SAT and ACT Masters: Top Qualities of Standardized Essays

The SAT and ACT, along with a variety of other standardized tests offer different challenges to college-bound students. However, there are some general qualities you can check for to make sure your essay test response is a top performer.

Qualities of a Good Essay Test; Student filling in a scantron sheet with answers

What are some the top qualities of a good essay test submission?

1. Your essay should maintain focus.
Think about it. No matter what kind of standardized test you’re taking, there is a prompt. This helps you narrow your focus. What’s your answer to the prompt? Anything outside of your response to the question doesn’t belong in the essay. By weeding out those unrelated sentences, you can make sure your writing stay focused on a clear central idea.

2. Your essay should be fully developed.
Look back through each paragraph of your essay. Are there any places where things look a little sparse? Or, are any paragraphs looking a little short? Be sure to add plenty of support, evidence, and examples to ensure your ideas are clear and developed thoroughly.

3. Your essay should create a sense of unity.
One of the qualities that make a good essay test response is unity; everything works well together. One strategy you can use is to check the topic sentence of each paragraph. Do those ideas relate clearly to your thesis? Then, does each sentence in a given paragraph relate to the topic sentence? If so, you’re on the right track!

4. Your essay should be coherent.
When you’re feeling the time crunch and pressure of a standardized exam, it’s easy to fall into the trap of putting pencil to paper and just rambling. You can avoid this pitfall by doing a little pre-writing. For instance, you can create an outline to help you see the structure of your essay. That way, your ideas will be more organized, flowing, and coherent.

These qualities don’t just apply to the ACT or SAT. You can use them to guide your writing in any standardized essay!
Red pen marking the good qualities of an essay

5. Your essay should be accurate.
While you might have a little bit of leeway, in general, it’s a good idea to pay attention to your conventions. Are you using good grammar? Is your punctuation solid. Once you get your ideas on the page, scan back through what you wrote to see if there are any errors you can quickly correct. Those little details can take your essay over the top!

6. Your essay should pick a side and stick to it.
A lot of times, essay prompts ask your opinion or for your to argue for a particular side of a debate. Remember that there are no right answers! However, it’s important to think of the writing prompt in black and white, rather than shades of grey. For example, if you start to waffle back and forth between the two sides of the argument in that middle ground, you’ll weaken your argument. Even if you don’t fully agree with either side of the debate, pretend that you do. 

In the end…

What really matters isn’t what you say. It’s how you say it. After all, most judges are looking at structure, organization, creativity, and style. The content is just the clay you use to mold your final product.

Wake Up Early: Tips to Get Your Day Started

One of the best ways to improve your productivity (and your mood!) is to start your day early. This is especially important for homeschooling parents. When you wake up before the kids, you have a chance to collect your thoughts, get a few things done, and even have a little time to relax and enjoy a peaceful moment.

But, getting up early can be difficult. This is especially if you’re not used to it. Luckily, there are a few tricks you can use to wake up earlier!

Wake Up!

alarm clock; wake up without a snooze button

1. Don’t hit your snooze button. 
It might be tempting to snooze your alarm to get a few more minutes of sleep. But, science tells us that it’s actually bad for you. Not only does it mess up your brain’s natural waking up chemistry, it can leave you feeling more tired than you would normally be if you’d just gotten up the first time that alarm went off. This drowsiness may even last for hours into your day.

2. Take baby steps.
You don’t have to immediately start waking up at 5 a.m. on your first day of your new routine. In fact, you don’t need to wake up a whole lot earlier than you normally do! Take things in baby steps. For example, if you normally wake up at 8 a.m., drop back by half an hour each week. Before you know it, you’ll be waking up with the sun!

3. Leave yourself a present.
Perhaps you leave out the start of a really great breakfast. Or, maybe you put out a really good book to enjoy while you eat. You might even take time to write in a journal. It can be anything that tempts you! The goal is simply to get yourself out of bed and into the first parts of your day.

coffee and notebook to wake up

4. Go to sleep earlier.
Your body needs sleep. If you’re waking up earlier, it’s important to compensate by going to bed a little earlier, as well. That way, you give yourself the rest you need.

5. Do something productive.
Don’t waste all that extra time! Get a jump on your to-do list and cross something off. That way, you start your day off in a positive direction. However, don’t plan on doing something you’re dreading. That might make staying in bed just a little too tempting.

6. Get outside!
Believe it or not, stepping outside for a few moments to soak up some of the morning sun or to enjoy a little cool breeze can really help you get going! Take a moment to enjoy a little nature before you begin your day.

Grammar Help: Active and Passive Voice

What does it mean to be active? Often, when people think of “active,” they imagine themselves doing some sort of physical activity, like exercise. Perhaps you think of someone dancing, running, or even doing chores around the house. In writing, an active voice has a similar meaning as well. A sentence that uses active voice is one where the subject is the one performing the action, or the verb. In contrast, passive voice works the opposite way, with the subject being acted on by the verb. To write effectively, you should avoid passive voice because it takes away from your overall clarity of ideas. Instead, use active voice to ensure that your ideas are written in the most concise way.

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Hyperbole: Exaggeration At Its Best

You must’ve used hyperbole a million times in your life. Your mom asked you 1,000 times not to leave your shoes out. Maybe your teacher even gave you a mountain of homework to finish tonight. Notice the pattern here? Everything is so exaggerated. That’s what hyperbole is! Hyperbole is a type of figurative language in which the writer exaggerates in order to emphasize an idea or create humor. Continue reading “Hyperbole: Exaggeration At Its Best”

Expository Essays: Writing Topics to Jump Start Your Essay

An expository essay has one goal: to inform the reader. However, this doesn’t mean using a boring voice or tone to create your essay. Expository essays can be a great opportunity for vivid imagery, sensory details, and an engaging tone. But, before you can get started, you need to choose a topic. This topic will be the seed for your essay, and all the ideas and details will grow from it. Be sure to choose wisely! The key is to select a topic interests you. If you’re interested in what you have to say, your writing will reflect that. And, in turn, your writing will become more interesting to the reader.

Here are a few topics to help jump start your essay.

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Parallel Structure: Organizing Sentences and Essays

Good writing is clear. It’s focused, it offers insight into a meaningful topic, and it has strong organization. But, how do you organize an essay? One of the most effective tools you can use to ensure organization is to use parallel structure. This isn’t just one single tool, though. We can apply to a wide variety of writing situations, from single sentences to entire essays.

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Personification: Bringing a Human Spark to Your Writing

As a student, you’ll come across many fresh writing tools that can help your writing have a more natural feel. Some of these, you may already use without knowing what they are. For example, hyperbole is a method of expressing a fact or idea in an inflated way. We use hyperbole when we say things like “I’ve been walking all day,” when really, you only walked for about forty-five minutes.

Personification is also a writing tool, one that many authors use to share a more vivid image or emotion with their audience. Personification can also give your writing a little more pizzazz than it would with plain, gray descriptions.

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