ACT Writing Exam

The writing test, which is an optional portion of the ACT, is a short written exercise that is given at the end of the regular exam. The test is intended to test skills that are learned in high school or entry-level college composition courses. The exam itself consists of a writing prompt, generally about a social issue that a high school student would be expected to encounter, and two opposing points of view on the subject discussed in the prompt. The student is expected to then write a short essay defining the student’s position on the issue and explaining the reasons behind it. There is no guideline on the essay structure, and the student may write as long or short an essay as they are capable of in the time allotted.

Scoring of the writing essay is different than that of the regular exam. Two essay readers will read the student’s essay and score it on a scale of 0 to 6, 0 being assigned if the essay is illegible, not in English, blank, completely off-topic or fails to meet the stated guidelines for the exam in some other fashion. The scores are then summed to create the composite score for the exam. If the scorers disagree by a margin greater than one point, then a senior scorer is brought in to evaluate the essay and provide a final scoring. The writing exam was instituted in February 2005, roughly the same time the SAT was modified into its present format.

 Besides studying and exam prep activities, there are several basic steps students can take to help maximize their results on the ACT Writing exam:
  • Every test booklet has instructions on the front cover; read them carefully. Failure to do so can result in incorrect results or dismissal for not abiding by them.
  • Before starting to write the essay, take a minute or so to plan out how you plan to answer the question posed in the prompt. Take notes as needed in the essay booklet, and follow these guidelines for your planning:
    • Carefully consider the essay prompt. Make sure you understand what it’s asking, and go over it again if it seems unclear on the first read.
    • Decide on how you are going to answer the prompt.
    • As mentioned above, take notes. They don’t have to conform to a preset list; just make sure you take down some ideas on how to proceed, whether it is a list of reasons, examples, or anything else that helps define the general shape of the essay.
    • Try to come up with counter-arguments or flaws in your argument, and try to address them in your notes so you can tackle them in the essay.
    • Decide how your essay will be structured and organized.
  • Outline the issue at the essay’s beginning so readers will know you understand it.
  • Use clear and logical steps to explain your position.
  • Explain the issue’s broader implications, or analyze it within a wider context, if possible.
  • Present counter-arguments to the opposing views you noted before starting.
  • Be specific whenever possible.
  • Avoid monotony in your essay by using varied sentence length and structure. Along those lines, be careful to use precision in your word choices.
  • Stay on-topic, and be sure your transitions from one thought to another and one paragraph to another are clear and reasonable.
  • Be sure to conclude strongly, reinforcing or summing up your argument in the process.
  • If there is time, be sure to review the essay, correcting grammar and syntactical errors, illegible writing, punctuation and logical errors as neatly as possible.