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.