6 Tips for Crushing the ACT Writing Section

Want to write an ACT essay worthy of a 12? Start by following these five tips.

Want to write an ACT essay worthy of a 12? Start by following these tips.

Related: The Best ACT Test Prep Sites, Books, and More

1. Know what to expect

First things first: if you want to crush your ACT essay, it helps to know what the Writing section entails. Then you can prepare accordingly, and you won’t be caught off guard.  

The ACT Writing section tests your ability to choose a stance or argument on an issue then use detail, logic, and effective language to support your position. You will have 40 minutes to read the given prompt, plan, and respond in an essay format.

Your ACT composite score reflects the average scores you received on the four subject areas: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. However, the Writing portion is scored separately out of 12 points. Two readers score your essay between 1 and 6. The two scores are added together resulting in a score between 2 and 12. Then, your essay score is combined with your score on the English section, resulting in an English/Writing score out of 36.

The ACT Writing section is not required by all colleges; however, it’s generally a good idea to take it anyway, just in case you end up applying to a school that does require it. If you want to know if a college you wish to attend requires it, try looking at the college’s website or ask your school counselor.

Related: What Colleges Are Looking for in Your SAT/ACT Scores

2. Manage your time

One of the scariest things that can happen is not finishing your ACT essay! To avoid that, break down the time you’ve been given. I modified a Baron test preparation time breakdown to fit the 40 minutes you will be given to complete your essay: 5-40-5. (From Barron's ACT 36: Aiming for the Perfect Score, by Alexander Spare. Chapter "25: Writing an Effective Essay," by Ann S. Hirsch, Johnathan Pazol, and Krista L. McDaniel. 2nd ed., 2012.)

Use the first five minutes of your time to choose a topic, consider what your main points will be, and pick which examples you should use. Most importantly, don’t forget to choose a position: You’re either for it or against! You either think it’s good or bad!

The largest chunk of time, 40 minutes, is for actually writing the essay. The final five minutes are for editing and rereading what you wrote.

Related: So You Want a 36: How to Study for the ACT in 4 Easy Steps

3. Choose the side you can defend best

I said this already but it wouldn’t hurt to say it again: choose the side you can defend best! By that I mean to choose the side of your argument you can think of strong support, examples, and points for. The flimsier your argument, the harder it will be for you to write. Even if it’s not necessarily the side of the argument you believe in or support, that’s okay. In the end, you just need to effectively demonstrate your ability to argue a position using logic, detail, and support.

4. Don’t forget counterclaims!

In your race against the clock, don’t forget to include counterclaims in your essay. What’s a counterclaim? It’s a counterargument that recognizes the evidence, examples, or support the opposing side may use and refutes them.

Let’s say the ACT Writing prompt asks, “Should students be allowed to chew gum in school?” Imagine you chose the position that’s pro gum-chewing in schools. While developing your essay, you would have to include rebuttals that address the anti-gum-chewing side. For example, the anti-gum-chewing side might say gum-chewing leads to gum under desks, on walls, and all over the school. You could refute that claim by offering suggestions on to how to eliminate gum under desks and explain that gum has positive effects on students while testing.

5. Proofread and edit your essay

Since we were young, we’ve been exposed to the writing process. We’ve been told a thousand times at least to prewrite, draft, revise, edit, and proofread our work. Using those five minutes you saved for editing is essential!

The stress of writing in a time crunch is enough to make anyone make mistakes. However, if they aren’t fixed with proofreading they just might be what stands between you and a 12 on your ACT Writing. Use the final five minutes to fix errors and polish your writing if you can. Put an exclamation point where you had a period, changing that “they’re” that should’ve been “their,” or insert the word you missed.

By making these small changes, you’re both making your essay easier to read and understand and showing that you’re prepared for college-level writing. And that’s what it’s all about.

Related: Essential Tips, Tricks, and Strategies for Taking the SAT and ACT

6. Use neat handwriting

Computers don’t read our essays and score them; actual people do. And they can only score what they can read.

ACT essay graders only have about a minute or two to read each essay. That’s it! The last thing they want to do (I’m assuming, of course) is spend 15 seconds deciphering your hieroglyphic-like handwriting. Readers should be able to tell the difference between your written t’s and d’s, m’s and n’s and so on.

If writing neatly is a challenge for you, take your time and try practicing before the test!

How are you preparing for the ACT Writing section? Got any questions for acing the essay? Leave a comment or get in touch.

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now


About Kiarra Louis

Kiarra Louis

"I write to live and I live to write." I am 17 years old and continuously finding myself inspired by the world around me. Books are my solace and always has been. Apart from writing, I like to watch films based on true stories and learn from them as I try to do with everything else in life. I could be described as dedicated, creative, and open minded.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Courtney Smith

Courtney Smith

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has been a huge help! The website is very organized with finding the right scholarship for anyone and anything. With CollegeXpress, I've been able to find many scholarship opportunities to apply for. Not only that, I'm also able to search for the colleges I have interest in and see what’s required and what scholarships they offer. I've learned a lot from CollegeXpress. They've helped me in many ways to achieve my goals!

Jada Bohanon

Jada Bohanon

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me find scholarships for the colleges I applied to. It was very hard for me to find scholarships in the beginning that I was qualified for. My teachers recommended this website to find some, and not only did I find some scholarships but I also got to look into some schools I hadn’t heard of before. I was very happy to have discovered this website, especially with the coronavirus spreading all over as I can’t really go visit many colleges.

Kory Gilbertson

Kory Gilbertson

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me explore my views on college in that "why do I wanna go to a certain school" way. It’s helped me explore the best fits in all of these outstanding choices. All these college admission counselors can access my accolades showing them how I could help their college. This source of information helps me show these admission directors who I am and what I'm interested in. Thanks to this platform, my experience for education will be better than most, and I'm so grateful for all that it has provided for me.

Damian Rangel

Damian Rangel

September 2021 Mini Scholarship Winner, High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me tackle college expenses, which will allow me to put more of my time and effort into my studies without the need of worrying as much about finances.

Cameron Lee

Cameron Lee

High School Class of 2022

I used CollegeXpress to search for colleges. It helped me narrow down the schools on the West Coast and which schools had Construction Engineering programs. I made my decision to go to OSU and I am so excited about it.

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Drake University

Des Moines, IA

University of Vermont

Burlington, VT

Washington College

Chestertown, MD

High Point University

High Point, NC