How to Write an ACT Essay

November 15, 2022
By AdmissionSight

What is the ACT essay?

What is the ACT essay? An essay also referred to as the ACT writing test is a component of the ACT exam that is voluntary for test takers to complete. This is not a test about any particular topic area; rather, it is a test of your ability to write and perform well on tests. You will be given forty minutes to compose an essay in response to a prompt that anyone could have an opinion on, and you will read the prompt first.

Unidentified student writing in a desk.

The term “optional” itself is the element of this that poses the greatest challenge. Since you have the option to take the ACT with or without the essay, a lot of students spend entirely too much time stressing out over which option is preferable. What if you don’t consider yourself to be a particularly strong writer? What if, on the other hand, you are certain that you want to major in mathematics or science? Are you going to have to deal with the essay anyway?

If you are interested in attending college, the answer is almost certainly yes. Even if you don’t intend to study something connected to writing in college, you may still be required to submit an ACT essay. If you are taking the ACT for some very specific reason that does not require the essay, opting into the writing test is generally a solid option. This is true unless you are taking the ACT for some very specific reason that does not require the essay.

How to write an ACT essay?

The following is a step-by-step guide on how to write an ACT essay:

Read the prompt

In most cases, the essay prompt will include up to three different points of view. You are not obliged to agree with any of the perspectives, but you are required to have a profound understanding of the topics, and you are required to know how you relate to each perspective.

Choose wisely since one of them must correspond to your point of view more closely than the others do.

If time is getting away from you, unfortunately, you won’t be able to provide your viewpoint as the fourth perspective. Instead, you should prioritize identifying the point of view to which you can most closely relate, and which will lend the most support to the points you present. This will provide you with a solid foundation on which to build an excellent ACT essay.

The gathering of ideas based on the evidence

Your goal, when writing your ACT essay, should be to ultimately demonstrate the relationship between your opinion and at least one of the perspectives supplied in the assignment. Nevertheless, the only way to develop an argument that is compelling is to present a lot of proof, which means that you will need at least a few pieces of evidence for your essay.

Young woman taking out lots of books while smiling for the camera.

At this phase, you should concentrate on condensing your points of view into concise phrases and comments rather than complete sentences. Because your perspective is highly flexible, you should avoid becoming overly invested in writing before you have decided on the viewpoint that you desire to take. The following is one source where you can obtain proof that is convincing:

  • Essay prompt: After giving the prompt significant consideration and reading it a few times, you may be able to find plenty of examples that support the viewpoint that you have regarding the topic.
  • Personal Experience: Drawing from one’s own life or the lives of someone one cares about is an effective way to bolster one’s point of view by using a narrative or an example from either one’s own or another’s experience. The best part is that the narratives or illustrations used do not even have to be accurate for them to be effective.
  • Statistics: You can give credibility to the perspective presented in your essay by using statistics. Statistics are not required to offer any value to the perspective you are presenting in your essay. Even completely fictitious statistical data can help your story make more sense.
  • History: When writing an essay, if there are any historical occurrences that could provide support to your viewpoint, you should be sure to include the relevant data about those events in your work. It is not necessary for historical knowledge to be correct one hundred percent of the time; rather, it must be relevant.

Exploring the possibility of various points of view

If you choose to defend one viewpoint, you are obligated to discuss all the other viewpoints as well; but, this time around, you will need to fight against those viewpoints.

In most instances, it is not necessary to present arguments against both of the opposing points of view to have a strong essay; in most cases, it is sufficient to provide arguments against just one perspective to have a decent essay.

Organizing your essay

After you have selected the primary arguments that you will provide in your essay, the following step is to organize it and give it the appropriate structure. The traditional structure of an essay used for the ACT paper consists of an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

The thesis statement should always be stated at the end of the first paragraph of your ACT essay. After that, you will use it as support for your thesis throughout the rest of the work. If you are having trouble spelling out the thesis statement in its entirety at that moment, you can always type it out in a rough draft.

Putting together an opening paragraph

In the ACT essay, the beginning won’t be nearly as long as it is in other types of writing, but it still needs to convey the proper message because it will be the reader’s first impression of the essay. The beginning needs to be very specific and connected to the rest of the paper in a strong way.

