Test Prep

Master the ACT Essay

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If your next ACT sitting includes the essay portion, you'll want to prepare for how you can write a cohesive, well-constructed essay that meets the objectives that scorers will be seeking. To do this, you'll have to conquer two major challenges:

1. A timed essay

2. An unpredictable question topic

When you look at these challenges together, they may seem daunting, but keep reading. We'll help you manage each element and explain how you can prepare for both the timing and unpredictability of the ACT's essay section.


Plan Your ACT Essay

Let's start with the timed writing element. Your ACT essay must be written in 40 minutes. This means you'll have to organize your answer and produce a good essay quickly. The process starts by knowing exactly how to outline your ideas.

Second, you can't predict what the question will be. It's stressful enough that you don't have much time to organize and write, but having to do that in response to a surprise question makes the writing portion of the test even more challenging.

Keep Calm Under Pressure

It's easy to get stressed out about the writing portion of the test, but there are a few hints that can keep you organized and give you the confidence you need to do well on the writing test.

1. Review the rules. To prepare for the writing portion of the exam, it's helpful to review the rules. You can find out exactly how your essay will be scored on the ACT website. When graders take a look at your writing, these guidelines will determine your score.

2. Get organized. Because you know how your essay is going to be scored, you can prepare to organize your thoughts in a way that will ensure your paper meets the stated expectations for a good essay. The best part about this approach: It's really easy to get your brain ready to organize your ideas quickly no matter what question you encounter on the actual test.

Understand ACT Essay Scoring

There are four key areas that will be used to score your essay:

1. Ideas and Analysis

2. Development and Support

3. Organization

4. Language Use

Here's what each of those categories means:

Ideas and Analysis: This includes a thesis statement, context for your essay and analysis.

Development and Support: The key things you need in this category are evidence and/or examples in your body paragraphs. You must connect that supporting evidence to the point you are making.

Organization: Be sure you have a thesis statement in your introduction, clear topic sentences in your body paragraphs and a summary of your argument in your conclusion.

Language Use: Language use means that you avoid spelling and grammar mistakes, vary your sentence length and use language that is appropriate for an academic essay.

When your essay is scored, the grader looks at each of these categories to evaluate how well you did for each. You know the rules. Now you just have to prepare yourself to make sure you follow them in line with the expectations for a good score.

Following the rules is not only easy; it also gives you confidence that you can write an essay in a limited amount of time on a topic you won't know until you see it. Each of these categories corresponds to standard elements of a good essay outline, so the first thing to study as you prepare for your ACT exam is to make sure you know what each of these elements are.

If you're not sure where to begin, or you need to review in more detail how to follow these rules, check out our previous post for tips and videos on how to quickly write a good essay.

Practice Essay Writing

Once you've studied the rules for writing a good essay on the ACT, you should write a few practice essays. The ACT gives you six free practice prompts.

With your practice questions in hand, it's time to write. For more tips, try out a free trial account with Ecree, a writing software aimed at providing real-time feedback as you write. You can write or upload an essay into the system and get instant feedback on your essay using the same characteristics the ACT uses to score your writing.

Share Your Thoughts

We'd love to hear your ACT essay-writing tips. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!