So you’ve been studying for the ACT for what seems like years. You’ve filled out enough practice answer sheets to fill up an Olympic sized swimming pool. And then the realization hits, something you forgot in the flurry of bubble sheets:
“Oh, yeah. I’m also taking the ACT Writing.”
ACT Writing practice will be slightly different from practice for the other sections of the ACT, so let’s get a plan ready before you go into battle.
Okay, before we start practicing, let’s review the basics of what the ACT Writing Test asks you to do in 40 minutes:
- Read a prompt that contains an issue and three different opinions about that issue.
- Write an essay that does the following:
- Evaluates the different perspectives.
- States your own perspective on the prompt.
- Makes links between your perspective and the three opinions.
That’s a lot to do in less than an hour. But how do you eat a whale? One bite at a time.
In the following sections, we’re going to turn this whale of a test into bite-sized chunks. Incorporate some ACT Writing practice into your study routine and you’ll be on your way to test success.
Breaking Down the Prompt: 5 Minutes
As you read the prompt and three opinions, two questions should be at the front of your mind:
- What is the prompt’s main idea?
- How can I summarize each of the three opinions?
Take a minute to write (or scribble) your answers to these two questions on the prompt itself. For the prompt’s main idea, you shouldn’t need to write more than three sentences. For the three opinions, one sentence each should do.
The reason it’s a good idea to take notes at this stage is so that you won’t forget these main ideas later. After all, these ideas will most likely show up (just with better handwriting and in your own words) in your actual essay.
Developing Your Opinion: 5 Minutes
Okay, so you’ve broken down all the information. Now it’s time to come up with some opinion(s) of your own.
Take a moment to reread your summary of the prompt. It’s time to decide what you believe (or what’s easiest for you to argue). When you’ve come up with your opinion, write it on the prompt. Using arrows, point to the parts of the prompt that support your idea. The arrows will help you find this information (and save time) as you write your essay.
Making Connections: 5 Minutes
You have your opinion and supporting information from the prompt. Now it’s time to make connections between your ideas and those in the three opinions.
That’s right, we’re going to be drawing more arrows! Review the opinions for ideas/beliefs that are either close to your own opinion are dramatically opposite. These are the ideas you’re either going to be agreeing with or disproving in your essay, so you should know where they are.
Putting it all Together: 25 minutes
Fortunately, ACT doesn’t have a set format for your essay. You get some freedom, but trust me, as a former high school English teacher, I’ve seen how freedom can become a double-edged sword. It’s easy to think “I’ve got this” and then go all over the place. Scores suffer, and I don’t want that to happen to you.
I’m sure at some point your high school English teacher has had you write the standard five-paragraph essay. Though you may loathe it, it’s the devil you know in this situation.
In your remaining 25 minutes, here’s what to do with the essay:
- Commit to a set structure for each paragraph. Even if your essay has other weaknesses, structure will be a point in your favor.
- Use specific examples in your writing. Ex: Instead of writing, “the person in opinion 3…” write “Mr. Smith…”
- Advanced writing tip: Be original in your word choice.
Let me say something real quick about originality and why it’s an advanced writing tip. Yes, there are many ways to set your essay apart. After all, the person reading your essay probably just read fifty near identical essays before seeing yours. But if you’re not yet comfortable with the planning and writing stages of ACT writing practice, put originality on the back burner until you feel comfortable.
Something to Consider
Imagine that you’ve done all the ACT Writing practice imaginable, taking advice from this post and a bunch of other sources. First of all, that’s great! Good for you! You’re much better prepared to tackle the ACT Writing. Yet there’s one final thing to consider:
You’re probably going to be exhausted during the ACT Writing Test.Think about it. You’ll have just finished over three hours of testing, answered literally hundreds of multiple choice questions. No mortal human would be at 100% during the ACT Writing. Yet there are two things you can do to help you prepare for this moment.
- Bring a snack to eat during the break in the ACT. That little bit of energy will hopefully carry over to the Writing Test.
- Practice the ACT Writing Test at the end of the day. The more tired you are, the better it’ll be for your eventual success.
Well, essay writers, make sure those pencils are sharp, and good luck on test day!