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Like anything in life, the key to being ready for whatever is heading your way is, you guessed it, to prepare! Today we turn our attention to the ACT Writing Test. You’ll be happy to know that it isn’t rocket science. Learning about what to expect before test day can go a long way towards boosting your scores. Below, you’ll find a few keys for unlocking the secrets of the ACT Writing Test!



To begin with, you should know that the ACT Writing Test is optional. That being said, chances are good that at least one of the schools to which you’re intending to apply will require it, so I would recommend planning for the writing test. To find out if your prospective schools require the writing section or not, simply click here!

Secondly, you should know what to expect regarding the format of the test. In a nutshell, you’ll be provided with three different perspectives on an issue and it is then your job to “state and develop” your perspective, while also taking into consideration all three of the viewpoints that have been provided. However, when preparing for a standardized test, knowing “the nutshell” version of what is expected of you is not enough – take the time to become familiar with the specific directions that you’ll encounter on test day. In the case of the ACT Writing Test, one potentially tricky thing to be aware of is that the directions are twofold and are found in two different locations. On the front page of your writing test booklet you will see the following:


On the second page of your test booklet, however, you will find your Essay Task – “Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives. In your essay be sure to: analyze and evaluate the perspectives given; state and develop your own perspective on the issue; and explain the relationship between your perspective and those given.” Be sure to address these three requirements in your writing!

Now, plan accordingly.  Remember, you have forty minutes to read the prompt, brainstorm, plan your response, and write your essay. I recommend using the first (and crucial) 8-10 minutes to read the prompt, brainstorm, and plan. If you can do these tasks well, then actually writing your essay will be a breeze! After the crucial first 10 minutes, use 25 minutes to write your essay, and then the final 5 minutes or so to proof-read and edit your work.


  • In tackling any sort of test or academic task, it’s always useful to know what the grading criteria are. This is The ACT Writing Test Scoring Rubric. It may not be the most exciting reading you’ve ever done, but by going through the rubric you will know exactly which requirements must be met in order to earn top scores on the four grading domains of Ideas & Analysis,Development & Support, Organization, and Language Use. Along these lines, know that two examiners will mark your essay – each will give you a score of 1-6 on the four aforementioned domains and then their scores will be added together. This means that your highest possible score on the writing test is a 48 (i.e. both examiners give you a 6 on all four criteria) and your lowest possible score is an 8 (i.e. both examiners give you a 1 on all four criteria). To see how these raw scores are then translated into your scale score, see the end of this post for score conversion information from the ACT.
  • Imagine that you are an examiner, reading countless essays, and reading them rather quickly. What would you look for in the writing? One of the most important things, in my estimation, is that you make it abundantly clear in your introductory paragraph which perspective you are supporting, while also acknowledging the other perspectives. In doing so, paraphrasing each of the perspectives (rather than writing them out word-for-word from the prompt) is a nice way to show the examiners that you have a good understanding of the different viewpoints.
  • In terms of which perspective to support, I highly recommend that you choose one of the three perspectives that have been provided. You are free to come up with your own perspective, of course, but you’re only setting yourself up for more work, as you must now explain the relationship between four different perspectives rather than three! Remember, you only have forty minutes from start to finish.
  • You should think of specific examples to both support your own perspective and to counter the others. You can use examples from history and from the current day – just be sure that your examples support your points! Remember, one of the writing domains being assessed by the examiners is Development & Support, and appropriate examples are key to the development of your ideas and support for your claims.
  • Regarding the organization of your essay (another writing domain being assessed), keep your essay to a standard four or five paragraph structure – introduction, body, conclusion. This is not the time to be creative. You are instructed to write a cookie-cutter-type essay and should proceed to do so. One possibility is:
    • Intro paragraph – Introduce all three perspectives and let the examiner know, beyond a doubt, which perspective you support.
    • 2nd paragraph – Evaluate one of the perspectives you are not supporting, and use specific examples to develop your ideas and support your claims.
    • 3rd paragraph – Evaluate the other perspective that you are not supporting, and use specific examples to develop your ideas and support your claims.
    • 4th paragraph – Evaluate the perspective that you do support, and use specific examples to develop your ideas and support your claims. Be sure to explain the relationship between your perspective and the others! This paragraph will likely be a bit longer than paragraph 2 and paragraph 3, since this is your chance to really provide support for your own perspective.
    • Conclusion – Bring it all together, touching once again on all three perspectives and making the case for the perspective that you support.
  • Throughout your essay, pay attention to the language that you’re using! Essays that earn 6s onLanguage Use include word choice that is “skillful and precise”, sentence structures that are “consistently varied and clear”, and a formal tone that is “strategic and effective.” When you’re using your final five minutes to revise the essay, be sure to pay particular attention to spelling and grammar.
  • Finally, practice, practice, practice!  The ACT has released two official Writing Test questions. For the first prompt, on the topic of intelligent machines, click here.  For the second prompt, on the topic of public health and individual freedom, click here and go to page 53.

Remember, a little preparation goes a long way. Happy writing!

p.s – As promised, The ACT Raw Scores to Scale Score Conversion Table: