Test Prep

Breaking Down the ACT Writing Score

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Are you on the fence about taking the ACT with essay because there’s nothing concrete for which you can study? Well, I’m here to tell you that the ACT essay has a specific set of objectives that graders are looking for when they read your work. Moreover, knowing precisely what you are expected to demonstrate will help you employ any tips and tricks that you’ve learned for essay writing. Here’s a handy breakdown of what exactly you’re expected to show you can do when you sit down to write on test day:

Ideas and Analysis


The goal: To gauge your ability to construct an argument and to analytically present the alternative arguments.

To do this, you will be asked to take a stance on a certain subject and then defend your side. This doesn’t seem that difficult, right? It’s easy to craft an argument! Not so fast. A lot of students actually miss a great opportunity to score big in this area because they simply fail to demonstrate the second part of the above goal: analytically presenting the alternative arguments.

Presenting the opposition shows that you have considered the other sides of the argument, that you’ve assessed their validity. Recognize the points someone who disagrees with your position may make. This should by no means be an extensive portion of your essay (most of your time should be spent defending your position), but at least a few points should be made showing you’ve considered the other sides.

Development And Support

The goal: to gauge how well you support your ideas with specific examples.

Outside of the overall idea in your essay, the graders will be looking to see how you present it. In other words, they’re looking for precise examples of why they should hear your case. This includes examples for your counterarguments too. Acknowledging the opposition is crucial, and part of that includes citing why their argument is invalid. Always use more space to provide examples for your case, but be sure to include at least one for the other side.

Organization

The goal: to gauge whether you can present your points in a sensible way.

As with any essay like this, a clear structure is necessary: introductory paragraph, body paragraphs and a conclusion. Give a progression to your paragraphs so that each one builds off of what you’ve said before. The trick here is to use transitional sentences from one paragraph to the next so you make it clear to your reader why you’re stating things in a certain order.

Language Use and Conventions

The goal: to gauge the clarity of your writing.

With a time limit on your essay, no one expects your writing to be perfect. (A stray misspelling will not ruin your score.) With that said, if your spelling and grammar contain enough errors that your reader can’t make out what you’re saying in your essay, those mistakes will certainly bring down your score. So be aware of basic punctuation, grammar and spelling while writing, and avoid using words or sentence constructions you’re unsure of since you won’t have time to verify.

With the mystery around the ACT writing section gone, you’re ready to write an excellent essay when the time comes! Go into test day armed with these basic objectives and you’ll be more than halfway toward nailing the score you want.

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