The ACT Writing Test Made Simple

Mar 2024

9 Minute Read

Tagged as: ACT

A basic overview of the ACT writing test, an example prompt and a discussion of who should take this test

What is the ACT Writing Test?

The ACT offers a Writing section at the end of the exam. This 40 minute section is optional and does not affect a student’s overall composite score. (That is, you can still get a great score without taking the Writing section.) Instead, the ACT Writing test is scored on a separate metric. Two graders read the essay, and each scores it on a scale from 1 to 6. These scores are then added together to give you an overall ACT writing score, ranging from 2 to 12. For the current ACT Writing test administered in the 2020-2022 academic years, the average score is a 6.3 (based on data published by the ACT). As with the ACT English section, you'll be expected to have a firm handle on grammar and vocabulary rules.

According to the official website, the ACT Writing format consists of "one writing prompt that will describe a complex issue and present three different perspectives on that issue." Instead of sifting through many multiple-choice questions, the student is presented with a single prompt and asked to take a point of view on this prompt. She is expected to explain and provide examples for this point of view over the course of a multi-paragraph essay. You should show the relationship between your perspective and the ACT Writing prompt.

What does an ACT Writing prompt look like?

The following is an example of the kind of prompt you may see on the ACT:

For centuries, novels have been an important form of mass-entertainment. Tucked within a few hundred pages are entire worlds into which children and adults alike can escape. With the rise of film, television, and other forms of entertainment, however, the novel has become less popular. Whereas bestsellers in the past sold millions of copies, a bestseller in the 21st century might only need to print a few thousand. Does society lose something when an art form like the novel is pushed to the wayside? Or is the novel’s decrease in popularity simply an example of new art forms replacing old ones?

  • Perspective One: It is still vital for a society that people read novels. More than other forms of storytelling, novels teach readers important lessons about our shared humanity.

  • Perspective Two: Novels are still the best art form for exploring certain kinds of stories, but clearly film and television are now better suited for genres like action or adventure. Novels are not disappearing, but evolving.

  • Perspective Three: We do not mourn the loss of the telegraph or the horse and buggy, and similarly we should not mourn the decline in popularity of the novel. As societies advance, their art forms change. These new art forms tend to be superior to the ones they’ve replaced.

In the example above — as with all ACT Writing prompts — a student is expected to pick one perspective on the prompt. The student should decide on a strong thesis statement and argue for it persuasively. Further, a student should argue for a specific main idea. Next, a student is expected to use proper word choice to provide ideas and analysis. Finally, the student should write a solid conclusion to the essay.

Should I take the ACT Writing test?

Since the section is optional, a student must decide before sitting down for the test whether or not to take the ACT Writing section. This decision will vary from student to student. If you are taking the test for the second or third time and simply want to increase your main score, it may not be necessary to take the Writing section. Does your dream school or other colleges require the test? If you know that the colleges that you’ll be applying to tend to ignore the ACT Writing score, you might opt out of taking this section.

However, for several reasons, we usually encourage students to sit for the ACT Writing section. First, sitting for the Writing section signals to universities that you are a serious test-taker. You are someone who deliberately goes the extra step in filling out your portfolio. Additionally, colleges have access to the ACT Writing essays and can read your work if they choose to do so. The ACT Writing section can therefore be another vital chance to give universities an insight into your wonderful brain. You have the opportunity to show that, whatever the prompt is, you have a strong perspective on the issue. Good luck!

What’s Next?

Read our Ultimate Guide to ACT Test Prep — it summarizes everything you’ll need to know, whether you are preparing to take the ACT next month or in a few years.

In need of more ACT Writing prep? Our new app Wend has over 450 free test prep questions for the SAT and ACT, including articles about essay writing and preparing for test day. Download Wend on the App Store for free test prep, essay writing tips, and more!

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