The most effective way to begin your work is by using a “hook,” which is a provocative or intriguing opening sentence that immediately raises the level of your writing. Nevertheless, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to communicate something insightful and amusing in the midst of a stressful evaluation. You always have the option of leaving the introduction blank to come back to it at a later time.

Young man reading something in a book.

Because it makes clear both your perspective and how it relates to those of other people who have responded to the essay challenge, a thesis statement is one of the most essential components of an introduction. It is essential that the thesis statement be presented in the introduction.

Writing body paragraphs

Each of the paragraphs in the body of your essay should make reference to the essay’s thesis statement in order to create a logically consistent narrative. It ought to contain evidence in support of the claim advanced by the adversary, followed by a rebuttal argument that further substantiates the viewpoint that you selected earlier.

There is a possibility that the substance of the body paragraphs will change depending on whether you compare your perspective to one of the other one or two opinions discussed in the essay. However, the basic format for writing each paragraph stays the same. Each paragraph should continue to be related to both the thesis statement and the article question, as well as to the other paragraphs in the essay. In order to prove your thesis, you need to give a compelling argument.


The final sentences of your ACT essay should be powerful arguments that demonstrate to the reader that the points you made in the body of the essay are well-supported and that summarize everything you’ve discussed up until this point.


You should finish your ACT essay with approximately three to five minutes remaining of the allotted time. The most productive use of that time would be to check that everything you’ve written is entirely error-free. Perform a thorough reading of the essay you just wrote and make any necessary corrections to the language and spelling.

Even if you are not familiar with any of the words you used for your essay, it is not impossible for you to expand your vocabulary.

If you follow all of the instructions and complete everything correctly, you will have a successful ACT essay that will increase your chances of succeeding. Prepare for the writing section of the ACT within the time limit of 8 minutes, regardless of whether or not you still have a lot of time left. After then, you will still have a reasonable amount of time before the deadline to complete your essay in its entirety.

How is the essay section scored?

How is the essay section scored? First, you will do the first four portions of the ACT on the day of the test, and then you will compose your essay. What steps are taken after this?

When your essay is received by ACT, Inc., it is scanned and then submitted to a program that grades essays so that graders can give it a score. In addition, the website indicates that “[a]n picture of your essay will be available to your high school as well as the institutions to which you have ACT report your scores from that test date.”

Two distinct graders give each ACT essay a score out of six on a scale that ranges from one to six across four different domains, for a total score out of twelve in each domain. After then, the results for each domain are averaged to create a total score out of 12.

NOTE: The ACT Writing Test used a slightly different scoring scale from September 2015 through June 2016; rather than averaging all of the domain scores to get a total ACT Writing score out of 12, the domain scores were combined and scaled into a total score out of 36.

This change was made so that students could receive a higher score on the ACT Writing Test. On the other hand, ACT, Inc. announced on June 28th, 2016, that beginning in September of the same year, the Writing exam would no longer be scored on a scale ranging from 1-36. This was done because of the confusion that this has produced.

This modification to the out-of-12 ACT Writing scores is still distinct from the ACT essay scoring method that was in place before September 2015, because that system relied on graders awarding the essay a single overall score (rather than 4 analytical domain scores).

Since taking the ACT Writing test is voluntary, the score you receive on your essay will not be included in your overall ACT score. It will, however, be taken into consideration when calculating your English-Language Arts subscore. This score is calculated by taking the average of your scores for English, Reading, and Writing and then rounding the result up to the nearest whole number.

So, let’s get down to business: what are the four categories that your essay will be graded on?

1. Ideas and Analysis

Your consideration of the many points of view on the subject of the essay will determine your score in this sector.

2. Development and Support

Your ability to demonstrate that you have developed your views with logical reasoning or concrete instances is reflected in your score in this subject.

3. Organization

Your essay will be scored on how well it is organized on both a macro (overall structure) and micro level (inside each paragraph) based on how well it scores in this domain.

4. Language Use and Conventions

Your knowledge of standard written English (including syntax and punctuation) is the most important factor in determining your score in this domain. Additionally, diversity in sentence structure and vocabulary is valued in this domain.

Young man looking at his laptop.

Want to learn more about improving your ACT scores? You’ve come to the right place. At AdmissionSight, we have over 10 years of experience guiding students through the competitive admissions process.

AdmissionSight can assist you to apply to the school of your choice with confidence. To learn more about our services, get in touch with us right away.


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