Of all the sections on the ACT, the only part that is optional is the ACT Writing section. That means you’re home free, right? No reason to take it if it’s not required!
While it’s true that the ACT writing section is separate and optional, some colleges still require that score for admission. This is especially true for majors that require a lot of writing (i.e. English, Communications, Marketing, etc.). But even if your college does not ask for a writing score, taking the writing portion of the ACT is still to your advantage. If you can achieve a high score, that number on your transcript can demonstrate analytical and communication skills that many schools will find attractive.
How do you get a high score on the writing section, then? It’s often not enough to be a strong writer. You must pay close attention to the prompt so you can fulfill the requirements, and then you must make yourself stand out from the rest of the essay submissions. This may sound like a daunting task, but never fear. I have compiled five of my best tips for the ACT Writing section. Whether you’re taking this section for the first time or you’re trying to raise a previous score, use these tips to produce an excellent essay on the ACT.
5 Strategies to Improve Your ACT Writing Score
Like the rest of the ACT, the essay section is timed. You will get 40 minutes to plan and compose a response to the provided prompt. Every minute of this is precious! You’ll want to use it wisely, and one of the ways to save time is to become familiar with the essay assignment. The prompt and topic will change from test to test, but the assignment will always as described in the link above. If you already know what the assignment is, you won’t have to reread it on test day, which means you can start planning and writing sooner.
Reading sample essays will also help you know the graders’ expectations. When you receive your ACT scores, you’ll know what score you achieved in each writing category, but you don’t get any specific feedback, so you might not understand why your 8 wasn’t a 9 or higher. The link above, however, gives you essay responses that real students submitted, as well as an explanation of why that student got the score they did. Those sample essays go from score 1 (lowest) to score 6 (highest). I would advise you to read through all of them, including the comments. You’ll gain some important insight and you may be inspired to try something different for your own ACT essay.
2. Mention all three viewpoints.
As part of the background information in the essay assignment, the ACT writers will give you three viewpoints giving a variety of stances on the essay topic. Your response must address all three of these viewpoints. The instructions tell you this, of course, but you’d be surprised at how many students forget to mention one or even all of the viewpoints. Therefore, this tip is probably one of the easiest ones: make sure you mention — and analyze — every viewpoint! You don’t have to give each viewpoint the same amount of space. Perhaps you only have one sentence to say about Viewpoint One but a whole paragraph about Viewpoint Three. That is totally acceptable, so long as each viewpoint makes its way into your essay response.
3. Frame your essay well.
Every essay is like a portrait. Your body paragraphs paint the picture of your argument, using compelling language and examples to support your claim. But to make sure your painting has support, you have to use a frame, and a sturdy one at that. Think of your introduction and your conclusion as that frame. They set the parameters for your essay, letting your reader know what to expect from your writing. They hold everything together. With that in mind, don’t short-change these parts of your essay! Under a time limit, your instinct is to rush through and write as much as possible in your response. However, you need a better game plan if you want to score above an 8.
Introductions tend to be easier for people to write, but one quick tip for your intro: make sure your thesis takes a clear position and previous your argument. No matter how strong your writing skills are, if you don’t have a clear and descriptive thesis statement, your ACT Writing score will suffer. As for the conclusion, you should restate your claim, but focus less on summary and more on answering the question “so what?” Your conclusion is the last push to get your readers to care about your argument. It’s your last chance to impress the ACT graders. Take advantage of it!
4. Watch your transitions.
Organization and structure is very important on the writing section, so make sure your transitions are appropriate and easily recognizable. Your reader will have a much easier time understanding you if you transition smoothly from point to point. Also, try to use different kinds of transitions. Instead of falling back on “however” or “therefore,” throw in a different word or phrase. For inspiration, check out this list of transitions.
5. Be creative!
Just because the ACT is a test doesn’t mean that your essay has to be boring. Think outside the box! Use colorful, unique examples to pique your reader’s interest. Instead of starting with an explanation of the topic, try to begin with an anecdote. Write from a perspective that’s different from the viewpoints provided. Anyone can create a cookie-cutter five-paragraph essay that’s good enough, but if you want that top score, don’t be afraid to push the envelope. As long as you fulfill all of the assignment criteria, creativity is a surefire way to earn some extra points.