11.18.12 breakthroughs in essay writing on college admissions applications
Breakthroughs in Training: Improving
Essay Writing for College Applications and
ACT/SAT Essay Writing Sections
Debbie Merion, M.S.W, M.F.A Essay Coaching
Geri Markel, PhD, Managing Your Mind Coaching & Seminars
Presented at: The 2012 Michigan Pre-College and Youth Outreach
Get Ready to Learn
• Similarities and differences between college
application essays and SAT/ACT essays
• How each type of essay is evaluated
• How to prepare for and write both kinds of essays
Differences Between College
Application and SAT/ACT Essays
1. How effectively can you help a
school understand you, like you, or
2. Requires self insight and specific
details of real experiences.
3. Evaluation based on “Would the
student fit in here, contribute here,
be successful here?”
5. Can start six months before it’s due
6. Written at home
ACT/SAT Writing Sections
1. How effectively can you argue a
point such as “Should 18-year-
2. Requires a point of view,
substantiated with information
from reading studies, experience
3. Specific scoring rubric
5. Time pressure: SAT: 25 minutes
ACT: 30 minutes
How College Admissions Essays
1. Does the essay tell you something
about the student? What did you learn?
2. Did you hear the student’s voice?
3. What qualities or talents does the student reveal?
4. Do you get a sense of the student as a person?
5. Have they done an effective job of telling their
6. Are the grammar, spelling, and punctuation
Scoring & Average Scores for
ACT: 1.5 Million take the ACT
Writing Section is optional. 56% of students take it.
Scoring: Essays are scored from 1-6
Average Score on the Writing Section: 7.1
SAT: 1.55 million take the SAT
Writing is mandatory. 1/3 of the test score involves the written essay
Scoring For SAT: Essays are scored from 2 to 12
SAT: Average Scores on the Writing Section: 489
Process for Writing College Essays
1. Get organized. Read questions at
commonapp.org. Gather each school’s
questions and application deadlines.
2. Stir up your memories of situations
revealing your best qualities. Write lists, use
– Three ways I’m different from my friends.
– Three subjects I could talk about for an hour.
– Three reasons my friends, teachers, and coaches respect and value my presence.
– Three books that have had an impact on me.
– Use One of Your Ideas as a Writing Prompt
– Set a timer for 10 minutes. keep your hand moving and don’t cross out.
– Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.
Process for Writing College Essays
3. Choose a topic using good judgment. Write about
something you care about, with an anecdote and
reflections. Ask yourself: what will a reader learn
about me from this essay?”
4. Write it like you’re telling a creative nonfiction story
that only you can tell. Balance descriptions of your
experiences and reflections. Make your essay
memorable with sensory detail. Make sure you
answer the question.
5. Edit frequently and carefully. Typos reproduce while
you are sleeping. Read out loud, listen to the
judgment and advice of knowledgeable adults.
Preparing for SAT/ACT Writing
1. Review the scoring guides for each test. Get samples.
2. List the differences and decide which test is most aligned
with your interests and writing strengths.
3. Read a prompt and underline key words or ideas. Repeat
the question in your own words and then visualize a
situation that reflects the idea of the prompt.
4. Decide on your stance or position and list reasons. Spend a
minute or two to reflect upon your ideas. Think of examples.
5. Allow 3 to 5 minutes to write an outline. Use key words or
6. Allow at least 3 minutes to review organization, omissions or
Taking the SAT/ACT Essay Section
1. Prepare: Take a few breaths and stretch. Give yourself a
“Pep” talk and then focus. The end is near! (1 minute)
2. Prompt: Read the prompt and visualize the situation. Circle
key words. Decide your position and support. (2 minutes)
3. Plan: List the parts: Introduction, 2 to3 paragraphs and
conclusion. Make questions for each paragraph and list key
words that support your position with facts and examples.
Consider including a counter argument. (3 minutes)
4. Write: Take a deep breath and develop an interesting first
sentence. Write legibly & check the time. (15 to 17 minutes)
5. Check: Topic sentence for each paragraph? Logical order?
Transitions needed? Spelling, punctuation, and grammar
correct? (3 to 5 minutes)
SAT Writing Prompt
The idea of caring about only the people of one's own country seems
outdated. Some people still defend this attitude, claiming that if we
are going to expend resources to help people, we should help
those of our own country first. But national boundaries are
meaningless lines that shift over time. There is no reason why a
citizen of one country should not feel just as responsible for the
well-being of people in other countries as for the well-being of
those in his or her own country.
Assignment: Should we care just as much about people in other
countries as we do about people in our own country? Plan and
write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this
issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken
from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.
ACT Writing Prompt
Many high school libraries use some of their limited funding to
subscribe to popular magazines with articles that are
interesting to students. Despite limited funding, some
educators support this practice because they think having
these magazines available encourages students to read. Other
educators think school libraries should not use limited funds
to subscribe to these magazines because they may not be
related to academic subjects. In your opinion, should high
school libraries subscribe to popular magazines even though
the magazines may not be related to academic subjects.
In your essay, take a position. You may write about either of the
two points of view given, or you may present a different point
of view. Use specific reasons and examples to support your