ACT Optional Writing Test Process: How To Improve Your Writing Skill

The ACT Optional Writing Test process in an ideal world should make the student be able to review, brainstorm, organize, write, revise, and proofread your essay. On the ACT, however, one of the things being tested is your ability to produce under pressure.

Working with the time limit is necessary. You must maximize your writing process to ensure that your essay responds to the prompt thoroughly and clearly within the allotted 40 minutes. Let’s break down that process into chunks of time to use as you prepare for test day.

When writing your ACT essay, we recommend breaking down your time in the following way:

Brainstorming/Organizing, 5–10 minutes

  • This step involves reading and understanding the prompt, the three given perspectives, and your position on the issue. It would be best if you also planned which points or examples you will use in your argument, as well as the organization of your essay as a whole.
  • You must understand the issue presented and the different perspectives before you begin writing about them. Spend time re-reading the prompt and reviewing each of the three perspectives, thinking about how you agree or disagree with each.
  • Jot down some ideas (nothing too formal, just your initial thoughts) and begin to plan how you’ll organize those ideas into an essay.
  • You may find it helpful to use a planning tool such as outlining or an idea web to organize your points. Without a plan, your essay may be underdeveloped and may not be successful in each of the domain areas.

Writing/Revising, 15–25 minutes

  • Because of the limited time, you won’t be able to write multiple drafts. What you write is what you submit, so it’s best to revise as you write. If you write a sentence and then think of a better way to state the idea, simply cross out the original and write the revised sentence immediately following it.
    Your writing must be clear and legible but it won’t be scored on aesthetics, so it is more important to maximize writing time.
  • Don’t spend your valuable writing time agonizing about a better word choice for a particular idea. Concentrate on getting specific ideas down with precise language rather than trying to impress the reader with advanced vocabulary words.
  • Shorter, clearer sentences are better than long, complicated ones that may confuse the reader.
  • Focus first on writing a complete, well-developed, and clear essay, and fine-tune your word choice later, if and when you have time.

Proofreading, 4–5 minutes

  • On test day, you will be thinking and writing quickly. Mistakes will happen. So instead of worrying about having every word perfect as you write it, be sure to leave some time at the end where you can go back and do a quick proofread for glaring errors that you wouldn’t usually make.
  • When you finish writing and revising, skim your essay for errors.

Look for the most common errors, such as spelling mistakes, missing punctuation, run-on sentences, and sentence fragments. When these types of errors accumulate in your essay, they can bring down your score in the language use domain, so catch as many as you can before the time is up.

Analyze the Prompt

Our prompt (and all ACT writing prompts) can be broken down into four parts:

1. The Topic

The prompt begins by explaining a complex issue. Typically the explanation will include facts, statistics, or the results of research. This background information is crucial to understanding the topic and developing your response. It may help you better understand the issue if you paraphrase it, or write it in your own words. For example, our sample prompt could be paraphrased as follows:

Poverty in America has increased over the past 20 years due to the changing workplace, aging workforce, and the recession of 2008. Some progressive nations combat poverty with taxpayer-supported social programs.

2. The Question(s) for Consideration

The next part of the prompt poses one or more questions about the topic and makes a statement about the relevance of discussing different perspectives. In the prompt, the question is as follows:

But is it fair to require one part of a population to financially support another?

You may wish to underline the question in the prompt to ensure you understand it and answer it fully in your response.

3. The Perspectives on the Issue

You will be provided three different perspectives on the issue, each of which offers a slightly different opinion in response to the question posed at the end of the prompt. You may find that you agree with one, disagree with one or more, or agree with parts of each.

Any of these reactions to the perspectives is fine—your essay won’t be judged based on the opinion you hold. What is most important is that you consider how your opinion aligns with each of the three perspectives so that you can react and respond to them in your essay.

4. Directions for Writing

Notice that there are three distinct tasks to the writing. For the highest score, all three must be addressed:

  • Evaluate/analyze all three of the perspectives
  • Develop your perspective (which can be similar to those provided)
  • Explain how your perspective is related to those provided

It is very important that you quickly determine your position on the issue. Choose a point of view that closely aligns with one of the three perspectives. Doing so is quicker than trying to come up with a completely different viewpoint. Attempting to create a completely original argument from your point of view can lead you to stray off-topic.

If you don’t entirely agree with any of the perspectives, consider whether there are parts of any that you agree with and build your position from those parts. It’s also okay if you don’t passionately agree with the opinion you take—what’s most important is that you write a clear, organized essay to support that point of view.

ACT Optional Writing Test Process: How To Plan Your Essay

To plan your essay well, use scratch paper or the space provided to generate ideas and plan your essay. You may wish to consider the following as you approach the task:

Strengths and weaknesses of the provided perspectives

  • Where do they provide valid insights, and what do they fail to consider?
  • Why might each argument be persuasive to others, and why might it fail to persuade?

Your own knowledge, experience, and values

  • What is your personal perspective on the issue, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of this perspective?
  • How will you present and support your perspective in your essay?

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