We've written the best study guide to ACT Writing section and the ACT essay available anywhere.
This is a bold statement, but it's not an exaggeration. We have read many, many different ACT prep books and thoroughly studied ACT, Inc’s resources. Based on our research, we believe that this guide is the best resource available by far for ACT Writing.
In this guide, we cover each aspect of the ACT essay in detail, from what kinds of prompts you'll be asked to write about to the essential underlying skills the essay prompt is testing. You'll learn the best ACT writing tips and strategies as well as how to get the most out of ACT writing practice and prep.
If you're looking for a comprehensive guide to ACT Writing and how to improve your ACT Writing score, you'll find this resource invaluable. By mastering the skills tested, practicing with realistic ACT Writing prompts, and zeroing in on your weak spots, you'll have the tools to dramatically boost your ACT Writing score.
I've organized this article into five different sections, based on the level of detail covered in the articles. We'll start with understanding the general structure of the ACT Writing section and having the right mindset for the essay. Next, we'll cover why colleges care about the ACT essay and which colleges require or recommend it.
In the third section of this article, we'll go into ACT Writing in more detail and examine the rubric, prompts, and format. We'll then take a look at how to fit ACT Writing prep into your study plan and how to get the most out of your study time for score improvement. Finally, we'll end with a couple of special guides about avoiding plagiarism and dealing with ACT Writing scoring issues.
We suggest reading this guide in order to start, then using it as a reference page to come back to as you progress in your test prep.
ACT Writing: The Basics
The articles in this first section of our ultimate ACT Writing Guide introduce you to the ACT essay task and scoring without getting too far into the details. Use these articles to learn the best way to approach the ACT essay.
This article serves as an introduction to ACT Writing test changes that were implemented September 2015. We go into the difference between the current ACT essay and the previous ACT Writing test, which is great if you took the old ACT Writing and aren't sure what the new one looks like. It's also a helpful general overview of what's in the section and how it differs from other essays you might have written in the past.
In this guide, we walk you through the layout of the ACT test and how long each of the sections and breaks is. You'll find information for regular and extended time, along with tips for dealing with the extreme length of the test and maintaining stamina and focus through the essay.
Read this guide to get an overview of the way the ACT essay is scored and a brief discussion of each of the rubric criteria. You'll get a taste of what the essay graders are looking for and high-level advice on how to meet those expectations with your ACT essay.
As with the ACT overall, it's important to have a score goal in mind when you study for ACT Writing. Because the weight placed on ACT Writing scores varies from school to school and schools' average ACT Writing scores are not always in line with their other ACT scores, you'll want to set your ACT Writing score goal based on the specific requirements of the schools you're applying to and nothing else.
We do the work of keeping up with ACT Writing score data releases and percentile rankings for you and give you the big picture of what it all means in this article.
How Do Colleges View ACT Writing?
One of the things that distinguishes ACT Writing from the other sections of the ACT is that you have the option not to take it every time you take the test. These guides are designed to help you navigate the confusing world of what "optional" means when it comes to the ACT essay.
It can be a little tricky to figure out what impact ACT Writing has on your college application, particularly since it's not required (or even recommended) by all schools. Read this article to better understand the rationale behind schools requiring ACT Writing and what role the ACT essay plays in the college admissions process.
There are both pros and cons to choosing to take the ACT essay. This article will help you learn what all the factors are and whether they apply to you.
Do you even need to take the ACT with Writing? A lot of whether or not you decide to take the ACT with Writing depends upon which colleges you'll be applying to. Find out if the schools you want to get into recommend or require you to take ACT Writing in this article.
Understanding ACT Writing Prompts and the ACT Essay Rubric
The articles mentioned in this section break down the ACT essay prompt and discuss the different ways to approach writing the essay. Learn what skills are needed to excel on ACT Writing and strategies for developing and sharpening those skills.
Follow along with our step-by-step walkthroughs of practice ACT essays and put your new knowledge to work by writing practice essays.
Dive into the ACT essay with this dissection of how ACT essay prompts are constructed. You'll learn about the three core perspectives and what the implications are for your essay's organization.
You'll need to practice with official ACT Writing prompts to truly excel at the ACT essay. This article includes all of the free and public official ACT essay prompts, along with five other prompts I constructed based on those official prompts. I also discuss the core question each prompt is asking and how to preplan examples to use in any ACT essay.
