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Catrina Coffey

Top Tips for the ACT Writing Test

Update: This post has been updated to reflect the changes on the ACT essay beginning September 12, 2015. 🙂


Hi there, Magooshers! It’s another one of those days where I give you my Top Tips! This time, it’s for the ACT Writing Test (a.k.a. the dreaded Essay). Let’s dive right in and get right to the advice!

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  • Choose to agree with one of the three perspectives rather than presenting your own. You can get a perfect score by agreeing with one of the perspectives; with such a limited amount of time to write, why make your life harder (and risk going off topic) by developing a fourth perspective? (For VERY strong writers, you may be able to score a slam dunk by modifying one of the perspectives or narrowing its focus slightly but avoid the temptation to do something completely different. It’s too easy to get off track.)


  • Never, ever, ever be wishy-washy. Pick a side. You have three perspectives to evaluate, but this definitely doesn’t mean that you should agree with all of them. At least two of these perspectives will be in conflict with one another, and the essay asks you to develop and support one argument. And you can’t possibly do that if you try to agree with all the perspectives. Decide what your stance is on the debatable issue and then agree with the perspectives that help support your argument and challenge the ones that don’t.


  • On that note, when you pick your perspective, pick the one that you can more easily think of concrete, specific examples for, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it.


  • Use a five-paragraph essay structure: an introduction with a clear thesis; one body paragraph on each of the perspectives (ending with the one that fits in best with your perspective), including concrete piece of evidence; and a conclusion that ties everything together.


  • Consider including counter-arguments and examples where appropriate regarding the perspectives you don’t agree with. (But make sure that it’s a criticism someone might actually use. Making a weak counter-argument only makes you look weak!)


  • Try to vary your types of evidence among historical circumstances, personal examples, common knowledge, and objective reasoning; it makes your argument much more persuasive, which leads to a higher score!


  • Remember to keep your handwriting legible. An essay the graders can’t read will be given a zero, no matter how great the content is.


  • Resist the urge to edit too much as you go. Changing a word here or there is fine, but don’t worry about perfection in a forty-minute essay. The graders know you don’t have a lot of time.


  • Finally, keep an eye on the time. Devote about 10-15 minute to prewriting, 20-25 minutes to writing, and 2-3 minutes to proofreading. Wear a watch so you know for a fact how much time you have left. Your proctor may not be the greatest at reminding you how much time has passed, and on the essay, every minute really counts. (And, no, you won’t be able to use your phone, even to keep time!)


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About Catrina Coffey

Catrina graduated from Rider University with a B.A. in English. She’s been helping students prepare for standardized tests since 2011. In her spare time, you can find her reading anything within arms’ reach, playing video games, correcting grammar, or studying word derivations. (Did you know that procrastinate comes from the Latin word cras, which means “tomorrow”?)

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