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Your Magical Guide to Scoring a Perfect 12 on the ACT Essay

Hand writing ACT essay with pen on paper -magoosh

Look, I know that you might not be super excited to write the ACT Essay . In fact, your dread of the ACT Writing section may mean that you’re not even that excited about taking the ACT test .

But how would you feel if I told you that I’ve totally figured out how to change that?

Yup. Today, instead of talking about how to get a perfect 12 on the ACT Essay, we’re actually going to talk about how you can succeed at the universe’s all-time greatest school: Hogwarts .

Little-known fact: the 12 things you need to do to succeed at Hogwarts are exactly the 12 things you need to do to get a perfect 12 on the ACT Writing section .

Spooky, right?

Let’s take a quick look at them before diving in deeper:

  • Know what you’re getting into.
  • Take a look around the Hogwarts Express.
  • Be assured that you CAN be 1 in 10,000.
  • Get yourself a time-turner (but only if necessary!).
  • Make sure you give the Sorting Hat options.
  • Be a Gryffindor and take a risk!
  • Be a Ravenclaw and be clever.
  • Be a Hufflepuff and keep going.
  • Be a Slytherin and be crafty.
  • Know that the way you say something is just as important as what you say.
  • Go into your O.W.L.s with a plan.
  • Take a page from J.K. Rowling’s book and refuse to give up!

  Read on, future Griffindors, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs! (Slytherins, I think we all know your deal. Go talk to a snake or something.)

How to Use This Post

So what can you expect from this post? We’ll look at an overview of the ACT Writing section, then go into how it’s scored and the skills it tests. We’ll compare the ACT Essay to the SAT Essay and help you decide whether you should take the ACT with Writing or without. If you do decide to take it, we have prompts and grading advice for you to use, as well as point-by-point guides to raising your score 2, 3, or 4 points. Finally, we’ll finish off by looking at a template for a 12-scoring essay.

If you’re new to the essay, you’ll want to start at the beginning with the overview of ACT Writing and possibly even try your first practice essay today with one of the prompts here.

On the other hand, if you already have some experience with the ACT Essay, you may want to start with the guide to improving your score, or even with the template for a high-scoring essay.

Just to make it easier on you, here are links to some of the exciting places in this post where you can start your journey to the perfect ACT Essay!

  • Quiz: Should You Take the ACT with Writing?
  • Template for a Perfect 12 on the ACT Essay
  • The Step-by-Step Guide to Getting a Perfect Score

Table of Contents

The least you should know about act writing, how is the act essay scored, skills tested in the act writing section, act vs sat essays, giving the sorting hat options: should i take act writing, act writing prompts, for studious ravenclaws: how can you grade your practice act essay, act writing test struggles: be a hufflepuff and keep going, be as crafty as a slytherin: the ultimate guide to improving your act writing score by 2, 3, or 4 points, how to get a perfect 12 on the act essay, act essay template: guide to the perfect essay (aka go into your o.w.l.s with a plan).

Before you sit down with your quill and parchment, there are a few things that you definitely need to know about ACT Writing, even if you’re taking the exam tomorrow.

First of all, it’s the last section on the ACT (okay, that phrasing might be a little confusing). This means that after you show off your skills reading and interpreting passages, calculating the square root of x, correcting dangling modifiers, and proving your aptitude for Potions in the Science section , you’re going to sit down and write an essay, just to cap it all off.

The ACT Essay is not required; however, it’s a good idea to take it, for reasons we’ll look at a little later on. It’s important to realize this in any case, because you’ll need to register for the ACT with Writing to make sure you have the chance to take it on the official exam.

Once you’re facing the ACT Essay, what will you see? One prompt in your test booklet, which you’ll respond to on a provided answer sheet, in No. 2 pencil (no mechanical pencils here).

The essay is an exercise in both persuasion and analysis. Students are given three perspectives on an issue and asked to “evaluate and analyze” the three perspectives, “state and develop” their own perspective, and “explain the relationship” between their perspective and the given perspectives. They can choose to agree with one of the provided viewpoints or may come up with their own.

Timing for the ACT Essay

From the time you turn the page in your test booklet to the ACT Essay prompt, you’ll have exactly 40 minutes to write your essay. In this time, you’ll have a variety of tasks to accomplish: read the instructions, the prompt, the sample opinions (we’ll get to this a little later), brainstorm, outline and write your essay, and proofread it.

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Unlike other sections on the ACT, the Essay is scored between 2 and 12, rather than between 1 and 36. Two graders will individually score students from 1-6 on the four domains: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. These scores will be added together between the two graders, and the final ACT essay score from 2-12 is an AVERAGE of all the domain scores . Students will still receive an ELA score, which combines the essay score with their score on the ACT English multiple-choice section.

ACT Writing Subscores

Your ACT Writing score is made up of 4 subscores, in Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. Each of two graders will give you a score from 1-6 in each domain (giving you the opportunity to obtain a total score from 2-12 in each domain). Your four scores are then averaged to give you an overall score from 2-12. Your score report will reveal each of your domain scores, so you will get to see how much of an impact your grammar had on your composite score versus your ideas. You’re going to get a fair amount of feedback on why your essay received the score it did.

Who Does the ACT Writing Scoring?

Professors McGonagall and Flitwick, of course! No, sorry. In all seriousness: teachers trying to make the big bucks during their copious free time; retired teachers who want another income stream/to help humanity; experts in test prep who don’t have conflicting interests…you get the idea.

What if One of the Graders Doesn’t Like Me?

Well, first of all, I think you mean, “What if one of them doesn’t like your essay?”, but I get it. We take critiques of our writing rather personally. However, the ACT has a safety net in place for such a situation. If the graders disagree on your essay by more than one point on any domain score, a third grader (don’t worry, not a third-grader) will be brought in to settle the dispute.

How Is My Essay Graded?

Since, as we’ve seen, the ACT Essay is not graded on how much your graders like you, how is it graded? Using this very specific ACT Essay rubric . Again, you’ll be scored from 1-6 in each of the four categories (Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions) by two graders, whose scores are then averaged.

Looking Around the Hogwarts Express: What Does my Score Mean Compared to Other Students’?

What is a good ACT Writing score ?

Well. It’s hard to quantify exactly what a “good” score on the ACT Writing section is, just as it’s hard to quantify exactly what a good ACT score is, as many factors can influence what you consider “good.”

With that said.

One of the best ways to see how you well you’ve scored objectively is to look at your ACT Writing percentiles. Your percentile score describes the percentage of students who scored lower than you on the essay. For example, if you’re in the 99th percentile, congrats! You scored better than 99 out of every 100 students taking the exam.

ACT Writing section - magoosh

A quick note on decimals in percentiles: obviously, there is no such thing as .37 of a person (or if there was, I don’t think he/she/they would be taking the ACT). What this means is that you have to look at your score in a broader pool. For example, if you scored an 11 on ACT Writing, you scored better than 9,937 out of every 1,000 students taking the test.

Can You Be “The Chosen One”?

