Preparation for the optional ACT Writing test should include practicing with actual ACT essay prompts. It is important to approach practice ACT essay prompts the same way as when you take the ACT—that means reading the prompt and following the steps of the writing process, while also being mindful of the allotted time of 40 minutes. By practicing these steps, you will feel prepared to tackle any prompt served to you on test day.
In Fall 2015, the ACT updated the Writing portion of the test. Review the changes here.
For a point of reference, let’s take this sample prompt.
Read the Prompt
No brainer, right? It’s best to read the prompt carefully, however, to make sure you understand your objective. This updated ACT essay prompt (from the revised ACT Writing test beginning Fall 2015) asks you to “Write a unified coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on the increasing presence of intelligent machines.” The ACT Essay scoring guidelines say that to earn the highest score, “The writer generates an argument that critically engages with multiple perspectives on the given issue.” Start your prewriting with a clear understanding of each perspective and how your essay will analyze them. You don’t want to get off track and then realize later that you aren’t effectively addressing the prompt.
After carefully reading the prompt, start quickly jotting down ideas. Prewriting is a great way to decide your position—in other words, which perspective you will support. As you write down the strengths and weaknesses of the three perspectives and come up with solid examples to illustrate those viewpoints, you will start to form your own opinion on the issue, which may align exactly with one of the given perspectives or might be a “hybrid” of them or even a stance that is completely different. Remember: Scorers aren’t judging you on which side you select. They do, however, want to see how well you analyze each perspective and how convincingly you present your own viewpoint. If you need ideas on how to brainstorm, head over to the University of North Carolina’s Writing Center.
After brainstorming, briefly organize your ideas into an organized outline. A good outline will be a map of your essay and how it will flow. Begin by drafting your thesis statement, which will be the heart of your introduction: What is your position on the topic and which one of the given perspectives (or aspects of the given perspectives) do you support? Then analyze each of the perspectives, jotting down the strengths and weaknesses of each position, along with examples. Next, note briefly your own opinion on the issue. Finally, pencil in some concluding thoughts that tie everything together. The University of Washington-Tacoma has a good overview of writing an outline here.
Now that you’ve spent a few minutes brainstorming and outlining, creating your ACT essay will be easy—your ideas are already down on paper. Just follow your map! Build an attention-grabbing introduction around your thesis. Then, craft paragraphs around each of the three perspectives and your own position. Finally, end with a solid conclusion that summarizes your essay.
If time allows, go back and reread your essay to ensure that it clearly states your position and that you didn’t make any blatant spelling or grammatical errors. The ACT scoring guide says errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics may bring down your score.
It’s never a good idea to start a trip without thoughtfully mapping your course first—and the same goes for the ACT Writing test. Study the prompt, and then figure out which way you will go. List the steps you’ll take to get there, and then start writing. When you finish, check your work and make sure you didn’t make any costly errors. By following the writing process as you complete practice ACT essay prompts, you’ll be prepared to write a high-quality essay on test day in the allotted time.
For an example of a very well-constructed essay, check out the essay that got one student into all eight Ivy League schools.
1st photo by Percy
2nd photo Prime Education