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Why We Should Avoid Wordiness in our Writing

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT English, ACT Writing, College Application Essays, High School, SAT Essay, SAT Prep, SAT Writing, Study Tips, Teaching, Tutoring
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One of the worst habits that students develop in their high school classes is that of writing in a wordy fashion.   Students find that if they write longer and longer papers, their grades often get better and better.  They also discover that in classroom discussions and Socratic Seminars, the more they monopolize the discussion, the higher their “participation” grade.  Our grading system has a built-in tendency to inflate grades for those who inflate the length of what they create.    

As a former teacher, I understand how difficult it is to ignore the length of a student’s response when evaluating it.  It is much easier to justify a higher grade for a student who has put in more time to write an extended response than someone who has created a relatively brief analysis.  Why?  You can say that “Johnny put in so much more work into writing his essay than you did because his essay is twice the length.”  When grading a massive stack of papers, the tendency to start “scanning” the papers rather than reading them super-carefully is a temptation to which quite a few teachers will succumb.  Not to scare any teachers, but I have known of a case where a student put swear words in the middle of his essay to see if his teacher would actually catch them.  The teacher did not, and the student shared this episode with all his friends, significantly damaging the teacher’s reputation. 


Both students and teachers can change the expectations of the school grading process if they are aware of 5 ways that wordy writing will cause problems on standardized tests like the ACT and SAT, during the college admissions process, and in the workforce:

1.       You Won’t Develop Your Ideas on the SAT or ACT Essays.  The SAT only gives you two pages and 25 minutes for its essay, and the ACT only provides you 4 pages and 30 minutes.  If you are accustomed to writing in a wordy way, you will spend forever introducing your topic and not enough time developing your ideas and examples. 

2.       On the SAT and ACT Grammar Questions, You Will Consistently Pick the Wordy Answers.  Don’t get me wrong  – often, being more descriptive is exactly what is called for.  However, if you have it ingrained into your mind that the more you write, the better your writing is, you will pick the longest, most complex answers, even when they are not appropriate. 

3.       Your College Essays Will Be Pure Fluff.  When you write your Common Application Essay, you will be limited to 500 words.  If you are not used to packing a big punch in a short essay, you will not stand out among the thousands of applicants. 

4.       Job Applications.  For the foreseeable future, the job market will be extraordinarily competitive.  You will only have one chance to impress a potential employer with a fantastic cover letter.  It is critical that you are able to succinctly convey what makes you an incredible applicant. 

5.       Business Communications.  Whether in business meetings, conference calls or company-wide emails, no one wants to listen to someone blab on and on.  Your bosses and coworkers will respect you if they know that when you speak, you will immediately convey something of substance and value. 


So what can teachers and students do to avoid wordy writing?  First of all, if you are aware of a tendency to write wordily, that is half the battle.  You’ll recognize when you’re doing it and that will empower you to stop it.  Second, I would like to see more school assignments that require word maximums instead of word minimums.  Word minimums are the norm, and they encourage students to be verbose.  By requiring word maximums, students will learn to be more concise and precise in their writing, and teachers will be able to evaluate much more thoroughly since they won’t be overwhelmed with endless piles of grading.  This paradigm shift will help students do better on standardized tests, their college applications, and in the real world. 

I hope you found this piece helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart

 


Can you Write on the ACT and SAT Test Booklets?

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT English, ACT Math, ACT Prep, ACT Reading, ACT Science, ACT Writing, SAT Math, SAT Prep
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When students are used to taking tests in school, they are usually not permitted to write on the test booklet.  This is with very good reason – teachers want to be able to use the same booklets for other groups of students and want to save paper.  Typically, teachers will let you make small pencil markings on the test as long as you come back and erase them. 

You ARE able to write all over the test booklet on the SAT and ACT!  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  What you write on the test booklet will not be graded – only what you enter on your answer document.  

Writing on the ACT and SAT test booklets is particularly useful when it comes to the Math Section.  The SAT gives you a decent amount of space to do your figuring, but nothing compared to the blank right  half of a page that the ACT gives you.  Don’t do everything in your head or on your calculator – you will make a ton of careless mistakes if you do.

The trend towards the ACT giving you more space with which to write is also present on the Essay.  The ACT provides you with 4-5 pages (it has varied in the past couple years in my experience) while the SAT only gives you 2 pages on which to write.  You will still have room to prewrite on the page where they provide you your prompt.  