I know that a score of 12 = 100th percentile is confusing. You can’t score better than 100 out of every 100 students, right? You are one of those 100 students, after all.

All this means is that the decimal is so close to 1 that the ACT has rounded up. It’s likely that the actual situation is that those students scoring a 12 on the ACT Essay scored better than 9,999 out of every 10,000 students.

That alone should show you how tough it is to get a 12 on ACT Writing.

But can it be done? Well, someone has to be that 1 person in 10,000, right?

Why can’t it be you?

Let’s take a look at how you can get there, after we finish covering ACT Writing 101.

Ordering a Time-Turner: ACT Essay Rescores

Sometimes you’ll take a test, look at your score, and think “this can’t be right.” If this happens to you on the ACT Essay, you can request a rescore.

ACT essay magoosh

ACT scores for essays are graded by two professional scorers. Both of them use the ACT’s official Writing Test Rubric . The rescore follows the exact same procedure, but with two new scorers. If the two new people who score your ACT Essay get a different score than the original examiners, your ACT score will be updated. If your score changes, the new scorers can choose to raise your score from the original score you received, or lower it. There’s also a chance that the new scoring session could get the same result a second time. In that case, your ACT Essay score won’t change.

How Do You Request an ACT Essay Rescore, and How Much Does It Cost?

To get your ACT Essay rescored, submit a request for a rescore in writing. Your request will need to include the following: your name, as it appeared on your ACT exam registration forms, the ID on your ACT registration account, and the month, day, year, and location of your exam. You’ll also need to include a check for $50 made out to ACT Student Services. All rescore requests must be sent no later than three months after you received your initial ACT scores.

Written requests should be mailed to:

The ACT’s scoring team will notify you of any score changes within 3-5 weeks of the request.

Things to Consider Before Requesting a Rescore

Rescores are expensive and time-consuming. If you’re thinking of getting your ACT Essay rescored (or getting a rescore on the rest of the test), you want to be sure that it’s worth it. There’s a chance your score could go down. And if it does, the new, lower score will become your official score. Your score could also stay the same, which would mean you wasted $50 per rescore request.

As we’ve seen, your essay will be scored in four different categories: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. But what does that mean for you in terms of preparation? After all, few (if any) of us have taken classes on “Ideas and Analysis.”

What Are the Goals of the ACT Essay?

We can infer the “goals” of the ACT Essay (or rather, the skills it’s asking you to demonstrate) from the four ACT Essay rubric categories we’ve already gone over. Ideas and Analysis means that the scorers are looking for you to demonstrate critical thinking at a reasonably high level; rather than just being able to understand a series of opinions, the ACT Writing section wants you to interpret them and come up with your own thesis.

The Development and Support aspect tells us that the ACT Essay is evaluating your ability to craft a whole argument, rather than just a thesis statement. Again, it’s testing your critical reasoning skills: can you determine, in a limited timeframe, what makes for convincing evidence for your argument? The Organization category indicates that the ACT is also testing how clearly you can present this information in a short essay, in a way that makes sense not just to you, but also to the reader.

Finally, you can look on Language Use and Conventions as ACT English in practice. How’s your vocabulary and grammar? Can you write in an efficient and readable way? How eloquent (to an extent) can you be?

Or, in other words, your ACT essay has four major goals:

  • Make judgments : the graders evaluate how well you understand the perspectives, and their implications, values and assumptions. Did you understand the question they presented to you? Did you pick a side? Did you understand the strengths and weaknesses of different perspectives on an issue?
  • Develop a position : the graders evaluate how well you supported the argument you made in your essay. Did you give clear facts and relevant details that really helped your argument be more persuasive? Did you vary the types of evidence you used? Did you show the graders that you know the difference between assertion (just saying something) and evidence (showing why that assertion is true)? The more specific you can be, the more you show the graders how well you understood the topic and its controversy, which helps out your ‘make judgments’ criterion as well.
  • Organization and focus : the graders evaluate how logically you present your ideas. Did you have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion? Are your body paragraphs ordered in a way that makes sense? Can the graders follow your train of thought clearly from beginning to end? Did you use transitions between and among your paragraphs to show the readers how they all link together? Did you stay on topic?
  • Communicate clearly : the graders also look at how well you express yourself, in accordance with the rules of Standard Written English, a.k.a. “School, Work, and Business English,” as far as you’re concerned. Did you vary your sentence structure so that some sentences are short and others are long? Is your word choice effective? How is your grammar? If there are errors, are they particularly distracting? Can the readers still get your point or can they not understand what you’re saying?

Why Do Colleges Care About the ACT Essay?

Admissions officers are interested in your ACT Essay scores precisely because they demonstrate, to a certain extent, your skills in the above areas. No matter what you end up majoring in, critical reasoning skills, as well as writing skills, will end up being important. While it can be difficult to judge these skills based on one 40-minute essay, the four categories of the rubric and corresponding scores give admissions officers at least some sense of your experience and skill in these areas.

Where’s That Ideas and Analysis Class Again?

I know it seems like your education might not have prepared you for the ACT Essay. However, you’d be surprised at how much you already know. Your English classes will have taught you a lot about all four categories, while essays you’ve written for History, Social Studies, and even Science classes will have helped you develop skills in the areas of Development and Support and Organization. All the better if you’ve taken a class on persuasive writing or speeches.

How to Study for the ACT Essay Without Studying

I mean…you should do some specific studying for the ACT Essay! But know that you’re already preparing for the essay in your everyday life, even if you don’t know it. Every time you listen to someone’s opinion and evaluate it, every time you respond with your own opinion, you’re using the exact critical reasoning skills that the ACT Writing section tests.

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to take the ACT at all, and take the SAT instead , comparing the two essays might help. While there are a lot of factors to take into consideration when making this decision, knowing the differences in the essays may just prove to be the tipping factor that helps you decide in favor of one test .

Both the ACT and the SAT each have one essay. The ACT gives you 40 minutes to write it, while the SAT gives you 50 minutes to write it. The essay is optional on both tests. Furthermore, the essay is always the last section on each exam (this hasn’t always been the case with the SAT, but it is now!).

So what is the difference between the two essays? Well, it’s the type of assignment you’ll get.

On the ACT, as we’ve seen, you’ll see three different opinions on a debatable topic; the essay prompt will ask you to evaluate them and come up with your own opinion.

On the other hand, the SAT gives you a rather long (650-700 word) passage to read, then asks you to evaluate how the author develops his or her argument. Unlike the ACT, you do not include your own opinion or arguments on the SAT Essay.

So how to choose?

If you’re good at coming up with an opinion and developing strong examples quickly, the ACT Essay’s the one for on you. But

if you’re better at analyzing other people’s writing (the kind of work you do for most literature essays, for example), the SAT’s the better way to go.

If you’ve decided to take the ACT: awesome! I get it, though—you have enough decisions to make without throwing one more on top of the pile!

ACT writing test - magoosh

Still, you will have to decide whether or not to take the ACT with Writing.

