April 03, 2019

ACT and SAT Essay Sections—Do You Really Need Them?

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Preparing for the ACT or SAT, one of the decisions you will have to make is whether or not you are going to take the essay portion of your chosen test. Both the ACT and the SAT have made this testing portion optional, and taking the test with the essay costs more. It also adds to the stress of preparing. Is the essay portion necessary? Does skipping it hurt your ability to get into college? Here is what you should know.

What Is the Essay Portion of the ACT/SAT Tests?

The essay portions of the ACT and SAT tests are not the same, although they require similar skills. The goal is to see how a student can analyze information and then express his or her thoughts about that information through writing.

On the ACT, you will have 40 minutes to read an essay prompt that covers an issue and provides three different perspectives on it. You will be asked to read the perspectives, analyze them, and create your own. In the essay, you will need to state and develop your perspective and connect it to the ones in the prompt.

On the SAT, you will be asked to read a large section of nonfiction writing, then write a five-paragraph essay that evaluates the piece. The goal of this essay is to dissect the author’s writing and the meaning of the text, demonstrating how the author uses his or her writing to build on a point. The test gives you 50 minutes to complete this process. The score looks at reading, analysis, and writing abilities.

Some Colleges Are No Longer Requiring It

In 2018, US News and World Report stated that a number of colleges are dropping their admission requirement for the essay portion of these tests. This trend is because of the large number of up-and-coming college students who are taking advantage of in-school testing options, which do not include the essay portion. To include the essay, these students would need to take the test separately from the free, in-school testing opportunities, which could hurt economically disadvantaged students.

Do Other Colleges Care? The Answer Is Mixed

If some colleges are dropping the requirement, does that mean the essay section is no longer valued? The answer to this question is mixed. Some colleges, like Duke University, are not requiring it but are recommending it. This means your application may have higher merit if it includes the essay portion. Others are considering the essay portion if submitted, meaning that if you are a good writer, it could push your application ahead of others. On top of that, some colleges do ask for the essay, and your ability to apply to those schools requires you to have completed these optional portions.

Unfortunately, there is no set pattern that says whether a school will ask for the essay portion. Even the most competitive schools are divided on this choice. If you are unsure about your chosen school or are unsure about a certain school's requirements, you would be better served by taking the essay portion.

Should You Take the Essay Portion? Consider These Benefits

So, is the essay portion important for you? Here are some reasons to consider it.

1. You’ll Be Ready No Matter What

If your plans change or your first school does not accept you, and if you don't have the essay portion of the tests, you may find yourself scrambling to find an open testing date so that you can retake it. If you are proactive and take the essay portion at the outset, you will not have this problem. No matter what school you apply to, you will have met the requirements for testing.

2. It Can Boost Your Application

Another benefit of taking the essay portion is that it may improve your chances of getting into the school you want most. Even if the essay is not required, a competitive school could look at a good essay score as a deciding factor. This is particularity true if the academic field you are considering is one that requires strong writing skills. Also, for schools that do superscoring, an essay score helps with a higher superscore figure.

3. It Rarely Hurts

Students who are not strong writers may consider skipping the writing portions of these tests for fear that they will hurt their applications. This is rarely the case. A strong application will not be hurt by low essay scores in almost every instance.

Are you nervous about the essay portions of these tests? Don't let nerves keep you from taking them. With the right preparation, you can do well on the essay portions if you feel that taking them is the right choice for your college application needs.

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