The ACT Writing Test – An Overview Part 1

September 27, 2017 

ACT writing test tips

(First in a two-part series)

It takes a lot of focus and endurance to complete the ACT test. As the Writing test associated with it is optional, the temptation is often to quietly opt out. After all, many colleges do not require the Writing section, and opting out of it means having more time and energy to devote to preparing for the English, Math, Reading, and Science sections.

If this is your current intention, let us encourage you to take another look at the ACT Writing test. It is true that many colleges do not insist that applicants take the essay section of this standardized test. However, if you are setting your sights high, a significant portion of the top schools (for example, the California Institute of Technology, UC Berkeley, Harvard, and Yale) still want to see your writing. In addition, if you are a good writer, taking the Writing section may give you an advantage over other applicants. Good writing is a rare and valuable skill. 

According to the ACT website, you have 40 minutes to write your essay.  After reading a short passage, you are offered a choice of three “perspectives” on the issue presented. On the website, the sample passage is titled “Public Health and Individual Freedom.” The first sample perspective posits that public health (“the greatest good for the greatest number of people”) is more important than freedom. The second perspective takes the opposite view. The third perspective argues for a view that does not prioritize one issue above the other. “Your perspective,” the prompt explains, “may be in full agreement with any of those given, in partial agreement, or completely different.”

The prompt (or “Essay Task”) also describes the type of essay the testers are looking for, which is (no surprise!) unified, coherent, developed, and supported.

The ACT website offers some helpful ACT Writing test tips for organizing your writing time:

“Pace Yourself”

This is writing under pressure. It has more in common with finishing an essay test than carefully crafting a research paper. Nevertheless, your writing skills can still shine. You will need to budget the time you spend on each step of writing—brainstorming, writing, and polishing and revising.



Time spent reading and understanding the passage, the three sample perspectives, and the prompt is time well spent. Creating a scratch outline or brainstorming diagram (such as the web or fishbone graphic) can be useful as well.


The actual writing will take the bulk of your time. With 40 minutes at your disposal, you should use about 30 to 35 actually writing. As you write, strive to express your ideas with clarity, organization, and grammatical and mechanical correctness. However, do not stress in the attempt to make everything “perfect.” You will have a chance, if you have used your time wisely, to do a final, quick edit.

“Review your essay”

Allow for five minutes at the end to proof and generally review your essay. This is not a time for major content or organizational changes, but for small tweaks and corrections. Planning for this review time requires being aware of the clock—don’t let that “Time’s up” take you by surprise!

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, we understand standardized test taking. That includes essay writing and lending some ACT Writing test tips! We match you with knowledgeable, trained tutors who work with you to attain your “personal best” score.

If you would like more information about the ACT essay, or any aspect of the PSAT, SAT, or ACT, our Client Service Directors Anne Stanley and Susan Ware are available to answer questions and provide solutions. You may reach either of them by calling A+ Test Prep and Tutoring at 215-886-9188.

(Look for Part 2 of this series—“How Is My Essay Scored?”)

Photo credit: BookMama


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