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Preparing for the ACT Test with Writing

About the ACT Writing Test

The ACT writing test is a 40-minute essay test that measures your writing skills. The test consists of one writing prompt that will describe a complex issue and present three different perspectives on that issue.  It is a paper-and-pencil test. You will write your essay in pencil (no mechanical pencils or ink pens) on the lined pages of an answer folder that will be provided to you. The only exception is for approved students with diagnosed disabilities who cannot hand write the essay. (See Services for Students with Disabilities.) 

The ACT writing test complements the English and reading tests. The combined information from these tests tells postsecondary institutions about students’ understanding of the conventions of standard written English and their ability to produce a direct sample of writing. The writing test cannot be taken without first taking all four multiple-choice tests in the same session. 

You are asked to read the prompt and write an essay in which you develop your own perspective on the issue. Your essay should analyze the relationship between your perspective and one or more other perspectives. You may adopt a perspective from the prompt, partially or fully, or you may generate your own. Your score will not be affected by the point of view you take on the issue.

The ACT® test with writing is available on all six national test dates in the United States, US territories, Puerto Rico, and Canada; on five international test dates in other locations; and for Special or Arranged Testing during six designated three-week testing windows (five if testing outside the United States, US territories, Puerto Rico, or Canada).

Some colleges require the ACT writing test. You should decide whether or not you should take it based on the requirements of the colleges you are applying to or considering.

Why the ACT Writing Test Is Optional 

Because postsecondary institutions have varying needs, we offer the ACT writing test as an option. 

  • Postsecondary institutions are making their own decisions about whether to require the results from the ACT writing test for admissions and/or course placement purposes. 
  • Students will decide whether to take the writing test based on the requirements of the institutions they are considering. 

Students are not required to take a test that they do not need to take, thus incurring unnecessary expense, and institutions have the freedom to require the tests that best meet their information needs. 

 

Practice Your Writing Skills 

Read. Write. Repeat. 

There are many ways to prepare for the ACT writing test that don't even include writing at all. Reading newspapers and magazines, listening to news analyses on television or radio, and participating in discussions and debates about issues and problems all help you build a foundation for your writing skills. These activities help you become more familiar with current issues, with different perspectives on those issues, and with strategies that skilled writers and speakers use to present their points of view. 

Of course, one of the best ways to prepare for the ACT writing test is to practice writing. But you don’t have to sit at a desk and fill a notebook with essays. Practice writing for different purposes, with different audiences in mind. The writing you do in your English classes will help you. Practice writing stories, poems, plays, editorials, reports, letters to the editor, a personal journal, or other kinds of writing that you do on your own—including, yes, essays. 

The ACT writing test asks you to explain your perspective on an issue in a convincing way, so writing opportunities such as editorials or letters to the editor of a newspaper are especially helpful. Practicing various types of writing will help make you a versatile writer able to adjust to different writing assignments. 

Finally, don’t forget you only have 40 minutes on test day. Get some practice writing within a time limit. This will not only give you an advantage on the test, but also will help you build skills that are important in college-level learning and in the world of work. 

Build Your Writing Skills 

Everyday ways to improve your writing 

You can strengthen your writing skills just about anywhere, anytime. Read below for some ideas to make writing, responding, and organizing your thoughts part of your daily routine:   

  • Read and write frequently. Read as much as you can from a variety of sources, including plays, essays, fiction, poetry, news stories, business writing, and magazine features. 
  • Become familiar with current issues in society and develop your own opinions. Think of arguments you would use to convince someone of your perspective. Taking speech and debate classes can help you think through issues and communicate them to others. 
  • Practice writing in different formats and in as many real situations as possible. Write letters to the editor, or letters to a company requesting information. 
  • Try some writing in extracurricular activities. School newspapers, yearbooks, and creative writing clubs offer opportunities to express ideas in writing. 
  • Share your writing with others and get feedback. Feedback helps you anticipate how readers might interpret your writing and what types of questions they might have. This can help you anticipate what a reader might want to know. 
  • Learn to see writing as a process—brainstorming, planning, writing, and then editing. This applies to all writing activities. 
  • Listen to the advice your English teacher gives you about your writing. 
  • Strive for well-developed and well-organized writing that uses precise, clear, and concise language. 
  • Remember that everyone can improve their writing skills. Confidence and skill will grow with the more writing you do. Practice and work lead to achievement. 

 

Tips for Taking the ACT Writing Test

Pace Yourself

The ACT writing test contains one question to be completed in 40 minutes. When asked to write a timed essay, most writers find it useful to do some planning before they write the essay and to do a final check of the essay when it is finished. It is unlikely that you will have time to draft, revise, and recopy your essay.

Plan

Before writing, carefully read and consider all prompt material. Be sure you understand the issue, its perspectives, and your essay task. The prewriting questions included with the prompt will help you analyze the perspectives and develop your own. Use these questions to think critically about the prompt and generate effective ideas in response. Ask yourself how your ideas and analysis can best be supported and organized in a written argument. Use the prewriting space in your test booklet to structure or outline your response.

Write

Establish the focus of your essay by making clear your argument and its main ideas. Explain and illustrate your ideas with sound reasoning and meaningful examples. Discuss the significance of your ideas: what are the implications of what you have to say, and why is your argument important to consider? As you write, ask yourself if your logic is clear, you have supported your claims, and you have chosen precise words to communicate your ideas.

Review Your Essay

Take a few minutes before time is called to read over your essay. Correct any mistakes. If you find any words that are hard to read, recopy them. Make corrections and revisions neatly between the lines. Do not write in the margins. Your readers know you had only 40 minutes to compose and write your essay. Within that time limit, try to make your essay as polished as you can.

Practice

There are many ways to prepare for the ACT writing test. These include reading newspapers and magazines, listening to news analyses on television and radio, and participating in discussions and debates.

One of the best ways to prepare for the ACT writing test is to practice writing with different purposes for different audiences. The writing you do in your classes will help you. So will writing essays, stories, editorials, a personal journal, or other writing you do on your own.

It is also a good idea to practice writing within a time limit. Taking the practice ACT writing test will give you a sense of how much additional practice you may need. You might want to take the practice ACT writing test even if you do not plan to take the ACT with writing, because this will help build skills that are important in college-level learning and in the world of work.