Mystified by the ACT Essay? Unsure of where to start? Well, you have come to the right place! This article will illuminate the all aspects of the ACT Essay, including its specific instructions and prep strategies. After reading this post, you should be able to advise your student on how best to tackle the ACT Essay given their situation!
What is the ACT Essay?
The ACT Essay is one of five sections of the ACT. While the Reading, English, Math, and Science Sections are multiple-choice, the Essay Section will ask your student to write their own original work. The ACT Essay is intended to resemble a college assignment, and it can highlight your student’s writing and analytical skills in their college admissions applications. Unlike the other four sections, the ACT Essay is optional.
The ACT Essay is always the last section of the test. Students have 45 minutes to answer a prompt that they are given at the beginning of the allotted time. Your student will receive a short passage that asks a question. In addition, three perspectives are provided that answer this stated question in different ways. While the ACT company notes that all prompts are different, this structure will always appear on the ACT Essay. One recent sample prompt asks students to assess whether or not automated machines are a sign of progress and evaluate three stated perspectives.
After your student reads the given passage, they must write an essay that both evaluates each of the three perspectives and offers their own. This is an essential part of the instructions, because often students only complete one of these specified tasks. Check out the section below for more strategies writing the ACT Essay.
- The Essay is one of five sections on the ACT
- It’s optional
- In 45 minutes, students must evaluate perspectives of a prompt and offer their own
Should my child do the ACT Essay?
Recently, several students have asked me if they should write the ACT Essay. Although the essay section is optional, I told them that it makes sense to do it for three main reasons. First, it’ll give college admissions officers a more complete portrait of your student’s academic abilities. Elite colleges generally require the ACT Essay, and so skipping it could prevent your student from applying to more competitive institutions. Second, the ACT Essay is straightforward once your student understands the prompt. As discussed above, students must both evaluate the given perspectives and offer their own opinion. Third, it is not so bad! The essay prompts are often relatively interesting, and I have coached students who genuinely enjoy writing about the given topics. While the ACT does not require students to do the Essay, there’s no reason not to!
How should my child prepare for the ACT Essay?
Like other ACT Sections, students who prepare often score better on the ACT Essay. As I noted above, the first step for success is to understand what the prompt asks for in their response. When your student receives the ACT Essay, they should take a few minutes to fully read the short passage that they are given. Taking about eight minutes to read the claim, understand the three perspectives, and formulate their own opinion makes for a more structured and focused response. Here, it is vital to find evidence that supports each perspective. Your student can reference facts, statistics (which can be made up), or other information for supporting evidence.
For a bigger picture of how to help your child prepare for the ACT, read How to Conquer the ACT (for Parents).
Your student’s opinion should be a variant of one of the three perspectives. However, qualifying or otherwise modifying the chosen perspective can demonstrate an especially thoughtful analysis. Next, students should sketch a brief outline. ACT scorers like essays that adhere to the five-paragraph structure often used in high school. In their introduction, students should identify the passage’s central argument and their own perspective.
Your student should structure their three body paragraphs so that they compare multiple perspectives. For example, the first body paragraph could look at Perspective 1, while the second could offer a comparative analysis of Perspective 2. Students can benefit from weaving their own opinion into these sections, which can be discussed in the third body paragraph. The conclusion should be brief, mainly summarizing the three body paragraphs without extrapolating too much. No student wants to mess up a great essay at the end!
The best way to prepare for the ACT Essay is to practice. This means that students should write at least a few timed essays before their actual exam. This will familiarize them with the prompt and give them exposure to a few different types of passages. Sample prompts from previous ACT tests are on the ACT Company website.
How is the ACT Essay Scored?
The ACT Essay is scored in four domains: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. Two scorers read each essay and assign a score of 1 to 6 for each domain, which are added together to get a total domain score of 2-12. The overall ACT Essay score is the average of the four domain scores, and therefore also falls between 2-12. For more information on the score process, visit the ACT website.
The ACT Essay can seem daunting to students, and there has been confusion about the prompt due to the recently redesigned exam. I hope that this article clarified what your student should expect for the ACT Essay. Although it’s optional, I recommend that students write the essay because many colleges require it for admission. Importantly, the prompt asks students to dissect an argument in a passage, rather than create their own. Testive’s coaches are usually happy to look over practice essays written by your student. Ultimately, the ACT Essay is not too difficult to prepare for and can highlight your student’s writing skills during the college admissions process.