Apr 13, 2016 at 10:52 PM

Strategies for New SAT, ACT Writing Tests

How to Prep for New SAT, ACT Writing Tests

To succeed on either writing test, students need to get the basics right first. They need to understand the formats for the new essay prompts, and know what the graders will be looking for in a student’s response.

The SAT essay

The SAT essay writing exercise has been transformed from an opinion piece into an exercise in textual analysis and critical thinking; this is similar to exercises on certain AP exams. Students will be asked to read a short (600-700-word) persuasive passage and write an essay response that explains how the author develops and supports an argument.

It is irrelevant whether or not the student agrees with the author (the task of the old SAT essay); the student’s task on the new test is to articulate how the author uses evidence, rhetorical devices and structure to support a claim. Students will be evaluated on three measures:

  • Reading of the provided text
  • Analysis of the text
  • Writing skills

To optimize their scores, students will need to:

  • Actively read the passage
  • Scour for evidence that supports the author’s main argument
  • Use quotes that demonstrate they understand the author’s argument
  • Write a structured, organized essay that stays on topic
  • Use smooth transitions between paragraphs
  • Have an introduction, body and conclusion
  • Use a variety of sentence structures
  • Skillfully use vocabulary
  • Write significantly longer essays

While longer essays typically generate higher scores, students will be evaluated on both the quality and the length of their essay. The College Board, which administers the SAT, has doubled the time (50 minutes!) allotted for the new essay, and will provide four pages (up from two) of paper to write.

The ACT essay

On the ACT’s revamped essay, students will get 40 minutes to analyze and respond to three distinct perspectives on a topic that concerns a broad, national issue. Students will be asked to:

  • Analyze and evaluate the three given perspectives
  • State and develop their own perspective
  • Explain why they agree or disagree with the perspectives given
  • Support their ideas with logical reasoning
  • Support their idea with detailed, persuasive examples

Essays will be evaluated using four metrics:

  • Analysis
  • Development and support
  • Organization
  • Language use

To generate higher scores, students must take their critical thinking up a level to identify the overarching themes across the three perspectives. For instance, do the perspectives address tension between change and tradition, or between the needs of an individual versus that of the collective?

Graders want students to critically evaluate the logic of the perspectives, and also to identify errors, assumptions, and potential pitfalls. Students need to organize their essay, use words properly, pay attention to grammar, transition smoothly between paragraphs and vary the sentence structure.

Is the essay optional?

Both the SAT and ACT have now moved their essays to the end of their tests and made them optional. But some colleges might require a writing test. It’s best for you to find out how a school uses the writing test in admissions before making the decision to not take it. We always encourage students to write the essay, even if they think their schools won’t require it. We’ve seen too many students discover after taking the test without the writing section that their new stretch schools require the essay. The additional time spent to stay for the essay can save a student unnecessary stress and headaches down the road.

The new SAT and ACT essays raise the bar for critical thinking and analysis, allowing students a chance to show off their thinking and writing skills. Students aiming for a highly competitive essay score would benefit from timed practice with the new forms and corrective feedback. This will help identify strengths and weaknesses early, allowing students to make adjustments and go into the official test ready to hit their optimal score.

Jed Applerouth is the founder and CEO of Applerouth Tutoring Services, an education services company with offices in major metropolitan areas across the country. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Georgia State University, Jed is a Nationally Certified Counselor with a PhD in Educational Psychology. Since 2001, Jed and his team of educators have helped thousands of students across the country optimize their scores on the SAT, ACT, and other admissions tests.

Posted in Standardized Testing, College-bound Seniors.