How to Prepare for the ACT Writing Test
Admissions tests are a key milestone in beginning your journey to college or university. Along with the other college admission requirements, students must take these tests seriously and prepare as much as they can, as they are huge factors in a university’s decision.
One of the entrance exams used by multiple colleges and universities in the US is the ACT, formerly more known as the American College Testing. Like other standardized admission tests, it measures a student’s readiness for university. It bears weight alongside your grades, interviews, and other factors for admission.
The ACT also includes the Writing Test, which is optional, but is highly recommended to be taken as hundreds of colleges in the country still require it. Moreover, it cannot be taken separately once you have registered for or have already taken the exams. Make sure to check if your target colleges require the ACT Writing Test or not because, at the end of the day, it’s better to be safe than miss out on one of your dream colleges because you opted not to take the Writing Test.
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ACT Writing Test Structure
Just like with the rest of the admissions test categories, preparation for the ACT Writing Test is important as it bears weight to your overall score. The ACT has four sections: English, Reading, Math, and Science, which lasts for a total of 3 hours. The optional ACT Writing Test lasts an additional 40 minutes and will test overall academic writing skills. There is just one writing prompt for the Writing Test. The test taker’s goal is to provide multiple perspectives on the provided issue, in essay format. Two certified graders will review and score the essay from 1-6, which combined will give you a score on a scale of 2 to 12.
The ACT official description of the Writing Test indicates that your score is the rounded average of four domains or criteria when being assessed:
- Ideas and Analysis – The capacity to not just understand the provided prompt, but to build ideas around it, analyze it, and form their own opinion regarding the topic.
- Development and Support – The ability to provide supporting arguments around the ideas they have provided, discuss the multiple perspectives in detail, and explore the implications of each said perspective.
- Organization – The aptitude to present all these ideas and explanations in not just a readable manner, but in a properly organized text that provides an introduction, body, transitions, and conclusion.
- Language Use and Conventions – The command of the English language, which is the building block of the essay itself; proper grammar, syntax, and vocabulary are assessed.
ACT Writing Test Prep
The most critical part is the preparation for the writing test. This starts with devoting your time to three things: reading, writing, and practicing.
You cannot enhance your writing skills without reading. Written works won’t just provide you with general knowledge, but will also help you expand your vocabulary and sentence formation. Remember that the test aims to see how you form your arguments well and how you present them in your answer sheet.
Reading and writing go hand in hand. You can start by writing about the article or book you just read, what you thought about the issues, and what are your personal opinions about it. This way, you are also helping yourself retain your newfound knowledge. You can even start writing an opinion blog, and submit essays to your local newspaper, or any published format that you are comfortable with. This way you will learn to not just write essays but to also properly review and edit them.
In school, find classmates or form study groups for the ACT. Share your writing with them to get feedback. You can also ask for help from your teachers or tutors. They can provide more constructive notes on your progress, and more importantly, cheer you on for working so hard.
Finally, practice. Practice, practice, and practice. It may seem tiring, but just like sports, it is only through practice that you can improve and find out which aspects you should focus on.
The ACT Writing Test is 40 minutes long, which starts the moment you are handed your prompt. Use the many available practice tests online. The ACT website itself provides 6 sample prompts you can start with. From there, you will already have an idea about how the test will go, and it will give you time to prepare and anticipate possible topics.
Remember to time yourself, so you can see how long it takes you to write 2 to 3 pages of an essay. However, make sure to keep all your sentences and points clear. Use words you actually know the meaning of. Keep on practicing and form a strategy around your own weaknesses and strengths.
To make the most out of the 40-minute time limit, dedicate a set amount of time to reading the writing prompt, writing down your general ideas, writing the essay itself, and finally, reviewing the essay before turning it in.
The Write Way
While the ACT Writing Test is optional, it provides potential colleges and universities a preview of your command of the English language, as well as how you handle yourself through writing. The only way to improve is to read, write, and practice as much as you can before the big day.
If this is still overwhelming for you, start simple. Write about a simple event or topic, and do it every day. You can even start by writing about the ACT itself! Once you’re done, try assessing yourself using the four domains mentioned above. When the day comes, just remember to take a deep breath and know that you have been preparing for this moment.
Sarah is an accomplished educator, researcher and author in the field of testing and assessment. She has worked with various educational institutions and organisations to develop innovative evaluation methods and enhance student learning. Sarah has published numerous articles and books on assessment and learning. Her passion for promoting equity and fairness in the education system fuels her commitment to sharing insights and best practices with educators and policymakers around the world.