Writing a "good" essay on the SAT is different from writing a good essay in your English class. Even if you get a 100% on the multiple choice part of the Writing section, a mediocre essay can bring your score down about 50–70 points. Lucky for you, here is a guide to reach your optimum essay score.
First, know that you only have 25 minutes to write a "12" essay, and it can only be written on the lined paper given. Since it is mandated to use a #2 pencil on the test, be careful not to smudge your writing; if the grader has trouble reading your essay, he or she will not even bother grading it. Remember, these graders want to see you succeed, so help them help you.
Make an essay template that works for you and stick with it
Once you create a template that will always work for the essay, you won't have to waste time during the actual test to think about how to write your essay. Some people include two supporting paragraphs and some people include three, so it is really up to you. However, make sure those paragraphs are strong enough to support your argument. If you write three mediocre supporting paragraphs, the person who wrote two strong supporting paragraphs will still score higher than you. Remember, the more comfortable you are in writing the essay, the better you will most likely do.
Have a set list of examples you can choose from
Because essay prompts are similar, you can basically plan your essay before even seeing the prompt. Prompts tend to ask for your argument on individuality, success, heroes, and progress. The books you read in English class are almost always good choices for examples. List a few books you enjoyed reading and list all the themes found in a book. When you practice writing your essay using that specific example, notice if it is difficult to write about for that specific prompt. If it is, do not use the example when you come across a similar prompt.
Details are important
Finding an example that works is the easy part. Now you must extract important details from the example toward your argument. Try not to stray from what the prompt is asking you. Focus on how your example works to support your argument rather than why you chose this specific example. Three to five detailed sentences are ideal in supporting an example.
Cut what is unnecessary—you only have 25 minutes!
You do not need four sentences explaining the plot of the book you’re using as an example. Combine it all into one clean-cut sentence. Characters can be introduced in the topic sentence. Do not embellish your essay with superfluous SAT vocabulary words; they will seem out of place. I suggest taking 22 minutes to write your essay, and use the extra three minutes to proofread and make sure you have at least five SAT words in your essay.
Best of luck! For more on-on-one help acing the writing section, check out Testive’s SAT prep resources.
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When taking the ACT essay section, students have 45 minutes to write a well-reasoned argumentative essay about a given prompt. The new ACT Essay prompts tend to be about “debate” topics — two sides of an issue are presented, with no obviously “right” side. Oftentimes, these subjects carry implications for broader issues such as freedom or morality. Test-takers are expected to convey some stance on the issue and support their argument with relevant facts and analysis.
In addition to some of the more obvious categories, like grammar and structure, students’ essays are also evaluated on their mastery of the English language. One way to demonstrate such mastery is through the correct usage of advanced vocabulary words. Below are 50 above-average vocabulary words sorted by the contexts in which they could most easily be worked into an ACT essay.
Context 1: Factual Support For ACT Essay
These words can easily be used when stating facts and describing examples to support one’s argument. On ACT essays, common examples are trends or patterns of human behavior, current or past events, and large-scale laws or regulations.
- Antecedent – a precursor, or preceding event for something – N
- Bastion – an institution/place/person that strongly maintains particular principles, attitudes, or activities – N
- Bellwether – something that indicates a trend – N
- Burgeon – to begin to grow or increase rapidly – V
- Catalyst – an agent that provokes or triggers change – N
- Defunct – no longer in existence or functioning – Adj.
- Entrenched – characterized by something that is firmly established and difficult to change – Adj.
- Foster – to encourage the development of something – V
- Galvanize – to shock or excite someone into taking action – V
- Impetus – something that makes a process or activity happen or happen faster – N
- Inadvertent – accidental or unintentional – Adj.
- Incessant – never ending; continuing without pause – Adj.
- Inflame – to provoke or intensify strong feelings in someone – V
- Instill – to gradually but firmly establish an idea or attitude into a person’s mind – V
- Lucrative – having a large reward, monetary or otherwise – Adj.
- Myriad – countless or extremely large in number – Adj.
- Precipitate – to cause something to happen suddenly or unexpectedly – V
- Proponent – a person who advocates for something – N
- Resurgence – an increase or revival after a period of limited activity – N
- Revitalize – to give something new life and vitality – V
- Ubiquitous – characterized by being everywhere; widespread – Adj.
- Watershed – an event or period that marks a turning point – N
Context 2: Analysis
These words can often be used when describing common patterns between examples or casting some form of opinion or judgement.
- Anomaly – deviation from the norm – N
- Automaton – a mindless follower; someone who acts in a mechanical fashion – N
- Belie – to fail to give a true impression of something – V
- Cupidity – excessive greed – Adj.
- Debacle – a powerful failure; a fiasco – N
- Demagogue – a political leader or person who looks for support by appealing to prejudices instead of using rational arguments – N
- Deter – to discourage someone from doing something by making them doubt or fear the consequences – V
- Discredit – to harm the reputation or respect for someone – V
- Draconian – characterized by strict laws, rules and punishments – Adj.
- Duplicitous – deliberately deceitful in speech/behavior – Adj.
- Egregious – conspicuously bad; extremely evil; monstrous and outrageous – Adj.
- Exacerbate – to make a situation worse – V
- Ignominious – deserving or causing public disgrace or shame – Adj.
- Insidious – proceeding in a subtle way but with harmful effects – Adj.
- Myopic – short-sighted; not considering the long run – Adj.
- Pernicious – dangerous and harmful – Adj.
- Renegade – a person who betrays an organization, country, or set of principles – N
- Stigmatize – to describe or regard as worthy of disgrace or disapproval – V
- Superfluous – unnecessary – Adj.
- Venal – corrupt; susceptible to bribery – Adj.
- Virulent – extremely severe or harmful in its effects – Adj.
- Zealot – a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals – N
Context 3: Thesis and Argument
These words are appropriate for taking a stance on controversial topics, placing greater weight on one or the other end of the spectrum, usually touching on abstract concepts, and/or related to human nature or societal issues.
- Autonomy – independence or self governance; the right to make decisions for oneself – N
- Conundrum – a difficult problem with no easy solution – N
- Dichotomy – a division or contrast between two things that are presented as opposites or entirely different – N
- Disparity – a great difference between things – N
- Divisive – causing disagreement or hostility between people – Adj.
- Egalitarian – favoring social equality and equal rights – Adj.
Although it’s true that vocabulary is one of the lesser criteria by which students’ ACT essays are graded, the small boost it may give to a student’s score could be the difference between a good score and a great score. For those who are already confident in their ability to create and support a well-reasoned argument but still want to go the extra mile, having a few general-purpose, impressive-sounding vocabulary words up one’s sleeve is a great way to tack on even more points.
To learn more about the ACT test, check out these CollegeVine posts:
Angela is a student at Cornell College of Engineering. At CollegeVine, she works primarily as ACT Verbal Division Manager. She enjoys teaching a variety of subjects and helping students realize their dreams.