ACT & SAT Essay Tips Everyone Should Know

July 21, 2016

The SAT essay may be optional, but it can be the extra boost you need to get into your dream school. Read these 10 tips that will prepare you to take on both the ACT and SAT essay from our friends at Green Test Prep

The SAT Essay:

Prompt: The essay prompt asks students to read a passage and consider how the author uses evidence to support his or her claims. Students must write an essay explaining how the author builds an argument, analyzing how the author uses techniques to strengthen their logic.”

Time length: 50 minutes


The SAT is undergoing so many changes, and universities are still adjusting. While the essay is no longer required on the actual test, many schools still require the SAT writing section in their application. If you already have your college list ready, double check what the application requirements are. If it’s required, here are 5 tips to help improve your score:

1. Stay objective

It is important to remember that the SAT is not asking you for your opinion on the essay. Stay away from the use of “you” and “I” and make sure to keep a formal  and objective writing attitude throughout the essay.

2. Spend time planning

It is important not to rush and start writing before thoroughly reading the essay, brainstorming, and outlining. You also want to make sure you are answering the actual question they are asking and not going off topic. Outline to prevent straying from the topic will save you time in the long run. There are three main components that are the most important when outlining.

a. Reference the evidence that the author uses to support her claim.

b. Discuss the ways in which the author uses reasoning to develop her ideas and argument.

c. Address the author’s use of style and rhetorical devices to engage readers and convince them of the points in the passage.

3. Keep it neat

Although some may think it’s self explanatory, staying neat is very important. The people grading the essays read many per day and if they can’t read what you are writing they will lower your score.

4. Structure your essay

Remember, Paragraphs are your friend! We all learned the basic structure of an essay we learned in school: Introduction, Body paragraphs and conclusion. The graders of your essay follow the same rules.

5. Study examples

Before the test it is important to read examples of both successful and unsuccessful essays. This will give you a good idea of what the graders are looking for in your essay. It is a good idea to think about why the essays got the scores, try and break down their essays using the key components listed above.

The ACT Essay:

Prompt: “The essay prompts present 3 perspectives on an issue, and students are asked to evaluate the perspectives, to state their own perspectives, and to elaborate on the relationships between the two. As a whole, the essay calls upon tools of expository writing, evaluative argument, and rhetorical analysis.”

Time length: 40 minutes


The ACT has been much more consistent than the SAT over the last few years. It did undergo a few minor changes, but the bulk of the ACT essay is still the same. While the essay is not required on the actual test, many schools still require the ACT writing section in their application. If you already have your college list ready, double check what the application requirements are. If it’s required, here are 5 tips to help improve your score:

1. Organization

One of the aspects you will be graded on is your ability to “exhibit a skillful organizational strategy.”

Your response should have a controlling idea or purpose that unifies the essay along with a logical progressions of your ideas. This will increase the effectiveness of your argument, and adding transitions before and after paragraphs will also help strengthen your ideas and flow of your essay.

2. Write more than one page

One of the most important unsaid writing tips for the ACT is that writing less than one page will lower your score. If you write less it is harder to develop your ideas enough to do well on the test. Be cautious though, length is important but including irrelevant information will hurt you.

3.  You don’t need to know facts

Many people get stuck when writing the ACT essay because they can’t think of facts that support their points BUT you actually don’t need to know them. The ACT has a simple rule that all statements are taken as truth. This is because the graders simply don’t have time to fact check. What is most important is that all your evidence supports your thesis.

4.  Your first and last paragraphs matter the most

ACT essay grader read a lot of essays in a short amount of time. By reading the first and last paragraphs of an essay they can usually get a good idea of how the essay should be scored. Make sure that your introduction is well written and logical because this will most likely be the most important part of your essay.

5.  Variety of sentence structure and word choice

Another important aspect you will be graded on is your ability to use language to enhance your argument. Using a variety of ways to start your sentences is important, try not to be repetitive with your word choice. Be clear and concise, a fluid sentence is more important than showing the grader how many ‘big’ words you know.

Need help with the essay portion of the SAT or ACT? Use Green Test Prep, an online SAT prep platform, to help improve your score. 


Anthony-James Green has been called “America’s Top SAT Tutor” by Business Insider magazine. He raises test scores an average of 346.5 points on the SAT and 4.6 points on the ACT. To discover how to get a guaranteed increase on your SAT and ACT scores with The Green Test Prep System, click here.


Browse Successful Application Files

Fordham ‘20

Accepted to American, Fordham, Skidmore, Syracuse, UC Irvine, UCSB

Hi there! I went to an American school in Hong Kong from K-12 and will be starting my freshman year at Fordham University at Lincoln Center in the fall. If you're interested in theater and come from overseas, I would be of particular help to you!
UPenn ‘20

Accepted to UPenn

Hello! I'm a Freshman at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School. I plan on concentrating in finance, marketing and social impact. In high school I was active in LGBTQ advocacy and music. I can help with any questions you have about admissions
MIT ‘20

Accepted to MIT, UMich, Rutgers, Cornell, Rice, JHU

computer science / design / music / film
Princeton ‘19

Accepted to Columbia, GA Tech, Northwestern, Princeton, UGA

As a part of Princeton Class of 2019, I know how difficult the application process is...I got denied, accepted, and wait-listed to several places. Let me help you find your path to success!

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