If your student is a strong writer, taking the ACT Writing test is probably a no-brainer, but those who struggle with writing assignments in school may be hesitant to take this optional section of the exam. The time limit of the ACT Writing section may also be intimidating for some students. Our message is simple: Don’t sweat it!
If your student is willing to do some work ahead of time, he can maximize his score on the ACT Writing section on test day.
Here is the lowdown on the ACT Writing section:
- Your student will have 30 minutes to read, plan, and write a response to a prompt about an issue relevant to a high school student’s daily life.
- Prompts can involve issues ranging from debates over school uniforms to the legal drinking age. Each prompt will instruct your student to “take a position” on one of two presented perspectives. Alternatively, he or she can craft an entirely new position to support. Remind your student that the ACT Writing prompt will be relevant to high school students, so there’s no need to fret over preparing answers for specific topics ahead of time. Browse through this helpful list of ACT writing prompts available on a high school’s website.
- The trained readers who score the essay are looking for the essay to be convincing, thoughtfully organized, and thoroughly developed; your student needs to be able to select a position and back up his or her argument with supporting examples. In addition, it is crucial that the student address and refute the counterargument in the ACT essay.
- There is no “right” or “wrong” position on the topic; more important is the student’s ability to grasp the prompt and craft a response that maintains a clear and well-reasoned position— using specific evidence and proper writing mechanics.
How Else Can Your Student Prepare for the ACT Writing Prompt?
Reviewing Possible Topics
In order to familiarize you with the kinds of issues that are typically addressed in ACT Writing prompts, below are five prompt examples:
- The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires all school libraries receiving certain federal funds to install and use blocking software to prevent students from viewing material considered “harmful to minors.” However, some studies conclude that blocking software in schools damages educational opportunities for students, both by blocking access to Web pages that are directly related to the state-mandated curriculums and by restricting broader inquiries of both students and teachers. In your view, should the schools block access to certain Internet Web sites? (Source: The Princeton Review’s Cracking the ACT, 2008)
- Many communities are considering adopting curfews for high school students. Some educators and parents favor curfews because they believe it will encourage students to focus more on their homework and make them more responsible. Others feel curfews are up to families, not the community, and that students today need freedom to work and participate in social activities in order to mature properly. Do you think that communities should impose curfews on high school students? (Source: The Princeton Review’s Cracking the ACT, 2008)
- In response to articles examining sensitive topics such as dating and partying, many schools are considering censoring their newspapers. Some schools believe that these topics are not appropriate for student-run papers, while others believe that, as long as what is printed is true, student papers should have the same freedoms as regular newspapers do. What is your opinion on this topic? (Source: The Princeton Review’s Cracking the ACT, 2008)
- Most schools have established honor codes or other rules to prevent students from cheating on exams and other school assignments. Many students admit to cheating, arguing that the practice has become so common—and is so rarely penalized—that it is the only way to survive in today’s competitive academic world. Educators, however, feel that such behaviors only hurt the students, and that cheating in school is just the first step to more academic dishonesty, professional misconduct, and unethical business practices in the future. In your view, should high schools become more tolerant of cheating? (Source: The Princeton Review’s Cracking the ACT, 2005)
- In some high schools, students are required to complete a certain number of community service hours prior to graduation. Some people think community service is a good requirement because they think students will benefit from this experience. Other people think schools should not require community service because students will resent the requirement and, as a result, will not benefit from the experience. In your opinion, should high schools require students to complete a certain number of hours of community service? (Source: The Real ACT Prep Guide, 2005)
While there is no way of knowing what essay topic will be presented on test day, remind your child that every question will identify an issue and provide two possible points of view to help kick-start the process.
Practice in a Test-Like Environment
One of the best ways to help your student prepare for the ACT Writing prompt is to create a test-like environment in which to practice. Set a timer for 30 minutes and hold your student to the time limit. Other students will be in the room on test day, so practicing alone in a quiet place may not be the best way to simulate the test-day experience. A coffee shop may have music, loud meetings going on, and chatty patrons—more noise than an ACT testing location would have. A good compromise might be to have your student write the essay in a library where there are some distractions, but not many. By practicing in a simulated test-like environment, your student should feel more at ease on test day.
Understanding ACT Essay Scoring Guidelines
Writing practice ACT essays isn’t the only way to prepare. Encourage your student to look at examples of scored ACT essays as well. This helpful post from GoodLuckACT.com shows six different sample essays written in response to the same prompt—and gives the reasoning for each score. Learning what components go into a well-written essay can help your student incorporate those factors on test day. ACTstudent.org has similar examples to help you understand how to earn the best possible score on the ACT Writing test. You may also want to read through the official ACT Essay Scoring Rubric.
By becoming familiar with the typical wording and content of ACT Writing prompts, simulating a test-like environment, and understanding how to approach the ACT Writing prompt to earn a top score, your child will feel more ready to conquer the ACT Writing test.
For information on how ACT writing prompts are scored, check out our sample graded essays with comments. If you are looking for one-on-one test prep assistance, remember that A+ offers personalized ACT preparation programs and free proctored practice tests that can help your student prepare for all sections of the ACT, including the ACT Writing section.
Also, this page has examples of ACT and SAT essays written by our students, as well as the comments they received from our expert online essay graders. All essays are graded according to the College Board and ACT essay rubrics.
Related Articles: Raise Your Confidence: Practice ACT Writing Prompts