I hope you found this summary helpful.  If so, please share it with your friends!  Thanks, Brian Stewart

Timing and Pacing for the ACT Test

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT English, ACT Math, ACT Prep, ACT Reading, ACT Science, ACT Writing
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If you’re taking the ACT, you’re in for a long morning.  You should arrive at the test center before 8 AM in order to find your room and check in.  You will then have a roughly 4 hour test in front of you. 

The ACT is broken up into four sections with an optional fifth section:  English, Math, Reading, Science and Writing.  To remember the order in which the test sections fall, simply remember that they go in alphabetical order!   

Here is the breakdown for timing of the test, and how you should pace yourself on the ACT:

English Test – 45 minutes, 75 questions, 5 passages.  You should take about 9 minutes per passage. 

Math Test – 60 minutes, 60 questions.  Take about one minute per question. 

You then have a 10 minute break when you should have a snack!  Bring it yourself. 

Reading Tests – 35 minutes, 40 questions, 4 passages.  Take about 9 minutes per passage. 

Science Test – 35 minutes, 40 questions, 7 passages.  Take about 5 minutes per passage. 

If you are sticking around for the writing, you have a 5 minute break.  If you are not doing the ACT Writing, you can go home at this time. 

Optional ACT Essay – 30 minutes.  Spend about 5 minutes prewriting, and 25 minutes writing.  They typically give you 4-5 pages on which to write. 


As the tests go on, they become more difficult for most students to finish.  English is very easy to complete, and Science is quite tough.  Practice ahead of time so that you have a good internal feel for the pace at which you should go.  Also, by practicing, you will have a good idea of whether it makes sense to skip and guess on some questions.  Remember, there is no penalty for guessing on the ACT, so if you don’t complete all the questions, be sure that you at least bubble everything in.  For some free practice ACT material, please go here:

http://www.freetestprep.com/blog/2012/act-sat-test-prep-free/act-practice-test/

I hope you found this article helpful!  If you did, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart    


The ACT Writing Test

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT Prep, ACT Writing
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The ACT Writing test is optional, although many colleges will want you to take it.  For a complete list of colleges who require it, please go here:

http://www.actstudent.org/writing/

The ACT Writing test is a 30 minute essay that comes after you have completed the other sections.  Prior to taking it, you receive a 5 minute break.  I would highly recommend that you have a snack during the break so that your energy is at its peak – you will have been testing for 4 hours at that point! 

What type of prompt can you expect to find on the ACT Writing test?  Here’s a sample from ACT directly:

http://www.actstudent.org/writing/sample/

In contrast to the SAT Essay, you will find that the ACT Essay involves a much more concrete topic.  It will generally be a current issue about which you could have a polite discussion rather than a heated argument (like religion, abortion, capital punishment, etc.) It will also be something that students could write about without any deep background knowledge – as long as students have paid any attention to the world in which they live, they should have some material they can use to make their argument. 


Here are some of my own ideas for sample ACT Essay prompts:

  1. Should students be able to connect with their teachers on Social Networking sites? 
  2. Should there be a mandatory year of national service for students when they graduate from high school, during which time they could do military service, community service, or international service? 
  3. Should textbooks be replaced with laptops?  
  4. Should high school students be required to take a foreign language as part of graduation? 
  5. Should high school students be required to sign an honor code, affirming that they neither gave nor received assistance, with every assignment they turn in? 
  6. Should students be required to submit their written essays to a plagiarism-testing website prior to having the teacher grade them? 
  7. To what extent should teacher pay be tied to how well their students perform on standardized tests? 
  8. Should there be same-gender classrooms? 
  9. Should schools install cellphone-signal blocking equipment so that students are unable to use their phones to text or call during school hours? 
  10.  Should students be required to join a club while in high school?

Curious as to how the ACT evaluates the essays?  Check out the ACT Writing Rubric:

http://www.actstudent.org/writing/scores/guidelines.html

I hope you found this article helpful!  If you did, please share it with your friends.  Thanks, Brian Stewart   


Don’t have someone else write your College Essay!

ACT and SAT Test Prep, ACT Prep, ACT Writing, College Admissions, SAT Prep
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If you are considering having someone else write your college essay for you, I would think again.  Colleges have a powerful way that they can check your writing ability to see if your college essay is totally inconsistent with how you normally write.  What is it? 

They are able to look at copies of your SAT Writing Essay and your ACT Essay when you send in your scores. 

This is just conjecture on my part, but if I were a college admissions officer and I were trying to evaluate whether someone may have had a bit too much help in writing his or her essay, I would absolutely compare their essay writing to the SAT and ACT essays. 

So, don’t take any shortcuts with your college application essays.  Do them  yourself, and do them well.  




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