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Three Things You Should Do on ACT Writing and the SAT Essay

Marcy J.

Recently, we covered three common mistakes on ACT Writing and the SAT Essay that every student should avoid. Today, we’re going to take a more positive approach. Here are three things that you should do when writing an essay for either the ACT or the SAT.


Take the Direct Approach

In our “three things to avoid” lesson, we cautioned against beginning sentences with long dependent clauses. Instead, we recommended that you begin sentences with the subject and the verb and figure out the rest as you write.


You can apply this same principle of directness to all aspects of writing on the ACT and SAT. For example, “John Smith, a veteran high school principle,” can be rewritten as “veteran high school principle John Smith.” The meaning remains the same, but moving Smith’s “title” to before his name turns a nonrestrictive clause into a restrictive one.


Use Precisely the Right Words

Precise, controlled word choice is much more effective than using high level vocabulary for its own sake. If a word exists that exactly describes a particular action, use that word. To give an obvious example, you wouldn’t say “Suzie moved her eyes over the contents of chapter four and converted the words into ideas in her head.” You would just say “Suzie read chapter four.”


Similarly, an extreme emotion should be described with a word that refers to that exact state of mind. Instead of writing “Ron is very, very mad,” you should write that “Ron is absolutely furious” or just “Ron is furious.”


Take Your Essay Template Further

You have a very limited amount of time to accomplish the tasks that ACT Writing and the SAT Essay ask of you. In our “three things to avoid” lesson, we advocated using the classic five paragraph essay structure to consistently crank out high quality ACT and SAT essays.


While this is a good start, you can take this “essay template” approach to the ACT and SAT even further. ACT Writing prompts and SAT essay articles differ, but the grading rubric and expectations for a high-scoring essay remain exactly the same regardless of the prompt/article.


For instance, any ACT Writing essay that you write will probably have two points in favor of your thesis and one counter-example, so “map out” the structure of these paragraphs ahead of time.  Likewise, there are only so many ways that an author can make his or her case in the article you must respond to on the SAT Essay. Break down how authors use facts, reasoning, appeals to emotion, and other common persuasive elements until you have a go-to “template” for analyzing each one.



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