Act/sat writing Guide

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ACT/SAT Writing Guide

Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this is moments of despair. If you think writing is hard, it’s because it is hard.
by William Zinsser

Hard work is essential in writing, but success is possible. Few students create their best writing when they are put on the spot, but this guide offers some tips to prepare for writing on demand assignments. Both the ACT and SAT writing tests expect students to demonstrate skills such as forming an opinion, supporting it with appropriate evidence for the audience, organizing and making connections between ideas and expressing themselves in clear, effective language. These writing skills are important for the college courses students will be taking.

The process of preparing for the ACT and SAT writing tests include the following:

  • Analyzing writing prompts

  • Revising, editing and proofreading

  • Scoring guides (link to scoring guide)

    • ACT

    • SAT

  • Websites and Resources


Writing Prompts
A writing prompt gives definition and direction to the assigned topic. Read the passage (prompt) and the directions carefully.
Determine how to proceed using the following tips:

  • Plan your time.

    • ACT- 30 minutes and SAT- 25 minutes

  • Determine what you are being asked to do in the prompt.

    • What thinking or writing skills are being assessed?

Recent studies show that the amount of homework assigned to students is increasing. Students in kindergarten now are being assigned homework, and homework demands are intensifying at each subsequent grade level.

Is this movement toward increasing homework a positive trend? Does more homework create more learning? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your experience and observation.

Taken from Teaching Adolescent Writers by Kelly Gallagher

Questions to address as you plan your essay:

  1. What demands are being placed on elementary students, middle school students and high school students today?

  2. Is the increase in homework a positive or negative trend?

  3. Will increased homework result in more learning?

  4. What is your position on increasing homework for elementary through high school students?

  5. Why do you think this way? Give examples from your experience or observation.

What questions would you address for this essay?

One of the biology teachers at your school has decided to change from a ten-point grade scale (100 to 90 is an A, 89 to 80 is a B, etc.) to a seven-point grade scale (100 to 93 is an A, 92 to 85 is a B, etc.). The teacher is trying to encourage students to put more effort into their classes by raising the requirements. What is your position on this issue? Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper stating your position and supporting it with convincing reasons.

Other examples are available at


an Essay

  • Introductory paragraph

    • conveys the pattern of organization you will follow in your paper

    • includes a thesis statement to point the reader in the right direction

      • the big idea being put forth in the piece; proposition advanced by the writer; it is the position that needs the proof you will provide in your argument

Drug education deserves a more prominent place in this university’s Physical Education program.

    • creates interest in the topic by beginning with

What exactly is cholesterol, and what does it do?

      • a quote

from “Dear Taxpayer” by Will Manley in Booklist, May 1, 1993.

The most widely read writer in America today is not Stephen King, Michael Crichton or John Grisham. It is Margaret Milner Richardson, the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, whose name appears on the “1040 Forms and Instructions” booklet.

      • an interesting statistic

Accidents kill nearly 8000 children under age 15 each year.

    • states the position that is being taken in a clear and logical way

    • states about three points that support this position

  • Body paragraphs

    • consist of one paragraph for each idea with supporting details

    • expand the points with specific detail and examples; examples allow readers to see, touch, hear, taste, and feel your thoughts

    • elaborate and clarify; not every sentence needs further explanation, but if you’ve used any words that readers might have trouble with, or if readers only get a rough idea of your real point, you could clarify or elaborate

  • Example of elaboration:

Supporting Point:

Commuters appreciate the cost savings of taking public transportation rather than driving.


Less driving time means less maintenance expense, such as oil changes.

Of course, less driving time means savings on gasoline as well.

In many cases, these savings amount to more than the cost of riding public transportation.

    • avoid using opinions to support opinions

    • show logical relationships by using transitional words and phrases; make sure the last sentence of each paragraph leads into the next paragraph
Check the order of your paragraphs.

Look at your paragraphs. Which one is strongest? Which is the weakest?

You might order them this way:

  1. Your second strongest argument with support

  2. Your least strong argument with support.

  3. The counterargument with your refuting statements. (if you have one)

  4. Your strongest argument last.

  • Concluding paragraph

    • summarizes or reinforces your position

    • relates to material from the introduction

    • restates the thesis statement in a revised format, using some of the original language or language that “echoes” the original language

    • leaves reader satisfied that a convincing discussion has just taken place; this may be a “call to action” in a persuasive paper

Revising, Editing

and Proofreading

  • Revise by asking questions such as, “Is this what I really want to say?” or “Is this part clear?” If not, then make adjustments.

  • Tips for adjustments

    • check for logical progression of ideas

    • find the gap or determine the need for more information

    • vary sentences

    • look for ways to improve the cohesion of the essay

    • use varied and precise words

    • use transitional words and phrases


  • Eliminate sentence fragments and run-on sentences

  • Repair grammar/usage mistakes in

    • subject-verb agreement (we were not we was)

    • pronoun/antecedent agreement

    • misplaced modifiers

    • verb tense

    • capitalization, punctuation and spelling


  • Final check

  • Revise neatly

What Effective Persuasive Writing Looks Like




Word Choice

Sentence Fluency


Thesis or opinion is clearly stated with lots of strong supporting details, including facts, statistics and other evidence.

Introduction engages the reader and states thesis clearly.
Body is well organized.
Conclusion reiterates and makes a strong statement.

Writer’s passion for the issue is evident.
Voice is engaging and appropriate to audience.

Word choice is powerful and passionate.
Vocabulary is specific instead of vague.

Writing flows smoothly with balance of sentence types and lengths.
Some very short sentences are included.

Control over conventions of spelling, grammar and punctuation are appropriate to the level of the writer.

Developed by Terry Reale, Coordinator, Reading English Language Arts

West Virginia Department of Education

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