While we don’t have Madame Trelawney’s crystal ball (which, let’s face it, was pretty useless for the most part), we DO have a way to help you decide whether or not to take the ACT Essay section or not: our very own, expertly written quiz!  

“Should I Take the ACT Writing Test?” Test

Liam got a 35 on the ACT. Get a higher ACT score with Magoosh.

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The Final Word: Be a Gryffindor and Take a Risk

ACT writing section - magoosh

The final answer is, you should probably take the test.   The vast majority of colleges don’t require writing, but the majority of highly competitive colleges do, which means if you aren’t 100% sure where you want to apply yet (and most juniors taking the ACT are not), you might be limiting your options if you don’t take the optional essay.

If you can spare the fee and feel you can get a good score, a decent ACT Writing score opens a lot of doors to you. It certainly doesn’t hurt your odds of being accepted into any school, but of course, every test-taker has different needs and realistically there are some situations where taking the ACT Writing Test may not be practical.

But if you are very uncomfortable with writing or don’t plan to apply to schools that require the essay, well, there’s no need to put yourself through another 40 minutes of agony.

Let’s get into a little more detail. By now, you already know that you’re going to be evaluating three different perspectives on a debatable issue.

But what does that look like in practice?

Glad you asked! Here’s a Magoosh example of an ACT Essay prompt and stimulus.

ACT Essay Prompt: Censorship

Almost since human beings began sharing ideas, the issue of censorship (officially suppressing ideas or writing) has been debated. Proponents of censorship argue, for example, that offensive material might morally corrupt children or that governments have the right to protect their national secrets. Opponents argue that censorship infringes on individual freedom and hinders progress. Censorship has long been an issue regarding books and papers; now, it has become a critical issue concerning the great amount of information on the Internet. Given the continued impact of censorship on various aspects of our lives, it is an issue worth examining.

Read and carefully consider these perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the impact of censorship.

Perspective One

Selective censorship prevents children from being exposed to offensive material. It allows parents and caretakers to determine what material children are ready for and when they are ready based on their maturity level.

Perspective Two

Censorship intrudes upon freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Individuals have the right to learn about their world, both its positive and negative aspects, and express their ideas on it.

Perspective Three

Censorship should not be condoned because it places too much power in the hands of a few: no government or leadership system should be allowed to decide what information should reach the public.

Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on the impact of censorship on society. In your essay, be sure to:

  • analyze and evaluate the perspectives given
  • state and develop your own perspective on the issue
  • explain the relationship between your perspective and those given

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial agreement, or wholly different. Whatever the case, support your ideas with logical reasoning and detailed, persuasive examples.

…And that’s what an ACT Essay prompt looks like!

Want More ACT Essay Prompts?

ACT Essay section - magoosh

If you went the extra mile and used one of the above prompts for practice, fantastic! What now, though? What do you do with this beautiful practice ACT essay you’ve just written?

The first thing to do is to edit it, particularly if you wrote it under timed conditions (remember: ACT Essay time = 40 minutes). Without the constraints of time, you may see points you wish you’d developed, examples that could have been better, or even ways in which you could have improved your thesis statement.

However, if you’re going to improve significantly, it’s best to get a helping hand for editing. English teachers are a great resource; guidance counselors may also have enough familiarity with the ACT to help edit your essays. In most high schools, one teacher or staff member is usually the point person for standardized tests, and they’re a good place to start.

They can also be useful when it comes to grading your essay. Of course, you can and should use the rubric to grade your essay yourself; however, on the official ACT exam, you’ll have two graders—neither of whom will be as hard (or as easy) on you as, well, you are!

ACT Writing Section magoosh

After you’ve written a few practice essays (you can find even more prompts on full-length practice tests , which are a good idea to take regularly anyway!) and worked through scoring and edits with your designated ACT Writing expert, you may notice that you’re struggling in an area or two (or three, or four). That’s only natural—this is a new task for you, after all! And you may be relieved to find that several problems in particular crop up for students facing the ACT Writing test.

Where Most Students Struggle on the ACT Essay

In my experience, students struggle the most to:

  • Pick an opinion to side with…
  • …and to come up with creative examples to support it.

Notice that these are the first two categories of that good ol’ rubric, “Ideas and Analysis” and “Development and Support.” There are strategies you can use to work on your organization and language usage (and we’ll look at those in a little bit), but a lot of students just don’t trust their own ideas.

Choosing a Side

To help you with #1, Magoosh’s ACT expert David Recine did a little digging. Okay, a lot of digging. He called the ACT. Here’s what he found out:

There is a weird apparent contradiction between the ACT Essay requirements in the official ACT Essay score guide, and the requirements that appear in the ACT Essay examples on the official ACT website.

Remember how the ACT Essay prompt presents an issue and three opinions on the issue? Well, in the instructions for the sample ACT Essay prompt on the ACT website , it says you need to “analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective .” Therein lies the contradiction. The official ACT Essay score guide emphasizes the importance of analyzing “multiple perspectives.”

So which is it? To find out, I contacted ACT customer service. The representative I spoke with said that the online essay prompt mentions “at least one perspective” because you need to analyze at least one of the three perspectives to have a chance at a score of more than 2. She then informed me that you need to analyze two or three of the given perspectives to have any chance at a score of 10 or higher. From there, ACT Customer service emphasized that including all three perspectives gives you the best possible chance at the full 12 points.

The customer service rep’s argument in favor of analyzing all three perspectives is supported in The Official ACT Prep Guide . Interestingly, the ACT Prep Guide’s prompts do not indicate that one perspective may be enough. Unlike the essay prompt on the ACT website, the writing instructions in the ACT OG tell you “evaluate multiple perspectives” and “evaluate perspectives given.”

So, if you want the best possible score (and who doesn’t?), you should include all three given perspectives — along with your own — in the new ACT Essay.

So that’s definitely something to keep in mind when you’re shaping your thesis statement.

Here’s some more food for thought, particularly if you’re aiming for that perfect 12 . Choose the option to provide your own perspective on the ACT essay, but only switch it up slightly.   Now, this is tricky. You can get a perfect score simply by completely agreeing with one of the three presented perspectives, and for the vast majority of students, this is the best course of action to make sure you don’t go completely off track and end up hurting your score. However, if you consider yourself to be a very strong writer, you might be able to truly impress by adding your own twist on the prompt. In most cases, the easiest way to do this is to narrow the scope of one of the perspectives. For example, if you look at ACT’s official sample essay #5 , you’ll see that the graders applauded the student for evaluating the perspectives through the “lens of a particular ideology”: capitalism.

The prompt is about a larger issue–the positive or negative impact of “intelligent machines” in our society–but this student has narrowed the scope, and in doing so, was able to provide a specific compelling argument that didn’t try to address all of life in a five-paragraph essay.

So for you ACT Writing superstars out there who are looking for a score in the 11 to 12 range, take these key tips to heart and get practicing with ACT Writing prompts. The new ACT essay prompt is tough, but practicing with sample prompts and coming up with arguments on the fly will help!

