9 Tips to Master ACT/SAT Writing Tests

By Kim Lifton

Are you registered for the Jan. 25 SAT, or the Feb. 8 ACT? In either case, you should brush up on your essay writing skills before the test.Time management and focused practice can make or break the writing score. Wow’s ACT and SAT Writing Test Prep webinars can provide tips and extra practice – and also earn you a $5 Starbucks card! The next webinar, Ace the ACT Writing Test, is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 30, 9-10 pm ET or on-demand.

The SAT writing test is 25 minutes; the ACT is 30 minutes. For both tests, students will be asked to answer a prompt with an opinion you can support. Regardless of your personal experience or your viewpoint, you will be able to respond to the prompt.

It’s More Than a Writing Test!

The SAT/ACT essays are not just writing tests. Rather, they are thinking tests, designed to evaluate how quickly you can organize your thoughts and get a first draft down on paper. You need to follow the rules of written English, but the real challenge comes in using your time wisely and expressing your thoughts clearly.

Be clear, concise and direct. Write legibly, and write on every line. You will have space to write notes and organize your thoughts.

9 Tips to help you master the SAT/ACT writing tests:

  1. Know your audience: You will have two readers grading your essay, each on a scale of 1 – 6. You do not need to restate the prompt. Your audience has the prompt in front of them.
  2. Outline: Create a high-level outline for your essay. Write topic sentences and list examples. These are notes only. One of your points should be a counter-argument. The structure “While many believe X, some say Y” is perfectly acceptable.
  3. Introduction: Use a nice opening (e.g., a quote, anecdote or statement).  Remember you need a thesis – it should be the last sentence of your introduction. The thesis should support your position. There is no right or wrong response. It doesn’t matter which perspective you choose, as long as you can support your position.
  4. Body: Use specific examples, and introduce one example at a time. Start a new paragraph for each new example. Don’t forget to include your counter-argument.
  5. Focus: Your points should be distinct. There should be a reason for every word on the page. Don’t repeat yourself.
  6. State your views: There is 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 or space with unnecessary statements. Make every word count.
  7. Keep it simple: 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.
  8. Conclusion: Restate your thesis. Summarize your main points. You can wrap up with something clever or insightful, but don’t add new evidence.
  9. Plan: Remember to plan your essay, and leave time to proofread. When you’re done, your essay should sound like a coherent, concise, clear first draft.

Kim Lifton is president of Wow Writing Workshopone of the nation’s leading authorities on the college application essay, with inside access to admissions officers at top universities. Wow offers online and in-person services to teach high school students how to write college, ACT, SAT and scholarship essays that stand out. Read Kim’s blogs and get writing tips by signing up for Wow’s newsletter. Wow is on Facebook and Twitter.  Check Wow’s calendar for webinars, writing test and online college essay course information.

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