By Kathryn Azevedo
Vice President, Director of English
Sullivan Tutoring, Inc.
Both the SAT and ACT include an essay. The SAT essay is mandatory, but while the ACT essay is optional, most colleges and universities won’t consider ACT scores without the essay. So in other words, the ACT essay is somewhat mandatory too.
There are a few similarities between the SAT and ACT essays:
- Both essays are timed
- Both essays are scored from 0-12 (worst to best), and are scored by two essay-graders
- Both essays are evaluated for: 1) organization 2) development of point of view 3) grammar 4) variety in sentence structure 5) vocabulary
- Responses to both essays should be organized into 4-5 paragraphs
- Neither essay is graded for factual accuracy
There are more differences between the SAT and ACT essays than there are similarities. To start, the SAT essay counts as one-third of the SAT Writing (grammar) score – but it also receives an independent score of 0-12. In contrast, the ACT essay is not a factor in a student’s ACT English (grammar) score. In other words, the ACT essay is scored independently of the multiple-choice parts of the test.
Students are allotted 25 minutes for the SAT prompt, and 30 minutes for the ACT prompt. These five additional minutes is a significant amount of extra time to organize one’s thoughts and develop a more complete essay, so many ACT students feel less pressured for time on the essay than do students writing the SAT essay. (The timing for the ACT multiple-choice sections, however, is more restricted than it is for the SAT.)
The SAT and ACT essay prompts differ immensely as well. For example: An SAT essay question might ask if the world is changing for the worse or for the better, or if there are potential drawbacks to technology. An ACT essay question might ask if high school libraries should subscribe to popular magazines, or if poor school grades should impede a student from attaining a driver’s license.
For the SAT, we advise students to use academic, literary and/or historic examples to reinforce their thesis – and the SAT prompts lend themselves agreeably to these kinds of supportive examples. Conversely, we discourage students from relying on personal experiences in their SAT responses.
However, students can rarely answer ACT prompts using the aforementioned types of examples, and instead will likely find it easier to use personal experiences and observations to answer the question. (It is acceptable to use the pronoun “I” on the ACT – but not on the SAT.) Additionally, whereas factual accuracy is irrelevant for both tests’ essays, students can fabricate content (quotes, studies, statistics, etc.) to substantiate their thesis, as long as that material is rational and pertinent.
Lastly, an essay’s length appears to be directly related to its score – for both tests. Longer essays tend to score higher than do shorter essays, so we advise students of both the SAT and ACT to aim to write a full two pages (four or five paragraphs).