Examples on the ACT Essay

In terms of examples, thinking outside the box is always better. So if something kooky (but relevant) occurs to you, go ahead and use it!   On the first new essay on one ACT, a whole lot of students wrote about the Civil Rights movement. It really just was an obvious example that a lot of students had studied, and it was certainly the first thing that jumped to my mind as well. Now, technically, graders are not supposed to be punishing you for an unoriginal example as long as you do it well. But remember the golden rule: they are only human! If a grader reads 50 essays about the Civil Rights movement in a row, and then they get to yours, and you are writing about something totally different, they are going to sit up and pay attention. Not only that, but it will be more difficult to compare your essay to others. If you write about the same topic as everyone else, it is likely that some people won’t do it as well as you, but that others will do it better. So try not to open yourself to these comparisons. Be original.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t write about a common topic, but if you are going to do it, make sure you pick very specific examples within that topic to demonstrate your knowledge. But if you can think of something that would be less obvious—well, I would go that route.

Where Most Students Lose Points on the ACT Essay—and What to Do About It

Those are some common struggles students face when approaching the essay. But what causes them to lose the most points? Well…

  • Unclear structure. To avoid this pitfall, know your essay structure in advance . We’ll get into the best organizational strategies a little later on.
  • Vague examples . Give VERY specific examples.For each of the three perspectives, make sure you give specific examples. And the more specific they are, the better. You don’t need a lot–two or three good ones do the trick. Examples from historical and contemporary events and circumstances tend to go over best. Personal examples can also work, but graders seem to be biased towards outside examples they seem to carry more weight.

As with everything on the ACT, practice makes perfect ! That’s one reason why…

ACT Essay - magoosh

Now you know how not to lose points—let’s talk about how you can gain them. More specifically, let’s take a look at how you can bring your ACT Writing score up 2, 3, or 4 points.

What Does it Mean to Go up 2, 3, 4 Points on the ACT Essay?

To do this, let’s start by returning to that all-important official ACT Writing Test Rubric . Remember, because the ACT combines two graders’ evaluations for your final score, going up 2 points really means going up one category on the rubric (i.e. from a 5 to a 6); going up 3 points means going up between 1 and 2 categories (i.e. from a 4 to a 6); and going up 4 points means going up 2 categories (i.e. from a 3 to a 6).

So with that in mind, let’s quickly review what the ACT graders are looking for from a perfect 6 ACT essay:

ACT Writing: What You Need for a 12 Essay

Now, a few things to keep in mind. No essay is perfect, nor do the ACT graders expect it to be. The graders know you only have 40 minutes to respond to the prompt. They’re just looking for a good first draft.

Your essay does not have to DO ALL THE THINGS in each category in order to be given that score. If an essay meets most or almost all of the criteria for a 6, then it’s given a 6.

But remember, the ACT readers don’t expect perfection. If your grammar isn’t perfect, or if your essay doesn’t have paragraphs, it isn’t a deal-breaker. Your essay has to meet most or almost all of the criteria for each category to be given that score, not every single one .

Bringing Your ACT Essay Score Up 2 Points

You can gain 2 points on the ACT Essay with some adjustments to the way you think about the prompt and craft your argument. Generally, these adjustments are pretty minor. How minor, you may wonder? Let’s take a look at how a test-taker could move from a 5 to a 6 (and thus move from a 10 to a perfect 12) on the ACT Essay.

ACT Writing: What You Need to Go From a 10 to a 12

I’ll be the first one to admit that the differences between many of these criteria are subtle (if not, as in the case of the last, nonexistent!) However, if you examine them carefully, you’ll see that the main difference between an ACT essay that receives a 5 and an ACT essay that receives a 6 is that the 5 essay is competent and works well with the material that’s provided, while the 6 essay expands the ideas in thoughtful and nuanced ways. This principle goes for everything from the thesis itself to the word choice.

Bringing Your ACT Essay Score Up 3 Points

Bringing your ACT Essay score up by 3 points is a tricky goal. Why? Because raising your score by 3 points means that you’ll be attempting to move up by 2 points from one grader and 1 from the other.

Because you’ll need to bring your score up 2 points (for example, from a 4 to a 6) with one of your graders, it’s actually a good idea to aim for this 2-point raise in your score from both for an increase of 4 points. You may only end up getting a 3-point bump, but it’s better to aim too high than too low!

With that in mind, read on to learn more about…

Bringing Your ACT Essay Score Up 4 Points

While the 2-point jump may seem relatively easy (though it does definitely require both a perspective shift and practice!) a 4-point increase on the ACT Essay may seem more intimidating. Going from a 10 to a 12 on the essay sounds a lot easier than going from an 8 to a 12, after all.

But the biggest difference between an 8 essay and a 12 essay is the same difference that we can see between a 10 essay and a 12 essay, just of a different order of magnitude. While a 12 essay, as we just saw, is nuanced and the 10 essay is competent, the 8 essay is basically pretty good. An 8 essay does what the prompt asks, but that’s pretty much all it does.

To get those extra four points on the ACT Essay, you’ll need to consider exactly how you’re addressing each criterion. So let’s take a look at the precise differences between an 8 and a 12 essay:

ACT Writing: What You Need to Go From an 8 to a 12

Bringing your act essay score up generally.

That’s all well and good, I can hear you saying, but what if I’m not aiming for a perfect score on the ACT Essay? What if I’m currently writing 4 essays and I want to bring my score up to 8? Is that possible?

Oh, it’s possible. It’ll take practice and commitment, but you can get there in the end.

Here’s what you’ll need to do: look at the above shifts between a 10 and 12 essay, then between an 8 and a 12 essay. Notice that the lower the ACT essay scores get, the less precise and clear aspects of the writing are.

This is all the more true for an essay scoring 6 or below. If you’re scoring in this range, you need to think about specifics in every aspect of your essay. Make your thesis statement much more specific. Make your examples much more specific. Make your language choices much more specific (“violet” instead of “purple” or “colorful” or even “interesting,” depending on the context).  

We’ve seen how to boost your score to the perfect 12—but what if you’re just starting out? Or what if you’re current essay is a 6 or below, and you know that you’ll need to overhaul your approach to the essay to end up with that elite, perfect score?

In this section, we’ll take a look at exactly how you can start from scratch and build the perfect ACT essay (that gets that perfect ACT score)!  

ACT Writing: Breaking Down the Steps

First of all, perfect scorers on the ACT Essay are systematic in their approach to the Writing section. By that, I mean that they don’t rely on their existing writing skills and hope they can just wing it on test day. Instead, they plan ahead as much as possible, focusing not only on what they should be doing during each minute (yup!) of the writing section, but also on how they should be doing it.

In case you were wondering what you can do to become part of this elite group, I’ve got you covered. Here are the steps to writing the perfect ACT Essay!

Step 1: Break Down the Prompt (5 Minutes)

As you read the prompt and three opinions, two questions should be at the front of your mind:

  • What is the prompt’s main idea?
  • How can I summarize each of the three opinions?

