Last Updated: Jul 24, 2017
Want to write an ACT essay worthy of a 12? Start by following these tips.
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.
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.
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.
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.