Writing tips for the SAT and ACT

If you decide that you are going to take the writing portion of the SAT or ACT, it is important to know what to expect and how to prepare. The writing section adds 50 minutes to your test for the SAT, and adds 40 minutes to your test on the ACT. There is only one essay question on both tests and the prompt changes each time. Below I have outlined some of the differences between the two essay sections, as well as suggested tips on how to succeed in writing each one.


The SAT and ACT both have writing sections which are both written in the five paragraph argumentative style. The only big difference between the two tests is that you receive five more minutes on the ACT. This may not seem like such a big difference now, but when you are running out of time, five extra minutes can make a huge difference in your writing.

The other differences between the two are slightly smaller. Sources say that the ACT prompts tend to be slightly more “real world” oriented than the SAT. Depending on the type of essay writer you are, this could make brainstorming ideas easier for the ACT. While the SAT focuses on more abstract topics, the ACT will ask you about straight up facts such as new laws that have been passed which can make it seem scary and foreign.


  • Give a clear thesis - this means that you should state a clear argument near the beginning of your essay that the reader can easily identify. The thesis allows the reader to know what points you will be discussing throughout the essay as well as what side of the argument you are on.

  • Include both a strong introduction and conclusion - these are crucial when writing your essay. The introduction lets your reader know your position on the topic and is a gateway into the rest of your essay.

  • Only use information from the passage - all the information you need to know about the topic is in the passage you are given so avoid using outside knowledge. This can lead to you writing false information in your essay.

  • Focus your essay on relevant points - even if you want to make your essay seem longer by going off on tangents and writing more, remember- short, concise, and correct information is better than long and wrong

Remember to check if the schools you are applying to require SAT or ACT writing before spending that extra money and time on the essay portion. If you do plan on taking the essay for either test, remember to answer the prompt fully, and to not stray from the topic/prompt you are given.


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