Take a minute to write (or scribble) your answers to these two questions on the prompt itself. For the prompt’s main idea, you shouldn’t need to write more than three sentences . For the three opinions, one sentence each should do .

The reason it’s a good idea to take notes at this stage is so that you won’t forget these main ideas later. After all, these ideas will most likely show up (just with better handwriting and in your own words) in your actual essay.

Step 2: Develop Your Opinion (5 Minutes)

Okay, so you’ve broken down all the information. Now it’s time to come up with some opinion(s) of your own.

Take a moment to reread your summary of the prompt. It’s time to decide what you believe (or what’s easiest for you to argue). When you’ve come up with your opinion, write it on the prompt. Using arrows, point to the parts of the prompt that support your idea. The arrows will help you find this information (and save time) as you write your essay.

Step 3: Make Connections (5 Minutes)

You have your opinion and supporting information from the prompt. Now it’s time to make connections between your ideas and those in the three opinions. That’s right, we’re going to be drawing more arrows! Review the opinions for ideas/beliefs that are either close to your own opinion are dramatically opposite. These are the ideas you’re either going to be agreeing with or disproving in your essay, so you should know where they are.

Step 4: Put it all Together (20 Minutes)

Fortunately, the exam doesn’t have a set ACT Essay format for your essay. You get some freedom, but trust me, I’ve seen how freedom can become a double-edged sword. It’s easy to think “I’ve got this” and then go all over the place. Scores suffer, and I don’t want that to happen to you.

Step 5: Proofread—Don’t Edit! (5 Minutes)

Since “Language Use” is its own separate grading category, it is worth your time to catch any errors you may have inadvertently made while writing quickly. However, don’t be tempted to use this time to rewrite your essay! Accept the fact that you’re going to have to stick with the thesis and examples you chose, and focus on correcting spelling and grammar, and making your language choices more precise.

What Should the Introduction Do?

You want to make sure your introductory paragraph introduces the perspectives provided in the prompt and ends with a thesis statement that states your own perspective and why you believe it.

For example, based on the released ACT example prompt on Intelligent Machines here , this could potentially be your introduction:

Although intelligent machines might cause us to question what makes us human, it is too extreme to say that they cause us to either to lose our humanity or push us to become super-human. Humans and machines can work in concert: machines can be employed to take on tasks that are menial, tedious, and time-consuming, leaving humans free to work on tasks that require a human mind and spirit.

Notice that the first sentence summarizes the first and third perspectives in the prompt and the thesis statement agrees with the second. This sets up a structure for your essay in which you will evaluate the three perspectives and explain why you agree with one of them.

Okay…What About My Examples?

You have a certain level of “creative liberty” when it comes to your evidence. You can make up evidence and details if you need to, as long as they’re plausible. As far as the ACT is concerned, you can make up a book, survey, study, etc. that supports your argument. Just don’t give the author of your fictional study the name “Dr. J. Jacob Jingleheimer-Schmidt.”

Why is this okay on the ACT? Well, you’ve only got 40 minutes to come up with a clear, reasoned, well-supported, cogent, persuasive essay on the topic given to you. You don’t have the time or resources for research, but you have to make the argument somehow. If you had the ability to do even a quick Google search, you would. Since you can’t, make up something that sounds plausible if you have to. Just support your argument. That’s what the graders care about.

Writing Rules You Must Know to Get That Perfect Score

A girl playing with a magic wand

How can you do this? Get organized early and check out Magoosh’s guides to the finer points of English grammar, punctuation, and vocabulary that the ACT graders will be looking for. Here are the ACT writing tips you need before test day:

ACT English Writing Skills: Everything You Need to Know

  • 19 ACT Grammar Rules You Need to Know to Get a Great Score
  • ACT English Punctuation
  • Writing Style

ACT English Vocabulary: Everything You Need to Know

  • ACT Vocabulary
  • Top Tips for ACT Vocabulary
  • Boost Your Vocabulary, Boost Your ACT Score

ACT Test Day: Essay Timing

You know how you’re going to come up with your thesis. You know how you’re going to organize your essay. You even know how you’re going to use your vocab and grammar to your advantage…

…but can you do it in 40 minutes?

Timed practice is the key to mastering this, but even masters of the ACT essay will occasionally find that they’re running out of time.

It happens. You look at the clock, and you realize that time’s almost up. Don’t panic—there are ways to save your essay… and your score!

Here are some steps you can take to adjust your pace and writing when the clock is running down.

If you are running out of ACT writing time, stay focused. Running out of time can be very distracting. You may feel the urge to stop, take a deep breath, and think about what you should do. Any pause you make to just think should be minimal. Focus on continuing to write, while adjusting your pace and approach.

Adjust Your Pace

Write faster . If you’d been writing at a more careful pace to avoid errors and make good word choices, focus less on these minor aspects of writing. Speed up and just aim for getting the essay done. Word choice and errors do affect your score in some ways, but an incomplete essay will get a much lower score than an essay that just has a few mistakes.

When you speed up, you will naturally change your approach a little, because you won’t have time to check your writing for the smaller details, as I mentioned above. But there are other more substantial changes you can make as you approach the rest of your essay.

One thing you can do is develop your ideas less for the remainder of the essay. Suppose you have two paragraphs left to write. Maybe your previous paragraphs has three supporting ideas for each topic sentence. To save time, include just one or two supporting details in your remaining paragraphs.

The same goes for the remaining structure of your essay overall. If you used transitional phrases and sentences earlier in the essay, skip them for the rest of the essay. And even if your introductory paragraph was three, four, or even five sentences long, your concluding paragraph can be just one good sentence– or maybe two.

Quickly select your most important ideas. Look at the original passage in the ACT essay prompt. What are the main ideas in the introduction and the three perspectives given. How simply can you put those ideas? And which ideas can you ignore and leave out of your essay, while still making your essay as complete as possible?

Worry about completion, not perfection. If you try maintain top quality while rushing to beat the clock, you will fail. And as you feel yourself failing to write a perfect essay, you’ll start to feel upset and distracted, and you’ll slow down.

Instead focus on completing the essay, ensuring it contains every important key idea, some support for each of the key ideas, and a clear conclusion. With your eyes on that prize, distractions will melt away, and you’ll speed up instead of slowing down. In the best of scenarios, you may speed up enough that you still have at least a little time to go back and make a few last minute (or last second) improvements before your time is cut off.

A Note on the 5-Paragraph Essay

Should the ACT Essay be five paragraphs?   The short answer? Not necessarily. In theory, if you can make a coherent, persuasive argument within the time limit, it doesn’t matter how many or how few paragraphs you have (as long as you have some paragraphs–writing all in one big blob is no good).

The more practical answer, though, is ALL HAIL THE FIVE-PARAGRAPH ESSAY . And if you’re aiming for that perfect score, just make slight adjustments to the standard format; we’ll take a look at how to do this in the next section.

What is the Five Paragraph Essay Format?

