Are you preparing for the ACT? It's a standard test that many colleges and universities use to see if you're ready for college-level work. It's an important test, so you'll want to make sure you're well-prepared! The test covers four main subject areas: English, math, reading, and science. You can also choose to take a writing test that checks your grammar, organization, and analytical skills. The good news is that with a little bit of preparation, you can feel confident and excel on the test. If you know how the test is set up and what it is about and use tried-and-true test-taking strategies, you can improve your chances of doing well.
At Learner, we understand that the thought of the ACT writing test can be overwhelming. Don't worry, you're not alone! Many students find this part of the test to be the most stressful. But, we've got some great tips to help you prepare and excel. Instead of just choosing from a list of answers, the writing test asks you to put your skills to the test, including your mastery of spelling, grammar, and more.
The ACT writing test can be hard, but if you study and use the right strategies, you can do well on this part of the test. The writing test doesn't have multiple-choice answers, so you have to show that you know how to spell, use grammar, and other things.
It is important to note that the score on the ACT writing test does not impact the composite score or subject area scores; it is an optional test that can be taken to complete the English Language Arts (ELA) score. Though it may not be considered for admission into many colleges, school administrators often use it to determine where to place students in college-level English and language arts coursework. Preparing for this part of the test is possible if you use the right ways to study and plan.
How Do You Prepare for a Writing Test?
The first step to preparing for the ACT writing test is to understand how the test works. The following points will fill you in on the basic details of the test:
- You have 40 minutes to complete the test
- You will take the writing test after completing the other subject area tests.
- The test includes one writing prompt followed by three perspectives on the prompt’s issue.
- You should write about your own perspective on the prompt’s issue, tying it back to at least one of the three perspectives provided for you. Alternatively, you may take one of the three perspectives offered and write as if it were your own.
- There are questions on the test that will help you understand the issue and form your own opinion.
The test isn’t about your personal opinion or the perspective you take on the issues presented. Your score is based on the following elements:
Organization is key to a winning essay, and on the ACT, it's all about showcasing your ability to arrange your ideas with clarity and purpose. A surefire way to get a high score in this domain is to write a well-structured essay that shows how ideas connect and guides the reader through your discussion.
Development and Support
It's all about being able to explain your ideas, back them up with evidence, and make a strong case. You can do well in this domain if you explain your ideas, look at them from different points of view, use examples, and help the reader understand how you came to your conclusions.
Ideas and Analysis
Showcase your ability to come up with productive ideas and think critically about different perspectives on the given issue. You can do well in this domain if you understand the problem at hand, know your purpose and audience, and come up with relevant ideas that solve the problem
Language Use and Conventions
This part of the test looks at how well you can use written language to make your arguments clear. You'll do well in this field if you follow the rules of grammar, syntax, word usage, and mechanics and adapt your style and tone to your audience.
Don't forget to pay attention to coming up with good ideas, thinking critically, explaining and exploring your ideas, organization, and language rules. With the right techniques and preparation, you'll be ready to ace the test.
Top ACT Writing Tips
With that basic understanding of the writing test out of the way, it’s time to talk about test-taking strategies. If you want to score well on the ACT, we have some tips to help you prepare.
Study Grammar & Boost Memory
If you’re going to study something to prepare for the writing test, brush up on your grammar skills. The test is ultimately about your basic command of writing mechanics, and that starts with grammar. Some resources to help you review grammar are listed below:
When you encounter grammar rules that are new or challenging for you, take the time to seriously think about how they work and why. You remember things better when you think about them deeply rather than reading them and moving on quickly.
Another memory trick is to connect a grammar rule to something in your life that you know well. The human brain works by connecting new information to old information already stored. If you’re struggling to remember a grammar rule, you may not have any existing information that it naturally groups with. By connecting it with something you already know, you can find a place in your brain for it.
