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Should I Take ACT/SAT Essay?

In this lesson, we’re going to provide some guidance for one of the most commonly-asked ACT/SAT questions: whether a student should take the ACT or SAT essay. The simple answer is “only if you need to.” The more complicated answer is that there are several factors to consider when deciding whether to take the ACT or SAT essay. The following questions will help you to decide if taking the essay section is right for you.


It’s important to note that both the ACT Writing and SAT Essay sections have changed within the last couple of years. In fact, the changes have been so drastic that Writing and Essay now require students to complete almost completely opposite objectives. If you are looking through our blog archive for help with Writing and/or Essay, make sure you are looking for entries for the new format and that you don’t assume tips for one of the essay sections automatically applies to the other.


Does my college or major recommend or require the essay?

This is the easiest question to answer. If the college you are applying to requires or even recommends that students take the essay, than you should absolutely take the essay. Similarly, if you plan to major in a field that demands clear, concise writing, such as communications, English, or journalism, then you should definitely take the essay. Finally, if you are undecided about the college you wish to attend, you should seriously consider taking the essay in case the school you do eventually decide on requires it.


Do my scholarships require the essay?

Once you determine whether your prospective schools require the essay, you need to ask yourself whether any scholarships you plan to apply for require either the ACT Writing or SAT Essay section. Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule for which types of scholarships require an essay, so you will need to explore this question on a scholarship-by-scholarship basis. Just as with college admissions, a scholarship might not require an ACT/SAT essay, might require a separate non-ACT/SAT essay, or might require both an ACT/SAT essay and a separate essay.


Can taking the essay hurt my admission chances?

Closely-related to the question of taking the essay is whether doing so can actually hurt a student’s chances of getting into the college of his or her choice. The short answer is only if the essay is required and you do poorly on it.


The longer answer depends on where you are with preparing for the rest of the ACT or SAT. If you are at or nearly at your target goal in the multiple choice sections, the experience of taking the essay can help you to prepare for the numerous essays that you will need to write throughout your college career. In addition, the score reports for ACT Writing and the SAT Essay can give you a rough idea of what aspects of writing you excel in and what aspects you need to improve in.


If, on the other hand, you are still working towards achieving your multiple choice target scores, preparing to take the essay can divert valuable time away from reaching those score. In other words, taking ACT Writing or the SAT Essay when you don’t need to can actually benefit you indirectly, but only when you are already prepared for the rest of the test.




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