In case you’re unfamiliar with it, the five-paragraph essay is a standard essay format that is taught in many, many schools. It’s essentially a framework that you can drape almost any topic over and still have a solid structure at the end. It also makes sense on an essay question that presents you with three different perspectives to analyze. You can devote one paragraph to each perspective and end on the one that most agrees with your own perspective, so you can develop it a little further.

Your basic five-paragraph essay starts with the introduction . Here, you introduce the debatable topic and state your thesis .

Your next three paragraphs are the body of your essay. On the old essay (and on many essays you write in school) this is where you put your examples, reasons, and evidence for your thesis. Since you’re provided with three perspectives to analyze, this actually makes your life quite a bit easier. You don’t even have to decide what each paragraph should be about! Each paragraph can be devoted to analyzing one of the three perspectives using solid, specific evidence and reasoning .

I suggest that you order the perspectives in the way that will best support your overall argument. This typically means putting the perspective you agree with most in the third body paragraph. Then you can further develop your own perspective within that paragraph or include it as a separate fourth body paragraph if appropriate. It also helps a lot to have a clear transition between each paragraph.

The final paragraph is the conclusion. You do not have to restate every argument you’ve made in the body, but you should summarize your argument and restate your thesis in different words. If you can, try to end with something that sounds like it ties everything together. For example, if you use a quote in the introduction, reference it in the conclusion. Little things like that make the essay feel more cohesive.

How to Use the 5-Paragraph Essay Format to Your Advantage

This may sound terribly boring. And, admittedly, it isn’t the most exciting way to write. But can you imagine walking into your ACT with the pre-write for your essay already half written ? All you have to do is get the specific topic and decide what your perspective is. You’re already ahead of the game!

ACT Writing Test - magoosh

What does this look like in practice? Here’s one organization strategy that should work well if you choose to agree with one of the perspectives.

  • Brief intro paragraph (2-3 sentences)
  • Evaluation of the first perspective you did not choose with specific examples
  • Evaluation of other perspective you did not choose with specific examples
  • Evaluation of the perspective you agree with and further development on why you agree with it using specific examples (this should be a longer paragraph than the first two, or it could be split into two paragraphs)
  • Brief conclusion (approx 2 sentences): make a final case for your argument

This structure ensures that you answer all three parts of the question: evaluating the three perspectives, developing your own, and explaining the relationship between your perspective and the others.

And if you’re dying to see what this looks like in actual practice, wonder no more! Kristin will show you exactly how she’s going to write a great ACT essay from start to finish. In the video, Kristin is taking on the role of a student seeing an ACT essay question for the first time, evaluating the perspectives, brainstorming, outlining, and finally writing each paragraph of the essay. And she’ll give you all of her most important tips along the way, so stick it out :).

Remember, this is just one essay, and it is not necessarily perfect. But, hey, no one is perfect in 40 minutes! There are thousands of successful ways to approach this essay.

What differentiates a “perfect 12” essay? Primarily specificity and precision. However, those two qualities have to run deep, affecting everything from your thesis statement to your organization, from your choice (and explanation) of your examples to the mechanics and vocabulary you use.

But even if you don’t think of yourself as a great writer, remember that you can still get a perfect score on the ACT Essay: you just need to learn the conventions, practice a ton, and constantly evaluate your work so you can keep improving. Is it easy? No. But is it impossible? Also no.

On test day, let all thoughts of perfection fall away. Just focus on what you’ve learned in your practice, and on writing the best essay you possibly can. And be proud of yourself—you’ve earned it!

After all, some of the best ACT moments come after the test. As mega-scorer Magoosh student Ori C. tells us, “I’d say the best part [of the experience] was when I was sitting on the bus and got a Magoosh notification saying that my ACT scores had probably been posted. I went on the ACT website and screenshotted my scores to text to my parents. Finally seeing the scores verified that all my hard work had paid off.”

So the major takeaway here? If you want to get that perfect 12 on your ACT Essay…be like J.K. Rowling (who had the first Harry Potter book rejected by 12 publishers!) and refuse to give up!

Want to ace all sections of the ACT? Check out our posts:

  • How to Get a Perfect 36 on ACT Reading: An Intergalactic Guide
  • How to Get a Perfect 36 on ACT Math: The Jurassic Guide
  • How to Get a Perfect 36 on ACT Science: The Dark Knight’s Guide
  • How to Get a Perfect 36 on the ACT Reading Test: A Tropical Guide

With many thanks to Kristin Fracchia, Catrina Coffey, David Recine, and Thomas Broderick for their contributions to this post.

Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel is a Magoosh Content Creator. She writes and updates content on our High School and GRE Blogs to ensure students are equipped with the best information during their test prep journey. As a test-prep instructor for more than five years in there different countries, Rachel has helped students around the world prepare for various standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, and GMAT, and she is one of the authors of our Magoosh ACT Prep Book . Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MA in Cinematography from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from University College London. For over a decade, Rachel has honed her craft as a fiction and memoir writer and public speaker. Her novel, THE BALLERINAS , is forthcoming in December 2021 from St. Martin’s Press , while her memoir, GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND , co-written with Jessica Pan, was published in 2014 by Penguin Random House. Her work has appeared in over a dozen online and print publications, including Vanity Fair Hollywood. When she isn’t strategically stringing words together at Magoosh, you can find Rachel riding horses or with her nose in a book. Join her on Twitter , Instagram , or Facebook !

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5 Tips to Score a 12 On Your ACT Essay

There is no question that the ACT is important for high school students who are thinking about applying to college. While the multiple choice sections are designed to assess students’ knowledge in math, English, science and reading, there is also a writing section that assesses students’ abilities to write an essay. Doing well on this section of the ACT can help distinguish you as an accomplished writer to colleges.

Though you can easily understand your score a multiple choice test, you might be left wondering what will earn you a good score on the ACT essay. If you’re aiming for a 12 on the ACT essay, read on for some tips and tricks!

What is the ACT Essay?

While the multiple choice sections of the ACT might be more unforgiving, the ACT essay is a great opportunity to show off your writing skills. According the ACT website, you should aim to write a “unified, coherent essay” in which you:

  • clearly state your own perspective on the issue and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective
  • develop and support your ideas with reasoning and examples
  • organize your ideas clearly and logically
  • communicate your ideas effectively in Standard written English.

To see these ideas in motion, you can take a look at a sample ACT prompt and essay here .

How is the ACT Essay scored?

The ACT essay is scored on a scale of 1 to 12. Your essay will be read and scored by two different grades on a scale of 1 to 6 in four different domains, for a total score out of 12 in each of these four domains. These four scores will then be averaged for a total score out of 12.

For more information about how this section of the test is scored, you can look at the official ACT Writing Test Scoring Rubric .

Tip 1: Know what a 12 looks like

In general, if you are aiming to do well in something, you should know what  exemplary work looks like and try to emulate it. This is certainly the case for the ACT Essay, so before you walk into the testing center to write your essay, make sure you know know what essays that scored a 12 in this section look like!

Be sure to read as many sample essays as you can find—these should be available online through a quick Google search. Keep in mind, though, that the structure of the writing section changed in Fall 2015, so make sure that the examples you are looking at are current and align with the structure of the current essay prompt.