Remember the Writing Process & Outline First
You don't have to read the ACT writing prompt and start putting together a well-written essay right away. If you stare at the blank page and have no idea where to begin, work through the following steps in the writing process:
- Brainstorm ideas
- Plan and coordinate ideas
You can use the empty space under the prewriting questions to brainstorm ideas, form connections between ideas, and create a short outline that guides your writing. Start by asking yourself what you really think about the issue and why. Form a sentence or two that expresses your general perspective, and then use why you think that way as support for your argument.
Thinking through the writing process helps you come up with a starting point. Once you start writing, you’re likely to get into the flow and craft the rest of your test essay faster and with greater confidence. The outline will help you get back on track if you don’t know where to go at some point while writing.
Pay Attention to Trending Issues
You won’t know what issues and perspectives you may encounter on the ACT writing test until you open the test. That doesn’t mean you can’t practice forming your opinion on a variety of issues trending in the media today. You can do this by reading magazines in the bookstore or reading news sites online. Even social media will expose you to some of the biggest topics that everyone is talking about today.
Focus on coming up with your own ideas about each issue and then backing them up with research and support. You may know what you think immediately, but why do you think the way you do? What are your opinions based on? How would you defend your position to someone with a different perspective?
Read a Variety of Materials – And Pay Attention!
This is one of the best ACT writing tips you will ever encounter. Read a wide variety of materials and pay attention to sentence structure, paragraph length, grammar, and word choices. How do writers present their ideas and keep them organized so that the piece flows well and is easy to follow? What might you do differently if you were the writer of those pieces?
You can boost your own writing skills by studying how other writers create effective pieces. Dip into poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, magazine articles, and more. The more voices and writing styles you study, the more you’ll learn about the possibilities of excellent writing. The internet makes it easy to find something new to read each day.
Write & Ask for Feedback
Write something original and ask someone you trust to critique it for you. Show them the list that we shared above, detailing what the ACT writing score is based on. Ask them to rate you in all of those areas, providing specific suggestions for how you might improve.
You may want to have multiple people read the same piece and provide feedback on all areas on that list. Multiple opinions will help you determine where you really need to improve in preparation for the ACT writing test.
Don’t Forget the Final Read Through
After writing your essay, take a few minutes to read back through it. Correct any words or sentences that aren’t clear or that are difficult to read due to your handwriting. Touch up on grammatical mistakes that you may not have noticed when writing. Make sure everything flows well and you have used the right words for the ideas you want to share in every sentence.
Also, look for repetitive sentences and paragraphs as you read through your work. It’s easy to say the same thing in different ways when writing about something you believe in. Find a way to change those repetitive sentences to offer fresh value to the piece. Make every word and every sentence count!
Don’t Overthink It!
While re-reading or editing your work is one of the most important ACT writing tips, you don’t want to spend too much time on that. If you find yourself nitpicking every word and starting to rewrite too much, it's probably okay to close the test and consider it done.
The goal of editing isn’t to change your position or convince yourself that every sentence has a problem to correct. You’re just quickly checking for glaring mistakes that you want to change before submitting your work. If it makes you feel self-conscious or you start to doubt the quality of your work, take a deep breath and know that you’ve done your best.
Set a Timer and Write Under Pressure
The clock is ticking when you take the ACT writing test. If that tends to make you nervous, you can start practicing. Pick a topic or writing prompt, set a timer for 30 or 40 minutes, and start writing. You can even do 10- or 15-minute timed writing sprints to ease your anxiety about the ticking clock.
The ACT website offers some sample essays that will give you an idea of what prompts you might see when taking the test. Just don’t expect to see those exact prompts on the test. You can use sample questions as prompts for practice writing sessions.
Don’t Study for the ACT Alone
Studying for the writing portion of the ACT is excellent, but how prepared are you for the math section? If you need to brush up on your numbers just as much as your words, Learner helps by assigning an experienced math tutor. We can provide high-level ACT tips for the math test while helping you study basic math, algebra, trigonometry, and any other math topic that may challenge you on ACT test day.
Want to achieve your best score on the ACT Writing Test? Sign up for a tutor on Learner.com today!