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Messy Handwriting on the SAT or ACT Essay: Does it Hurt Your Score?

Are you trying to get a perfect score on your SAT Essay or ACT Essay - or at least get a better score than last time?

Having administered dozens and dozens and dozens of practice SAT and ACT exams, and having read as many student essays, I’ve seen my fair share of sloppy, borderline-illegible handwriting. But do I take off points for it? No. According to the SAT and ACT, graders aren’t supposed to do so. However, keep in mind that SAT and ACT essay graders are only human, and its impossible for humans to totally eliminate their unconscious biases. Certain graders might subliminally award you lower marks for messy handwriting. They’re not supposed to do so, of course. But what’s to stop them? The truth is that it certainly couldn’t HURT you to write more neatly–and, in fact, it may help.


What If Your Messy Handwriting is Literally IMPOSSIBLE to Read?

Only if your ENTIRE essay is completely illegible will you receive the lowest possible essay score. Mere messiness is fine, but absolute indecipherability is not. The problem here is this: what one grader considers messy, another might consider illegible. Thus, it’s better to be safe than sorry!


How to Improve Messy Handwriting on the SAT or ACT

So how do you write more neatly? Slow down. Practice. Penmanship is a lost art, but it isn’t set in stone. Your handwriting evolves over the course of your life, and with a little practice, you’ll be able to set your penmanship on the right course: the legible course.

You can also try changing the amount of pressure you exert on your pencil when you grip it. It’s also useful to hold the pencil closer to the tip for better control.

It’s easier to write slowly when you aren’t scrambling to complete your SAT or ACT essay time. How do you create this scenario for yourself? It’s simple. First, develop a deep familiarity with the essay task for the SAT or ACT. Second, take several timed practice essays. Your goal is to be able to crank out a legible essay that hits all the major points with ease and time to spare. This may sound difficult, but it’s not impossible.


Don’t Let Messy Handwriting Hold You Back

So remember: although essay graders are not supposed to deduct points for messy handwriting on the SAT and ACT essays, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have neat handwriting and better penmanship. Essay graders, after all, although they strive to be impartial, are sometimes guilty of forming unconscious biases.

It’s wise to take several practice SAT or ACT essays in the interest of improving your penmanship and developing a facility with methodically knocking out the SAT or ACT essay. Your goal should be to write the essay legibly, and make legible handwriting second nature. With enough practice, both on your penmanship and on the SAT or ACT essay, you’ll be writing a stellar essay with time to spare!

In the end, though, bad handwriting doesn’t seem to have stopped any doctors from long and lucrative careers!


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That’s it! If you want higher scores, be sure to get our Complete SAT & ACT Essays Course. It’s by a veteran pro tutor, and it’s available for immediate download only in our online store!

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