score you wanted on your last test, here's what you need to know to improve your score. 

SAT Essay Requirements

For the SAT Essay, students are given 50 minutes to read a 650-750 word passage, analyze the structure of the author's argument, and write an essay.

Your SAT Essay should start with a clear argument, or thesis, that the reader can easily identify. The thesis should convey the main idea of the passage and list the methods the author uses to support their argument. It's acceptable to copy exact words from the passage directly into your thesis statement—in fact, this strategy can help guarantee that the reader will identify your thesis.

Writing an introduction and conclusion paragraph in your SAT essay is essential to scoring above a 4 (out of 8). The introduction tells the reader what you'll be talking about and allows you to set the tone and structure for the rest of your essay. It's best to include both an introduction and conclusion, but if you're running short on time, opt for the introduction

Because you only have 50 minutes to read the passage and write the essay, avoid using outside knowledge and focus on a few relevant key points. All of the necessary information can be found in the passage, so avoid going into depth about the topic and only use concrete evidence from the passage.

ACT Writing Requirements

For the writing portion of the ACT, students are given 40 minutes to complete their essays. Under the scoring rubric, a perfect essay should include ”an argument that critically engages with multiple perspectives on the given issue,” which ”employs an insightful context for analysis of the issue and its perspectives.” In other words, you'll need to answer the question in the prompt, clearly convey your perspective, and analyze how your perspective relates to at least one alternative perspective. 

The Ideas and Analysis portion of the rubric is the hardest to master, and you'll need to show that you understand multiple perspectives on the issue. You can accomplish this by discussing different sides of the issue, why people might hold these opinions, and whether the opinions are logical. However, it's important to fully explain every argument you make—if you don't have time to explain it in a few sentences, leave it out of the essay.

Scoring high on the ACT also requires skillful organization and language use. Basically, you'll need to devote one or two paragraphs to each idea. Clear transitions can contribute to your argument and tie your points to each other. To score high on Language Use, try using different sentence structures or adding in more advanced vocabulary.

According to the SAT and ACT prep tutors at Zinc Educational Services, a New York City-based tutoring and test prep company, taking practice tests can help rewire your brain to help you score higher on test day. If you're stuck in a rut with your essay test prep, working with experienced tutors can help you boost your test scores in as little as two weeks. Whether you're taking in-person SAT prep classes, an online course, or studying on your own, it's important to remember that practice makes perfect.

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