What is the ACT Writing Test?

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  • 0:00 Act Writing
  • 1:03 The Prompt
  • 2:07 Scoring
  • 3:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Worried about the optional essay (the writing test) on the ACT? Not sure if you should take it or not? Learn what the ACT writing test is, how it's scored, and who should sign up for it.

ACT Writing

The ACT writing test is an optional essay that you can take as part of the ACT. It's a test of your writing and test-taking skills; it's not about any particular subject area. You'll read a prompt that anyone could have an opinion on, and you'll get 40 minutes to write an essay in response.

The really hard part about this is that one little word: optional. You can take the ACT with or without the essay, so many students spend way too long agonizing over which way is better. What if you're not a very strong writer? Or what if you already know you want to study math or science? Do you still need to deal with the essay?

If you're applying to college, the answer is basically yes. Many colleges require the ACT essay even if you're not going into a writing-related major. If you're interested, you can view lists of schools that require this optional essay online. But, unless you're taking the ACT for a very specific reason that doesn't require the essay, opting in to the writing test is generally a good plan.

The Prompt

So, since it's probably in your future, let's take a look at what you'll see on the writing test itself. On the ACT writing test, you don't get to choose your own topic. Instead, you'll be responding to a prompt. The ACT essay prompt has two parts:

  1. An issue - This will be some topic of general interest that an average person could have an opinion about without needing to do a lot of research.
  2. Three perspectives - As part of the prompt, you'll read three different perspectives on the issue. In your essay, you'll have to address the perspectives and give your own opinion on the issue. You can agree with one of the given perspectives, or you can pick a different perspective. You're not graded on which one you pick, so there's no right or wrong answer, but you do have to back up your opinion with facts, reasons, and examples.

You won't need any outside information to answer the prompt, which is great because you won't get any. You'll be graded on how well you respond to both parts of the prompt in one coherent essay with well-supported arguments. And, hey, speaking of grading. . .


Once you've finished your masterpiece, two trained graders will read it, and each grader will give you a score from 1-6 in four domains:

  • Ideas & Analysis
  • Development & Support
  • Organization
  • Language Use & Conventions

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