ACT and SAT Essay Writing Guides

While preparing for the SAT/ACT it’s important to know all parts of the exams well and to prepare for them effectively. While many schools do not require the essay portion, the schools that do really take it into consideration. Many students will avoid this entire section of the exam if their top schools do not require the essay portion but many of these schools do recommend students submit the essay. So not participating in this section of the exam might not be ideal for all.

Additionally, each essay will require the student to look at exams in different ways and analyze text and ideas differently. The best part is that there is a practical way to approach the essay part for both exams. Let’s dive deep into the essay requirements for both tests and create a clear but concise guideline for you to be able to use when taking either exam.


The Essay

The SAT requires you to understand what is being asked of you. The exam will give you a text during the essay portion and require you to write a logical analysis of an argument. Basically, what this means is that you will explain the author’s persuasiveness and his/her style choices throughout the text. Note that the guidelines for the essay do not require you to have any sort of opinion or prior knowledge of the topic covered by the text.

Below is the grading scale that the SAT graders use when reading your essay. There is a total score ranging from 3-12 points where graders decide how well your essay covered all requirements.

  • Grading scale: 1-4 in 3 categories (reading, analysis, writing)
    • 4 = advanced
    • 3 = proficient
    • 2 = partial
    • 1 = inadequate

Task 1: Reading

Now that you know more or less what is required from you, let’s go into more detail on how to approach the essay! The most important part of this section is that you understand what you are reading. There needs to be the comprehension of the text and central ideas being acknowledged.

Ways that this can be revealed include having textual evidence that proves you know what it is that is being asked of you and can analyze an author’s writing. This means using SOAPS as an indicator of highlighting important aspects of the text presented to you. S; determine who the speaker is, O; find out the occasion for the topic and why it was discussed, A; find out who the audience is, is it students, parents? P; determine the purpose of the text and decide what the author wanted to express through it. And lastly, S; determine the subject, what is the prompt referencing to?

    • S: Speaker
    • O: Occasion
    • A: Audience
    • P: Purpose
    • S: Subject

After completing SOAPS, breakdown the appeals of what the author is stating. There are 3 different types of appeals: appeal to credibility, appeal to emotion and appeal to logic. For each of these appeals, there should be factual evidence that demonstrates where the author uses them in his/her writing. Break it all down and write it all when analyzing the text. Carefully examine where you see emotions being portrayed, or maybe logic. Notice where the author decides to put in statistics or facts for their credibility.

Task 2: Analysis

In the analysis, this is where you are able to demonstrate your ability to evaluate the author’s use of reasoning and stylistic elements. Meaning, now you are able to bring up supportive claims that reveal style details that can include tone, syntax, imagery, repetition, etc. Use this part of the essay to gather your thoughts and creatively make connections between your SOAPS and literary devices in order to come up with an effective argument.

Task 3: Write

Woohoo! Now that you’ve read and analyzed the text, you are ready to write your essay. This final task consists of writing an essay that has an effective organization and makes a central claim. This is where you show the grader that you have read, understood and analyzed the text. When writing, break down the essay into 3 sections: the introduction, body paragraphs, and the conclusion.

  • Introduction
    • Describe the text
    • Paraphrase the argument
    • Introduce the examples you will be discussing in the body paragraph
  • Body Paragraphs
    • Name and explain the rhetorical device or appeal
    • Identify the effects of the author’s rhetorical choices and explain how the device or appeal works
  • Conclusion
    • Restate the goal of the text and briefly paraphrase the elements you discussed in your essay

Final Thoughts

Now that you have an idea of how to approach the essay portion of the SAT, here are some writing tips for you to use during the exam. Make sure to maintain a formal style during your essay, avoid 1st person, and write neatly. Use clear transition and short but relevant quotes from the text to support your essay. Remember, there is no prior knowledge needed to write a cohesive and well-explained essay. Do your best and believe in your strong capabilities!



Think First Write Later

Planning your essay for the ACT means using the space given to you so that you are able to generate ideas beforehand. This is a big step before writing your essay because it will display your strengths and weaknesses, along with your own knowledge and values.

  • Pre-Writing Step #1: Work the Prompt
    • Read the prompt and be aware of what is being asked of you. Note that the prompt often includes an issue of social and/or cultural concern.
  • Pre-Writing Step #2: Work the Perspectives
    • Take into account the different perspectives presented to you in the prompt. Know that there are 3 possible perspectives to consider when analyzing the prompt: for the issue, against the issue, or somewhere in the middle.
    • Determine the pros and cons of both perspectives and then pick which one best aligns with what you want to write about.
  • Pre-Writing Step #3: Generate your own Perspective
    • Find an interesting and unique argument
    • Examine what the prompt is asking of you and mix perspectives. This means exposing any double standards that the prompt might have or simply considering different perspectives other than your own.
    • Make sure you are allowing graders to see a complex mindset when you are writing your essay.
  • Pre-Writing Step #4: Consider Context
    • Brainstorm! Write down whatever comes to mind and ask yourself a multiple of questions.
    • Questions such as: What example offers the best support for your perspective? Why does this question have importance in the real world?


Now that we have brainstormed ideas, it’s time to write them down. This portion is what the graders will look at in-depth and determine whether or not you answered the prompt fully. Sometimes relying on a structure can help get your thoughts in order and write a concise essay. Below is an outline of what the essay should consist of:

  • Introduction
    • 3-5 sentences
    • do these 3 things:
      • provide a brief overview of the topic
      • state your perspective on the topic
      • identify our reasoning
  • Body Paragraphs
    • 2-3 body paragraphs
    • each should be 5-7 sentences
      • provide a topic sentence
      • analyze a perspective or an issue raised by multiple perspectives
      • provide an example to illustrate your point
      • tie the paragraph back to your argument and the larger issue
  • Conclusion
    • Make sure to have a conclusion, it can be short and straightforward
    • In 2-3 sentences, it should accomplish:
      • Restate your argument and reasoning
      • Provide a closing thought

Put It All Together

With an outline at your disposal, you are more than ready to put all your thoughts and evidence in order. Here, you are able to write your essay that should consist of 4-5 paragraphs. Your essay should be able to represent your organizational skills and ability to discuss ideas with good rationale. This is where the ACT graders will notice how well you can generate ideas and engage critically.|

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2021-03-07T19:06:50+00:00July 2nd, 2020|ACT, College Admissions, PSAT, SAT|

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