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Adding Details to ACT and SAT Essay Examples

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The ACT Writing and SAT Essay sections favor concrete, detailed examples over ones that are vague and hypothetical. One of the easiest ways to flesh out an otherwise sparse example is to pack it with as many details as you can come up with. Today we’re going to demonstrate how to do exactly that. Just like the examples themselves, the details that you add don’t have to be true. What’s important is that they sound true.

Below is an example I made up on the topic of “overcoming adversity.” It tells the (fictional) story of a friend whose father passed away suddenly:

I have seen the value of persevering in the face of adversity demonstrated in the life of my best friend. His father passed away very suddenly. Although it was difficult, my friend pressed on through the difficult times and didn’t let the tragedy define his life. As a result, my friend is doing better than he ever has before.

This is a good start, but it needs more details. It doesn’t tell us how the father passed away or how old my friend was when it happened. Likewise, it doesn’t describe my friend’s process of overcoming the tragedy or specify in what ways he is “doing better.” In the next paragraph I’ve added these details in. None of them are particularly unique or original, but they help to add a sense of authenticity to the example:

I have seen the value of persevering in the face of adversity demonstrated in the life of my best friend. When we were in middle school, his father was hit by a drunk driver and passed away shortly thereafter. After mourning for several months, my friend decided to do everything he could to honor his father’s memory. My friend’s father had always wished that my friend would take school more seriously, so he pushed himself to study, eventually raising his grades from a C to an A average. My friend also began to speak out on social issues, especially on the dangers of drunk driving, just as his father had done when he was still alive. My friend’s journey was not always easy. Sometimes it was a struggle just for him to get out of bed in the morning. However, his perseverance eventually paid off. His dedication to academics and advocacy earned him a full scholarship to one of the most prestigious universities in the South.

Now the story of how my friend overcame his father’s passing is much more developed. Not only does it come across as more genuine, the paragraph itself has doubled in length. Before revisions, this example was representative of an essay that would earn a 3 or 4 on the ACT or SAT. With these added details, it becomes the kind of example that you would find on a 5 or 6 level essay.

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