The ACT Writing Test (essay) is an optional component of the ACT that comes at the end of the test for those who elect to take it. Students who wish to apply to highly competitive colleges or who wish to demonstrate their writing ability for any reason (including class placement) should choose to take the Writing Test. Demonstrating an ability to write a high scoring essay definitely gives a student an advantage in the college admission process. Students who possess great writing skills are very attractive to colleges, most of which view writing as a critical component in post secondary and career success.

The task seems simple enough: in 40 minutes write an argumentative essay in response to a given topic. However, in doing so, one must convincingly develop and support a position, compare it to one or more of three given perspectives, and provide supporting evidence drawn from culture, history, current events, and/or personal experience. The topics themselves are representations of situations that one might encounter in real life and that would likely impact a great number of people. Prompts may be on issues related to school or government, or issues of importance to our society or world as a whole.

In all cases the prompt includes a paragraph that describes a question or a situation facing society. This paragraph is followed by three perspectives on the issue.

The responding essay must accomplish the following three objectives:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the issue at hand and of the three given perspectives.
  • Clearly state, develop, and support a unique position.
  • Clarify the relationship between one’s perspective and one or more of the threegiven perspectives

In doing so, one may indicate agreement with one perspective, or multiple perspectives, wholly or partially. The essay will be graded on very specific criteria; however, these do not include choice of perspective. Any perspective you choose to take is acceptable, as long as you can convincingly support it using evidence from acceptable sources that may include personal experience, literature, or history. This is a writing sample—an exercise in persuasive writing. You must develop your own voice, present strong opinions, and provide valid evidence in support of your position.

When it comes to both the ACT essay and writing in general, the “standard essay” does not earn you high scores. It earns you “standard” scores. To stand out, you must dare to be different. You must dare to be daring. Writing—even for standardized tests—does not have to be boring or unimaginative, nor should it be. With your writing style, your approach, your content, your examples, your beginning, and your conclusion, consider your audience and the effect your writing assignment will have on them.

Five Tips on Writing an Award Winning ACT Essay

  1. Write a cohesive, coherent essay.
    The order of your sentences and paragraphs should be logical and produce an essay with a natural rhythm and flow. Accomplish this by starting with an outline in which you plan out your essay and then by using connectors and the multiple sentence technique as you write.
  2. Provide some analysis of one or more of the perspectives provided.
    Provide a basic analysis of, and offer a brief opinion on, one, two or all three of the given perspectives. Your analysis and opinions should be stated carefully so as to present yourself as a knowledgeable student who pays attention to events of national and international importance, or who can see larger implications of local or personal events.
  3. Develop your own unique perspective on the issue:
    Clearly state your own perspective on the issue. In doing so, take a position that you can effectively support. Before heading down a path from which you cannot return (you cannot ask for more paper) consider some of the examples you will choose and evidence you will cite. All must be thoughtful and convincing.
  4. Elaborate on the relationship between your perspective and that/those provided. Your perspective may agree with any of the others, may partially agree, or may disagree.
    Provide analysis on how your perspective agrees or disagrees with one or more of the three given perspectives. You may agree with one or more of the perspectives, agree with some aspect of the perspectives, or disagree with all perspectives. For the best results, find at least partial agreement with one or more of the perspectives. The ability to agree yet disagree provides additional texture to your essay.
  5. You must support your position with reasoning that is logical and detailed. You must include persuasive examples.

Your response must include examples that are logical and sensible. Mostly, they must be important and logical to the reader. These examples should come from a variety of sources, such as local events, national and international events, recent or historical events, personal experience, or textbooks. Do not include anything that would be considered unimportant or trivial to the reader. Personal anecdotes are fine, as long as they are important and relevant to the topic. However, keep in mind that what is important to you may not be important to the reader. It is better to come across as worldly and mature than parochial and self-centered. The reader may not care as much as you that you lost the big basketball game. He would be much more open to rewarding you for your views on religion, politics, or the environment.