If you ask college and university professors what skill they wish their students came to college having mastered, the number one response will be academic writing. Being able to write clearly and fluidly and to utilize research to create a compelling argument is vital for students, but it is also a skill that a growing number of incoming freshmen have yet to master. One reason for that revolves around high school instruction. Although there is a push to make writing a bigger part of the high school curriculum, the writing taught in secondary schools is not necessarily the same set of writing skills that will make students successful in college.

In this article, we’ll take a look at ways that high school students can improve their writing skills, both to succeed in high school and to prepare for college.

Why Academic Writing is a Problem for High Schoolers

By the time a student enters college, that student is statistically likely to be among the majority of incoming freshmen required to take a remedial academic writing course in order to prepare for college-level writing. The reason for this is that high schools aren’t doing enough to prepare students for academic writing, in large measure due to the increased emphasis on standardized testing. Over the past several decades, standardized tests have become the key way that high schools measure student performance, and this means that instructors spend more time “teaching to the test” than teaching for student learning and comprehension. As a result, because standardized tests focus on filling bubble sheets for multiple-choice answers, paper writing is deemphasized. Even Advanced Placement courses that carry college-level credit and do include essays in many subjects grade their essays primarily on keywords and information, not on coherence, style, or argumentation.

The upshot is that students are learning a different set of skills in high school than they will need in college, and this creates a disconnect between student expectations and college instructors’ expectations in terms of writing.

What to Do About It

In the long term, the most obvious solution is for high schools to do more to teach academic writing to students while moving away from the standardized testing model. However, this is not a very practical solution for the immediate future since it takes time to revamp the education system. Instead, if you are in high school now, you need to take steps yourself to help develop your essay writing skills. One way to do so is to take a dedicated writing course or to work with a writing tutor to improve your writing skills. 

But there are also things you can begin to do right now on your own to improve your writing.

  1. Read more books. The best way to learn to write well is to read good writing. Devote time each day to reading good quality literature on a variety of subjects. The more you read quality works, the better your writing will become because you will develop an understanding of the rhythms of good writing and the techniques writers use to develop their narratives. Both fiction and nonfiction can help, but for academic writing, try to read quality articles and essays such as you would find in literary magazines and high-end publications like The New Yorker.
  2. Practice free writing. Becoming good at writing means practicing your writing. This doesn’t have to be in the form of formal essays every time, but you should be writing every day to help get used to the rhythms of writing and to make it a natural part of your communication repertoire—and it needs to be a bit more developed than just text messages. You could try keeping a diary or practicing freewriting where you simply write down whatever comes into your head. 
  3. Master mechanics. The mechanics of writing are essential foundations for developing high-quality essays, so devoting time now to mastering the finer points of spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation will go a long way toward giving you a strong base for future college work. There are a number of apps that can drill you in writing mechanics to prepare you for college-level work.
  4. Consider professional help. Many students find that consulting a professional academic essay written by an expert writer online to be a great way to get fast help with their own paper. As a matter of fact, custom essay writing services like SmartWritingService company can help to free students from essay worries by developing custom-written papers to address their essay assignments and show them the right way to approach any topic. When used according to your school’s policies and procedures, such essays can be a powerful help in developing writing skills.

The Future of Writing

Many argue that writing will give way to new forms of communication in the social media age, and indeed video is fast becoming an important part of the educational experience. However, writing isn’t going away anytime soon, and students need to be prepared to master the traditional forms of academic writing, not just to succeed in college but because written communication remains a vital skill that employers seek. A survey of employers found that one of the top skills they look for in potential new hires is strong written communication skills. Having a solid foundation in the mechanics of writing and how to communicate clearly and concisely will go a long way toward aiding in a future career.