While you can shred the entire Webster’s Dictionary and pour it into your brain, stay up five days straight to master the gymnastics of advanced algebra, and teach yourself how to cheat your way to the right answer on the reading passages of the SAT or ACT, learning to write an essay is a tricky challenge. What exactly do “trained high school and college teachers” expect to read when they peak into your essay (excerpt taken from SAT website)? There isn’t a formula to please these professors, but there are a few strategies to ensure your essay will help you boost your SAT or ACT score.
Even if you are taking the SAT or ACT, you will be restricted on the time it will take you to write your essay. Keep in mind you will have 25 minutes to write an SAT essay while the ACT essay gives you a generous 40 minutes. Do not let the time intimidate you — you will be able to write the essay in that given time. To ensure you won’t get caught up in confusion half way into the essay, you should take minute and a half of your time (at most) to outline your essay after reading the prompt. Take a stance on the question and then come up with your reasoning and/or examples. Make sure you trust yourself expanding on these points throughout the essay because less time feeling confused will walk you through the time you have.
What the Score Takers Want to Read:
Chances are you have probably amassed 300 new words you have misused in your essay, 20 new words you can barely pronounce, and 10 new words that sound normal enough to use in every day conversations; which one of these words do your readers want to read? In reality, these “professionals” want to read something that isn’t formulaic or stoic; they want to read an essay that breathes fresh air. Using sophisticated words is not the only way to impress your readers: it would be a good idea to experiment with sentence structure, emitting certain words all together (eg. very, so, like, etc.), focusing on using descriptive language rather than simply explaining something, and it also wouldn’t hurt to get rid of conjunctions (spell words out, such as do not and will not).
This is a good website to help with sentence structure and other grammar tools.
What Breaks an Essay
While we are on the topic of avoiding formulaic strategies, I would also advise you to avoid writing the traditional 5-paragraph essay. Most essay prompts are direct and can be easily answered in less than a few paragraphs. It is possible to answer a question in less than four paragraphs (which includes the conclusion) and earning a passing grade. Just make sure the first paragraph restates the prompt and answers the question before you continue your elaboration. If you know that you answered the question in three paragraphs with impressive descriptive or argumentative details, leave your essay alone because there is no point in filling your essay with fluff when you have already finished.
If you are advised to take a stance on a certain topic, try to choose the side you can best argue. Most teachers would tell you to agree with the prompt, but it is more effective to let yourself elaborate your thoughts and earn the best grade. This does not mean you need to rant in your essay. While expressing emotion is okay, it is not acceptable in essays. Your essay is not a Facebook post, so do not use it as a soap box, your readers do not care about your personal political or social opinion, and will most likely get annoyed if you try to write a speech in your essay.
Last Minute Advice
Do not stress! Every element of test taking does not have to be perfect on the first try! It’s okay to mess up so long as you know you can always improve and try again. Just relax and trust yourself!