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Preparing for the ACT Writing Test

May 3

Preparing for the ACT Writing Test
 

“The Senior Itch—the incurable chaffing we all crave to scratch. The cure? Graduation.”

Thus begins a sample essay for ACT Writing Test. This particular “hook” was from an essay that scored a 6, the highest score given. So what does it take to receive a high score on the Writing Test?

First of all, you need to know what you’re getting into. The ACT Writing Test is a 30-minute essay that costs extra from the standard ACT portions and is optional. Some colleges require it, others do not. Check with each of the schools you will be applying to before deciding whether or not to take this portion of the test. The ACT website has a search tool to help you determine if you potential future college requires it.

Once you’ve decided to put your No. 2 pencil to paper and take the Writing Test, it’s all a matter of learning what is expected of you and writing some practice essays.

What You Should Know Before You Go

All ACT Writing Test prompts outline a problem or controversial topic that is relevant to high school students. The prompt also offers two perspectives on the topic. It’s your job to discuss the topic – you can choose either of the two arguments listed or develop a new point of view. The point is not what position you take on the problem, rather how effectively you describe you perspective and refute possible arguments against your side.

The following tips will help you better understand how to approach the essay:

  1. Plan it out. List the arguments for and against your side before you start writing. Make notes as needed in the space provided so you understand how you’ll be crafting your argument before you begin.
  2. Organize your thoughts. Craft your argument in a way that is clear, focused, and driven. Take the reader on a journey, using thoughtful transitions and a logical sequence.
  3. Demonstrate your understanding of the topic. We all know the essay readers will have a complete understanding of the given topic, but you can’t take their knowledge for granted. You should still explain what you know about it. You need to prove that you comprehended the prompt.
  4. Begin and end with a bang. Give yourself time to craft a thoughtful introduction and conclusion. Think of these two paragraphs as a hamburger bun. They’re basically made of the same stuff, but each piece is a little different from the other and serves a slightly different function. Continuing the simile, the sesame seeds are like your hook. This first sentence should grab your reader’s attention and add flavor to your essay as a whole.
  5. Be specific. How would this issue affect you or others if your side of the argument came to pass? Would it affect students’ grades or attendance? Would laws or regulations have to be put in place to support this issue?
  6. Be broad. The topic given is going to be complex, so your answer should be too. You will need to address different perspectives on the topic and/or evaluate the broader implications of the issue.
  7. Vary sentence structure and vocabulary. Stringing together an artfully crafted sentence with a semicolon and transition is great; however, you shouldn’t do it for every sentence. If you feel like you’re in a rut, try alternating short and long sentences for a more lively style. Also, be conscious of how you began the last few sentences and try not to repeat the same phrase too many times.
  8. Check your work. Look for spelling and grammar mistakes, unclear passages, and punctuation errors.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Despite what you may think, it is possible to prepare for the Writing Test ahead of time. Obviously your years of essay writing and English classes will be the most help in writing a successful essay, but understanding what’s expected of you for this specific Writing Test can significantly improve your score.

You can look up prompts online and practice writing your response. While the topic will be different on test day, you can get a better understanding of possible ways to organize your essay and how long you’ll have to work on it. Ask a teacher or parent to read your essay and score it based on the Scoring Guidelines provided by the ACT.

You can also spend some time on the ACT website, reading essays to a given sample prompt. Six essays are posted, one for each possible score, along with a description of the strengths and weaknesses of each essay. You can learn what test graders will be looking for and learn how to avoid common pitfalls.

One more step you can take is to read. Anything. Read a well-written novel or book of essays a few months before test day. Take note of passages you enjoyed or that made an impression on you. Look up any words you don’t know in the dictionary and practice using them in sentences. It may seem superfluous, but every little bit of work helps!