As you’re looking at essays that scored a 12, be sure to also look at essays that scored in the middle and essays that received a poor score. Try to understand what went wrong in the poorly scored essays as well as what could be improved in the middle-scoring ones. Take note of what was successful in the high-scoring sample essays that you read—what makes these essays stand out from the middle-scoring ones?

If there are notes from graders that justify the scores of the essays, be sure to pay attention to these as well. Aiming for a high score on the ACT essay section means that you need to try to understand exactly what the graders are looking for. Study the rubric once more and remember what you’ll need to accomplish in each category.

Tip 2: Pick a perspective and stick to it

When it comes to the writing prompt, the ACT website says “ The test describes an issue and provides three different perspectives on the issue. You are asked to read and consider the issue and perspectives, state your own perspective on the issue, and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective on the issue. Your score will not be affected by the perspective you take on the issue.”

In order to write a strong essay, you can choose whatever perspective you like—just make sure it’s one that you can support and defend effectively throughout your essay. Scorers are looking for a strong, well-organized point of view, and like it says above, it doesn’t matter whether you agree, disagree, or are somewhere in the middle; what matters is the writing.

It is important to remember that even if you don’t agree with the perspective that you’re writing from on a personal level, your essay needs to show that you can effectively argue a point. In addition, make sure to remember to relate your perspective to one of the perspectives provided in the prompt. Be sure to address the counter arguments as well in one of your body paragraphs, using the perspective opposite to your personal perspective to demonstrate your understanding of opposing views.

Tip 3: Use concrete examples

Grounding your writing in concrete examples is one extremely important element of writing effective ACT essay. You could use this as an opportunity to show off your historical knowledge by relating your argument to a relevant fact or event in history or current events, or you could come up with a rhetorical scenario or example. Including examples might even mean including a personal anecdote (although if you do end up doing this, you should make sure that your story is short and relates directly to your argument).

Take a look at the ways in which the writers of sample essays that scored a 12 managed to seamlessly incorporate examples into their writing. While you don’t have to be an expert on the essay topic, nor are you expected to be able to list off obscure facts and trivia about it, you need to make sure that your essay draws from real concrete examples rather that just vague abstract arguments.

Tip 4: Don’t be afraid to show off your language skills

One of the markers of a successful ACT essay is its use of language. This is a great opportunity to show off some of your ACT/SAT vocabulary words that you might have been studying for the English section of the test. Opt for higher-level vocabulary words when given the chance—as a general rule of thumb, you should aim to use about 1-2 higher level vocab words per paragraph.

Scorers want to see that you can navigate the English language skillfully, and so you should also take the chance to vary your sentence structure when you get the chance. Consider, also, utilizing devices such as rhetorical questions and complex sentences.

If you are going to use more complicated vocabulary and grammar structures, however, make sure you fully understand how to use them. It will reflect poorly upon your writing skills if you include a complicated word that doesn’t make sense in the context of a sentence, or if a grammatical structure that you try to use isn’t quite right. If you’re going to use a semicolon to combine two sentences, for example, make sure you understand that a semicolon is not the same thing as a comma. When in doubt, stick to what you know! It is better to have a less complicated structure that is used correctly versus an attempt at a more advanced grammatical concept that is actually wrong.

Lastly, be sure to keep it real in your writing. While scorers want to see students who are skilled in their use of the english language, it is easy to tell when someone is simply trying to electrify their vocabulary in order to titillate the reader for the written examination. Your writing and tone should reflect who you are as a writer, so remember to keep it down to earth.

Tip 5: Pay attention to timing & your energy level

For the essay section, you will get 40 minutes. This includes time for planning, writing, and editing, so make sure you dole out the appropriate amount of time for each part of the process. You can practice this by timing yourself to write an essay from a sample prompt at home. Start by giving yourself an hour, and gradually work it down to 40 minutes so that you are prepared by the time the testing date rolls around. If you find that you need more time for planning than you do writing, or if you come to learn that you need a particularly large chunk of time to edit, keep these things in mind when it comes time to write your essay for the exam.

The essay will be the last section on the test, so keep this in mind while you complete the multiple choice sections of the ACT. While you should be devoting your full attention and energy to each multiple choice section of the test, keep in mind that once you are finished with all of the multiple choice sections, you will still have to write the essay.

When you get breaks between sections, be sure to eat a snack, drink some water, and use the restroom so that you are not uncomfortable or distracted by the end of the test. While you might be tempted to just breeze through the essay section so that you can finish the ACT, know that you will not be allowed to leave the testing center until everyone has finished the test—so be sure to use up all of the allotted time!

For more information about the ACT and essay writing, check out these blog posts:

What to Bring (And Not Bring) to the ACT

10 Tips to Improve Your ACT Score

Ultimate Guide to the New SAT Essay

A Guide to the Optional ACT Writing Section

Want to know how your SAT score/ACT score impacts your chances of acceptance to your dream schools? Our free Chancing Engine will not only help you predict your odds, but also let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and which aspects of your profile to improve. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to gain access to our Chancing Engine and get a jumpstart on your college strategy!

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Are you taking the ACT with Writing? No need to stress! The ACT essay follows a predictable format, which means you can practice and prepare beforehand. Take a look at a sample ACT writing prompt and learn five key steps to penning a high-scoring essay.

writing the ACT essay

Keep in mind: The ACT writing essay is optional. Currently, only 27 colleges and universities require the ACT with Writing. You can see the complete list  here . If there is any chance that you might apply to one of those schools, you should register for the ACT with Writing. Not sure where you will apply? You should strongly consider signing up for the essay and keep your options open.

ACT with Writing: Sample Prompt

This example writing prompt comes straight from our book ACT Prep :

Education and the Workplace

Many colleges and universities have cut their humanities departments, and high schools have started to shift their attention much more definitively toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and away from ELA (English, Language Arts). Representatives from both school boards and government organizations suggest that the move toward STEM is necessary in helping students to participate in a meaningful way in the American workplace. Given the urgency of this debate for the future of education and society as a whole, it is worth examining the potential consequences of this shift in how students are educated in the United States.

Read and carefully consider these perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the shift in American education.

Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on the issue of how schools should balance STEM and ELA subjects. In your essay, be sure to:

  • analyze and evaluate the perspectives given
  • state and develop your own perspective on the issue
  • explain the relationship between your perspective and those given

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial agreement, or wholly different. Whatever the case, support your ideas with logical reasoning and detailed, persuasive examples.

How to Write the ACT Essay

Your job is to write an essay in which you take some sort of position on the prompt, all while assessing the three perspectives provided in the boxes. Find a way to anchor your essay with a unique perspective of your own that can be defended and debated, and you are already in the upper echelon of scorers.

Step 1: Work the Prompt

What in the prompt requires you to weigh in? Why is this issue still the subject of debate and not a done deal?

