Essay Structure:The essay section of the ACT and SAT both prompt readers to analyze the supporting claims and persuasive rhetoric the author of a given reading passage (around 650-750 words) uses to form an argument. For those who have taken AP Language and Composition, it is almost identical in format. However, the SAT essay gives 50 minutes versus the 40 minutes for the ACT. Time management is essential, either way.
Resources:Maybe now is the time you’re wishing you’d paid attention in language arts class. SAT/ACT essays revolve around analyzing author's purpose, arguments, and technique, so reviewing those skills would be a good use of time. But have no fear, there are plenty of resources at your disposal. Many resources directed at AP Language classes will be especially helpful. In fact, if you have the opportunity, taking an AP Language class is highly recommended. It’s very rigorous, but it better prepares for writing essays in both high school and college, and your applications will thank you for it. Here are some AP Language and Composition specific resources that will help prepare for writing the essay: • College Board: English & Composition Web Guide
• AP English Notes: Rhetorical Terms
• PrepScholar: AP Language & Composition Terms
• Albert Blog: 15 Must Know Rhetorical Terms for AP English Literature
Writing the Essay:Reading the prompt before, then again after, you have read the passage will ensure you understand what you are writing about. Highlight the action word—analyze, consider, write—in the prompt, and be sure to answer it in your writing. Take the time to understand the prompt and the passage, but don’t linger on details. While it is important to understand what you are writing about, it is also important to get something down on paper. Next is the planning stage. Brainstorming may be the most important step of the entire essay, but it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes. This phase shouldn’t include anything more than words or phrases—maybe even a chart—that prompts a series of ideas. Remember, there isn’t time to write a rough draft or an outline. The basic format of an essay is an introduction with a solid thesis, two or three body paragraphs, and a conclusion with a strong concluding statement. The introduction should mention the title of the passage and author’s purpose, which will then lead to the thesis. Body paragraphs should work from broad ideas to specific details with supporting evidence. Conclusions are easiest when they effectively restate the introduction’s ideas and synthesize the points of the body paragraphs. It is recommended that students reserve some time for revising—scratching out misspelt words or unnecessary phrases, not rewriting entire sentences or paragraphs. However, in the 40 to 50-minute time span of the ACT/SAT essay, this isn’t a step that will make-or-break an essay. Grammar errors are to be expected, and even a few can pass within a perfect-scoring essay. It is much more important to spend effort writing effectively the first time. For help on how to write a thesis, check out these sites: • The Center for Writing Studies: Thesis Statement Writing Tips
• Purdue OWL: Online Writing Lab
General Writing Tips:• No rough draft! Keep brainstorming simple.
• Know how to cite documents, especially articles.
• Get up and move, walk around during the allotted breaks.
• Don’t write in first person (I, me, my); refrain from personal anecdotes since they take more time than they are usually worth.
• Same with second person (you, your).
• Refer to the author by their last name once they’ve been introduced.
• Take time to understand the prompt! Read the prompt both before and after reading the passage.
• Keep a log of general terms from language arts class. Finding rhetorical devices and elements like pathos, metaphors, anaphora, and parallelism that are good back-ups will help under the pressure of being timed. Learning how to write quickly and consistently for a standardized test may seem tedious now, but developing writing skills will quickly prove to be an asset. After all the college applications, scholarship essays, and resume-building, you’ll be glad you improved!