ACT & SAT Prep and College Admissions Blog

How to Ace the ACT Writing Section

Posted by Lisa Alvarado on Fri, Dec 02, 2016 @ 05:13 PM


Writing an essay in 40 minutes can be a daunting task. The ACT graders expect you to write a well-developed, coherent essay about a topic that you may not be familiar with. However, knowing more about the ACT Writing section, and what graders are looking for can help you to prepare for this task effectively.


The ACT Writing section is graded on the following four parameters:

  1. Ideas and Analysis
  2. Development and Support
  3. Organization
  4. Language Use and Conventions

Ideas and Analysis: Scores under this parameter are based on your ability to produce relevant and engaging arguments on a specified issue. By writing about the issue at hand, you communicate to the ACT graders that you understand the issue that you have been asked to address.

Tip: Rephrasing the prompt in your own words, and making it specific to your argument demonstrates to the ACT graders that you understand the prompt that they have invited you to write about.

Development and Support: Scores under this parameter are based on your ability to rationally discuss and support an idea or argument. Rational argument development, as well as the use of examples to support your claim, help communicate your ideas to the ACT graders.

Tip: Using a variety of specific examples will help to bolster your argument. Try pulling examples from history, art, politics, science, as well as your own personal history.

Organization: Scores under this parameter are based on your ability to clearly and logically order the structure of your essay. Here, the ACT graders are looking for you to guide them through your argument in a logical, step-by-step fashion.

Tip: Since you are allotted only 40 minutes to write a coherent essay, it is best to use the 5-paragraph essay structure.

  • Introduction: It’s your job to grab the ACT graders attention, articulate your thesis or position, and include three supporting examples that bolster your thesis.
  • 3 Supporting Paragraphs: Each paragraph should start off with a topic sentence, which acts as a thesis statement for your paragraph. The following sentences in your paragraph should discuss an example that bolsters your main argument.
  • Conclusion: It is important to restate your argument, while expanding on it a little bit. One way of expanding your argument is to of future implications of your argument and what positive effects can stem from your argument.

Language Use and Conventions: Scores in this domain are based on your ability to clearly articulate your argument while correctly and strategically using grammar, syntax, and word choice. The ACT graders are also taking into account your writing style and tone.

Tip: Creative and varied sentence structure and word choice help keep the ACT graders engaged! It’s important to demonstrate your command of the English language and use it effectively to prove your argument. Use transition words, robust word choice, and varied sentence structure to aid the logical progression of your essay, and to make your essay stand out.

It can be stressful to read a short prompt, and plan and write an essay in 40 minutes. Because you are granted little time to write a coherent, and well-developed essay, it is important that you pace yourself and budget your time wisely. The Essay Timeline below breaks down how you should spend your time organizing and writing your essay.

Essay Timeline:

1.   Read the Prompt

2 Minutes

2. Develop your thesis and brainstorm supporting examples

3 Minutes

3. Outline your essay

4 Minutes

4. Write your essay

28 Minutes

5. Proofread and edit your essay

3 Minutes

Tip: If you find that you are running out of time while writing your essay, drop one of your three example paragraphs. It is preferable to have two well-written supporting paragraphs than three poorly written supporting paragraphs.


Final Thoughts

The best way to prepare for the ACT Writing Section is to practice writing essays within a time limit. The more familiar you become with how to organize your time within the essay timeline through practice, the more likely you feel confident about organizing your time efficiently and writing a stellar essay when your test date arrives.

There are many pitfalls that test-takers fall into on the ACT Writing section. These pitfalls are more likely to occur when a test-taker has spent little or no time practicing writing essays or fails to use the Essay Timeline. Some of these common missteps are:

  1. Writing on a different topic than the one specified in the ACT Writing prompt.
  2. Not having a clear argument or thesis statement about your position in regards to the ACT Writing prompt.
  3. Using overly complex sentences, or overly florid words in your essay to “show-off” to the ACT graders.
  4. Poor spelling and grammar mistakes.
  5. Placing more weight on quantity instead of quality.

Many test-takers fall into these pitfalls because they want to impress the ACT graders, and obtain a high score. Though it may seem that having a longer essay with florid or “big” vocabulary words, often times such attempts to impress the ACT graders end up confusing the graders about your argument and your ability to write a coherent essay. Consequently, test-takers end up with a low score for attempting to impress the ACT graders. It is important to remember to keep your essay clear, concise, and simple. Essays that are clear, concise, and simple standout on their own because they are easy to read and understand.


Banke Abioye is a Managing Tutor with MyGuru and frequently helps students prepare for High School & College Entrance Exams. 

Topics: ACT, ACT test, Writing Section