5 Keys to a Better SAT and ACT Essay

On the surface, the SAT and ACT essay prompts look remarkably different.


The SAT essay asks students to first read an article then write an analysis of how the author uses evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to persuade an audience. The ACT essay asks students to first consider three perspectives on a debatable topic then write about which perspective makes most sense to them while also addressing why the other perspectives don’t make sense.

Despite this seemingly vast difference, the path to a good essay score on both the SAT and the ACT is quite similar. 

To get a good essay score on either the SAT and the ACT, students must do all of the following:

1) Address the Prompt

If a student writes off topic, there is no way s/he can score well. Often students get caught up in the argument on the SAT and debate the author’s point instead of analyzing the author’s persuasiveness. To maximize your essay score, be sure you are answering the question.

2) Organize Your Thoughts

Logical structure on both the SAT and ACT is a major scoring category. For either essay, start with a thesis statement and then build paragraphs to support this thesis statement with evidence. Each paragraph must be a coherent argument that adds to the overall thesis statement. Finish with a strong conclusion that summarizes the main points. The old five-paragraph essay structure is not necessary but certainly offers an excellent way to organize your thoughts.

3) Vary Your Vocabulary

You don’t need to use fancy words, just the right ones. Use signposts to tell the reader where you are going with your argument. Phrases like “for example,” “nevertheless,” and “furthermore” are simple yet effective phrases that help your organization and demonstrate mastery of key writing structures. Throw in a couple more words from a good SAT/ACT vocabulary list and you should be in good shape.

4) Cite Evidence

Any strong argument is supported with evidence. The nice thing about the SAT is your evidence is from the passage. Cite specific examples of reasoning, facts, stylistic elements and other pieces of evidence the author uses to make your point stronger. ACT evidence can come from your studies, things you have read, movies you have seen, current events or even personal experiences. Evidence is the key to getting your point across to the reader.

5) Write More

Fill the pages not with huge handwriting but detailed and developed paragraphs. Essay graders won’t spend too much time reading everything you write but they will see how much you write. Assuming you can present a strong thesis, back that up with loads of evidence that show the reader you are prepared to write and write.

Both the SAT and ACT essay prompts present their own unique challenges. Nevertheless, as long as you address the prompt, present your arguments in a logical structure, vary your vocabulary, cite evidence and write as much as you can, you can achieve a high score on either test.

For more help in SAT and ACT prep, contact CROSSWALK today.

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CROSSWALK Test Prep & Tutoring: 831-70-TUTOR, mail@crosswalkeducation.com