Standardized Test Preparation: Essay Writing on the SAT or ACT

Posted by College Corner on 2/15/13, 9:33 AM

SAT tutoringNow that the standardized tests are increasingly adding writing section to the exam, some students may feel nervous at the thoughts of writing a complete essay in 25 minutes!

As you complete your standardized test preparation, you've probably noticed that timing/pacing/strategy are key to every section of the test. Essays are no different.

Here's the thing: you can plan some examples ahead of time so that when the test begins, you are primed with content and just need to tailor it to the essay's prompt! Why?

Well, to be frank, the test graders are not looking for a creative or sophisticated piece of writing. Rather, they are looking for a clearly organized, concise essay. Your writing for the test should be formulaic, i.e. do not take any risks. I know, from the mouth of an academic tutor, this is shocking, but true. 

Your goal is to write a structured 4-paragraph essay:

  • an introduction
  • two body paragraphs (with examples that directly support your thesis)
  • a conclusion

Any test prep tutor will tell you that you should have a clear, timed plan in your head before beginning so that every minute is used effectively. 

Take a look at these suggested steps:

2 minutes: You should already have a couple all-purpose examples ready. Think about how you can tie these to the essay prompt and produce a thesis statement.

5 minutes: Outline the essay with a thesis and bullet out topic sentences for each paragraph.

4 minutes: Write the introduction. Make sure your thesis is clearly stated!

4 minutes: Write body paragraph #1

4 minutes: Write Body paragraph #2

4 minutes: Write the conclusion. Remember to circle back to your original thesis.

2 minutes: Read over the essay. Does it provide a clear argument? Is your thought process clear? 

This may feel like a lot if you're learning about SAT essay strategy for the first time. Like with all test prep, writing so formulaically will become easier with practice.

By the end of your SAT tutoring or ACT test prep, these steps should become pretty automatic when you are presented with a prompt.

Now, practice, practice, practice...That's the key!

Tags: ACT, SAT, expository writing