It’s not easy to put together a good writing sample on the test if you don’t know what your schools will think is good.


Do they want formal writing? Should there be astounding thoughts that unlock the secrets of the universe? Should it be in iambic pentameter?


Don’t worry. None of those things is important in a good essay. Your schools know that you’re writing a quick first draft, and they know not to expect Shakespeare.


So what do they want? Here are the important things to know before test day.


1. They want to see that you can organize your ideas well in writing.


This means one main idea per paragraph, and paragraphs that flow smoothly and logically from one idea to the next.


Again, it doesn’t have to be Shakespeare, just thoughtfully organized.


What this means for you is that it’s a good idea to take your first couple of minutes to write a solid outline. If you have a good beginning, middle, and end worked out first, it will be much easier and faster to put together a piece with well-organized ideas.


2. They’ll use your writing to get to know you a bit.


Your writing will be one of the tools your school will use to see who they’re inviting into their hallowed halls.


So does this mean that you should be really worried about showing what a fantastically impressive specimen you are?




It means that you should let your writing sound like you.


Let your personality come through just as it is. It’s good to be who you are – schools like a diverse cast of characters. If you are the quiet and reserved type, it’s just fine to let that show in your writing. If you’re the energetic and vivacious type, that’s great too.


And one more note if you’re an international student, and English is not your first language: Your schools will be paying special attention to see if you can communicate easily in English.


That makes it even more important to get in the habit of writing to let your personality show through easily. Being stiff and using all the biggest words you know can look on paper like you’re not comfortable with English.


So how can you deal with the surprises of the writing section? How can you possibly know how you will write if you don’t know the prompt you’ll be facing?




If you try out a few sample prompts, you’ll see that you can respond to just about any topic with well organized ideas, and still let who you are shine through brilliantly.


Practice will help you relax on test day, and a relaxed writer puts much better material on paper than a worried, stiff one.


We’ll have more on the technical details of tackling the writing section next time. See you then.