Should I Write the Optional SAT or ACT Essay?—Part 2

November 15, 2017 


In Part 1 of this two-part series, we discussed the value of opting to write the optional SAT or ACT essay. Part 2 delves into the essay itself. Once you make the decision to write, how can you do your best?

The good news is that anything your English teachers have taught you along the way is likely to work here. So let’s take a lightning tour of what features go into a well-written essay.

You are probably familiar with the format called “the five-paragraph essay.” Many students mistakenly believe that the length of a five-paragraph essay is important, when in fact the crucial part is its structure. Essays can easily have more than five paragraphs, although it is difficult for them to be shorter and still make an effective point.

The five-paragraph essay actually has three parts as outlined below:

The Introduction 

For the SAT or ACT essay, this should be no more than a paragraph and should contain a thesis statement. A thesis statement puts forth, in clear terms, the point that you intend to make in your writing. Depending on the text you are responding to, try to draw the reader in with a quote, a surprising fact or statistic, or a thought-provoking claim. Make him or her want to read what you have to say.

The Body

The body is the “meat” of the essay “sandwich.” It includes everything except the introduction and conclusion. The body ideally consists of as many paragraphs as you need to prove or demonstrate your thesis. All of your supporting details are here. In practice, a body of three paragraphs is an acceptable minimum. There is no maximum limit (except that dictated by the time constraints of the SAT or ACT).

The Conclusion

Your conclusion should be about the same length as your introduction. A restatement of your thesis statement is advisable, but do not restate it word for word—paraphrase! A little extra content—a prediction, a recommendation, or a reflection on the importance of the issue—is a nice touch here.


In addition to solid structure, SAT and ACT essay readers look for unity (Does the writer stay on topic?), coherence (Does he or she transition in a logical way from paragraph to paragraph?), and excellent mechanical and vocabulary skills (Are grammar and punctuation correctly used? Is the language varied and appropriate in tone?).

Lastly, the essay readers are looking for two important elements: your critical reasoning and evaluation skills. When responding to the SAT or ACT prompt, analyze how the writer builds his or her argument. Granted you have no control over the SAT or ACT essay prompt, and you are being timed. The essay graders know that and make allowances for those facts. However, it is still possible to bring your unique judgment and arguments to the assignment.

Happy writing!

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, we are here to help you navigate the standardized testing process. That includes helping you with essay writing! If you need instruction or practice in any aspects of the optional SAT or ACT essay, we have experienced tutors who will work with you until you feel confident.

If you would like more information, our Client Service Directors Anne Stanley and Susan Ware are available to answer questions and provide solutions. You may reach either of them by calling A+ Test Prep and Tutoring at 215-886-9188.


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