To get a 12 on the ACT essay, you must understand what the differences are between an almost-perfect and a perfect-scoring essay. I've distilled the essentials of my analysis of the ACT essay into this article. Plus, you'll get advice on what to do and what to avoid doing in your essay.
Learn how to construct a top-scoring essay, one step at a time, by following along as I go through the planning, organizing, writing, and revising stages of the ACT essay. Try the strategies in this article to streamline your essay planning and writing process.
Get into the nitty-gritty of the scoring rubric and the skills the ACT wants to see displayed in your essay with this article. You'll learn about the four different domains (ideas & analysis, development & support, organization, and language use) and what you need to do to max out your score in each domain. You'll also discover the most effective ways to use the ACT essay rubric in your own studying.
Because the prompts and perspectives you'll be asked to write about on the ACT essay fall into predictable categories, it's possible to plan out the structure of your essay ahead of time. Follow our tips for creating your own ACT essay template that you can use and reuse on the actual ACT.
ACT Writing Strategies and Tips
We've gone over the generalities of the ACT essay, the importance placed on ACT Writing by colleges, and the skills it takes to get a top-scoring ACT essay. The only thing left is to learn how to synthesize all that knowledge into concrete actions you can take to improve your essay writing. That's where the articles in this section come in.
The strategies and tips in the following guides are based on our deep knowledge of ACT Writing. From larger issues like writing a long enough essay to smaller issues like including an introduction and conclusion, the advice we offer is designed to maximize your potential essay score improvement.
The ACT essay doesn't have a specified length, but that doesn't mean you can just answer the question in a few sentences and be done. This article discusses the minimum requirements your essay has to meet to score well and what this means for the length of your essay.
You'll want to make sure you're allocating your time and energy during ACT Writing practice to activities that will yield the greatest score improvement. Read these tips for quick strategies that can have a big impact on your score.
It's unlikely you'll score a zero on the essay because your handwriting is so illegible, but that doesn't mean that messy handwriting can't hurt your essay score in other ways. Find out what the impact of bad handwriting on essay scores really is and strategies to avoid getting into that kind of mess.
Avoid ruining your essay score with messy handwriting as expertly as this cat is avoiding the invisible water being sprayed at him.
Special Guides for the ACT Essay
The two articles included in this section give special guidance on two specific aspects of ACT Writing that are unique to this section of the ACT: plagiarism and systematic scoring errors.
What's the line for what is and is not acceptable when it comes to using ACT essay templates? I draw upon my essay grading experience and ACT Writing expertise to advise you on how to prepare yourself for the essay without plagiarizing.
In this article, we discuss the issues ACT, Inc. had with the rollout of the new ACT essay in September 2015 including scoring delays, scoring inconsistencies, and student complaints. This guide is an essential read if you're trying to decide whether you want to take the SAT with essay or ACT Plus Writing. Even though some of these issues have been resolved with the essay scoring change implemented September 2016, other issues may still be active and affect your ACT Writing score.
There's a lot of information to take in from this guide, because there's a lot to understand about ACT Writing if you want to write a high-scoring essay. Reading these articles is just the first stage of your test prep, though. After making your way through all the resources linked to in this guide, you should...
- Go out and forage for high-quality study materials
- Diagnose your weaknesses and review your mistakes
- Stay motivated! Don't forget to review our other great ACT ultimate guides for English, Math, Reading, and Science for even more articles, strategies, and practice!
If all the information in this guide is overwhelming you and you're not sure you'll be able to adequately prepare for the ACT essay on your own, consider trying out our ACT prep platform. Built by Harvard grads, our program learns your individual strengths and weaknesses through advanced statistics and then uses that information to customize your prep to you. Our product also includes scoring and custom feedback for real ACT essay prompts.
Want to improve your ACT score by 4 points?
Check out our best-in-class online ACT prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your ACT score by 4 points or more.
Our program is entirely online, and it customizes what you study to your strengths and weaknesses. If you liked this ACT Writing lesson, you'll love our program. Along with more detailed lessons, you'll get your ACT essays hand-graded by a master instructor who will give you customized feedback on how you can improve. We'll also give you a step-by-step program to follow so you'll never be confused about what to study next.
Check out our 5-day free trial:
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.