Comparing SAT’s and ACT’s new Essay Formats

Last Updated: Mar 17, 2015 12:00:00 AM

Essay Assignment - Score At The Top 

In September this year, ACT will introduce its new essay format. Six months later, in March of 2016, the College Board will replace its current written essay with a new, optional essay.

Each testing company is migrating toward analysis and away from any possible free-form, even impressionistic renderings by students in their writing ― the College Board more so that ACT. Let’s look briefly at what we know right now.

Quite remarkably, the College Board has made its essay section optional. However, at this time we cannot imagine that most colleges and universities in the U.S. will want SAT scores that lacks the essay. In another change, the essay time allotment has actually doubled – to fifty minutes from the current 25 minutes in which to digest the new “prompt,” perhaps a 700-word excerpt of a published work, and write a coherent essay. Why has time doubled? Apparently because in the re-designed SAT essay, a student will have to complete three explicit tasks that are part and parcel of what teachers will expect from college freshmen. Here’s the new SAT essay task:

Explain how the author of the passage uses

  1. evidence to support claims.
  2. reasoning to develop ideas and connect claims to evidence.
  3. rhetoric – the elements of writing style, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the passage content

This explication of text is a far cry from the current student writing on the SAT! It will require a fine-tuned ability to read text for meaning, and to understand how an author deploys rhetorical devices for effect. Are you prepared for that?

Meanwhile, coming to a test center near you this very September, the ACT plans something similar – yet not quite the same. After reading an ACT passage significantly shorter (perhaps around 100 words) than the SAT’s multi-paragraph reading, the student will then consider three distinct, printed perspectives (opinions expressed as theses). Naturally, the three perspectives will each relate to the passage, but each from a different angle. The student’s task will be to analyze the three perspectives. And here’s where the two tests differ. The ACT wants the student to

  1. “state and develop your own perspective on the issue,” and
  2. “explain the relationship between your perspective and those given.”

Much like the current ACT essay, a student’s personal views play a major role in the writing task. Student writers may agree or disagree with the perspectives, but in any case they must support their ideas with logical reasoning and detailed, persuasive examples. Rather than the SAT’s heavy emphasis on textual analysis, the ACT will continue to offer test takers a chance to expound their own ideas.

This summer, we’ll be offering updated ACT classes and 1-on-1 instruction to prepare students for the September 12, 2015 ACT test with the new form of essay.

Naturally, we’ll continue to provide essay instruction for the current SAT essay, at the same time that we prepare our SAT test prep curriculum to address the completely transformed SAT essay that students will face in March of next year. Contact us next fall about preparation for the new SAT!

Topics: College Application Essay ACT ACT/SAT Test-Prep SAT

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