Although it would be just wonderful if the College Board or ACT offered some type of service for students to obtain grades on their practice essays, this unfortunately just isn’t the case right now. But you do have some options to get some solid writing support before you march into the testing room.
A Little Help From a Friend
You may not think that your friends can help you improve your writing. But you’d be wrong. A friend or sibling can really help you to improve. An extra pair of eyes will be able to identify spelling mistakes, grammar errors, and organizational lapses. Ask a friend with good reading and writing skills if you can trade them some Hi-Chew (or whatever legal currency has value at your school) in exchange for reading your essay.
Let him or her know that it is a timed essay and that you only have 40 minutes to write it. Have your friend look at the structure, logical flow of ideas, and persuasiveness of examples. Tell him or her that you aren’t concerned with big words and advanced vocabulary. Ultimately, he or she should look for clear, concise, direct writing that flows nicely.
Most importantly, make sure he or she has the essay rubric from the ACT or SAT in hand. They are both pretty comprehensive and will help your friend score your essay like the graders. It’s also helpful if he or she takes a look at the sample essays on the official websites (see links below) so he or she can make sure they aren’t being tougher or easier than the test graders.
Many high school English teachers are willing to help out too. If that is the case for you, awesome, ask them nicely and take them up on the offer if they say yes! A teacher’s eye is a huge bonus over a friend’s!
A Little Help From the Testmakers
If you haven’t already, go to the official website for the SAT or ACT, pull up the sample essay prompt and write an essay on it yourself before peeking at the following sample essays. You can then compare your essay to those that you read. Remember that a lot of different opinions and examples are valid, so you may not have the same ideas as the samples, but you should nevertheless be able to tell where your essay roughly falls on the scale.
Even if you don’t write your own essay, should always make sure you thoroughly read the sample essays on the official website (SAT here and ACT here). They are SO incredibly helpful in terms of figuring out how “good” you need to do to score at a certain level. Many students are surprised to find it’s not as difficult as they thought.
A Little Help from a Computer
There are a few good computer programs and websites out there that can give you some feedback on the clarity of your writing. Fun fact: did you know that eventually your SAT or ACT essays are probably going to be graded by a computer program? Maybe as soon as within the next couple of years.
One way to check your writing is to cut and paste the text into a Word document. Those green lines will tell you if something is wrong. By going into ‘Tools’ on the menu bar, you can read an explanation of what is wrong in your sentence.
This won’t help you improve the structure or logical flow of your ideas. Still, knowing that your grammar and spelling are in need of work can help boost your score.
You can also use the Hemingway App or Paperrater for similar purposes. They will point out awkward sentences, passive voice, repetitiveness, and unneeded adverbs. This will give you an idea of how easy it is to read your writing, but it won’t tell you how compelling your examples are.
Getting feedback on your SAT or ACT is not easy. But don’t feel defeated. There are some resources and options out there that can help you improve. And don’t forget: nothing makes you a better writer than practice, feedback, practice, feedback, practice, feedback.