Step 2: Work the Perspectives

Typically, the three perspectives will be split: one for , one against , and one in the middle . Your goal in Step 2 is to figure out where each perspective stands and then identify at least one shortcoming of each perspective. For the example above, ask yourself: 

  • What does each perspective consider?
  • What does each perspective overlook?

Read More: What's a Good ACT Score?

Step 3: Generate Your Own Perspective

Now it's time to come up with your own perspective! If you merely restate one of the three given perspectives, you won’t be able to get into the highest scoring ranges. You’ll draw from each of the perspectives, and you may side with one of them, but your perspective should have something unique about it.

Step 4: Put It All Together

Now that you have your ideas in order, here's a blueprint for how to organize the ACT essay. This blueprint works no matter what your prompt is.

Step 5: (If There's Time): Proofread

Spend one or two minutes on proofreading your essay if you have time. You’re looking for big, glaring errors. If you find one, erase it completely or cross it out neatly. Though neatness doesn’t necessarily affect your grade, it does make for a happy grader.

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ACT Writing Prompts With Sample Essays & Tips

Act Essay

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The ACT essay is an optional portion of the ACT test that assesses a student's writing skills. It is a 40-minute timed writing task in which the student is given a prompt and asked to write an argumentative essay in response. ACT writing test is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your writing skills and ability to look at any topic from different perspectives.

Our guide will outline how to write an ACT essay and how to do your best on it. We will discuss ACT writing prompts and possible approaches. Also, we have new ACT essay examples you can draw inspiration from. 

Let’s make this writing task a piece of cake for you! After reading this blog from our college essay services , we guarantee that you will become a rock star in ACT writing!

What Is ACT Writing?

First and foremost, let’s start with a definition of ACT writing and what you need to know about this test type. ACT writing portion is a 40-minute optional test that evaluates your ability to write and present 3 different perspectives on defined issues. 

But why should you consider taking this writing part of a test if this task is not mandatory? The answer is easy – many universities still require students to take an ACT with writing. It depends on your future major and academic plans. For some admission commissions, the test without writing part will make you a weaker competitor. 

This test assesses your skills in analytical thinking. In this essay, you must overview 3 sides of a debate topic, bring your approach, and point to reasonable evidence.

ACT Essay Example

ACT Writing Test Overview

If you find a university you will apply to that requires an ACT writing test, don’t panic and start preparing. Our guide will go through each step of your writing and help you understand its basic principles. But first, let’s have a brief overview of this task and how it will be scored. 

Critical points on your test:

  • You have 40 minutes to write.
  • You can use pen and paper only.
  • Essay structure should be strictly followed.

You will structure your work this way:

  • Evaluate 3 different angles of a prompt.
  • Present your view or indicate which one you support.
  • Explain the connection between your choice and other perspectives on a topic.

After you know what this essay includes, let’s discuss the scoring. What you should know about an ACT writing score? You will be evaluated based on 4 aspects:

  • Ideas and analysis of a prompt Does your writing sample demonstrate clarity and provide an overview of all perspectives?
  • Topic development How does your text develop and structure ideas in a coherent sample?
  • Logic Does your text have a strong and reasonable structure that follows a logical flow?
  • Language Does your essay contain grammar and spelling mistakes?

Two graders will evaluate your essay. Each one will grade your test on a score from 1 to 6. Finally, you will see the sum of those points from two graders, or in other words – a number from 2 to 12. An average score sum required by most universities is 8+. However, some Ivy League colleges may ask you to write your ACT essay with a 9+ score.

ACT Practice Writing Prompts

How to get the highest score on your test? Take any ACT writing practice test, understand your weaknesses, and continue training. 

We prepared ACT writing prompts to illustrate how your essay can be structured, what templates to use, and how to succeed in this task. While looking for the best prompts, consider that this test was changed in 2015 and became a little more complicated. But we focused on the latest tests to give you the best possible examples and prompts.

Sample ACT Essay Prompt 1 & Analysis

In the following paragraphs, we will focus on an ACT writing prompt and how to ensure a successful essay score on a real test. Let’s choose one of the popular topics for your essay – Climate Change . We will show this topic's ACT writing test prompt and two essay samples. 

We will also go through grading and explain why the first essay scored 1 and the second had the highest score - 6. These samples will undoubtedly inspire you and teach you how to write good texts.

Sample Prompt

Lately, a discussion around the urgency of action because of climate change has become one of the most popular. The data proves that governments of many countries failed to follow their agreement on reducing the negative influence on the environment. As a result, we all became affected by changing the weather, extreme heating, or heavy rain. Due to these changes, some countries, like Pakistan, have already lost territories and people. However, some scientists argue that climate change is a media topic that is not so urgent.  Read carefully three perspectives on how important and urgent are climate change issues. Each of them outlines a specific view of the human role in climate change.

Essay task Write a coherent essay addressing what urgent climate change is and who is responsible for this situation. In your essay: 1. State your perspective and analyze how it connects to perspectives defined in a prompt. 2.  Support your point with examples. 3. Structure your ideas.

❌ ACT Essay Example 1

The discussion around climate change has become very important in the last few years. However, the question is, how accurate is climate change? Maybe, it was fabricated by media and corporations to have an additional influence on governments. I believe that only people alone are responsible for climate change. This is our goal to make any changes. If we want to change this situation with climate change, we need to start with ourselves. And we need to start with an urgent alarm that will bring this topic to a higher level of discussion. My point is based on a few pieces of evidence. First, we know how many plastics are used by ordinary people. Even reducing plastic in everyday life can help to change something. Secondly, we can reduce the negative influence on the environment by changing our eating habits and moving to a vegetarian diet. My idea is mainly related to the first perspective described in the essay task. I believe climate change is the most urgent topic for now, but only humans can change something by doing even small steps. To conclude, I think that we need to bring more attention to the causes of climate change and focus on small things that every person can do.

Score Analysis

Let’s examine an  ACT essay score and analyze why the sample above will get the lowest score. We will go through each point for grading.

Here you can see that based on all 4 grading points, the essay sample will get the lowest score. However, the same topic can be developed much better, with real examples and more substantial argumentation. It is possible to score your essay with the highest grade even by choosing the same perspective.

✓ Essay Writing Sample 2

There is no shortage of opinions on how emergent the climate change issue is and what the way to solve it is. In the essay task, we found three different perspectives on this topic. The first one is to stand on the position that climate change is the most urgent topic for humanity, and even small steps by ordinary humans can change the situation. The second one pointed out that there is no such issue as climate change, and the media and marketers created it. And the last one, and most realistic in my opinion, is that climate change is a problem, but only governmental politics can make a difference in it. A bunch of facts and evidence support my point of view. First and foremost, we need to evaluate the number of considerable productions in each country. Manufacturers make up 75% of the pollution, which definitely relies on government regulations. It means we can not change the situation significantly only by ourselves. Secondly, we need to analyze the biggest causes of climate change. One of them is fossil fuel and deep ocean mining, which governments lead. I also believe no evidence proves climate change is a myth. We can see how devastating rain is in Pakistan - the first country heavily damaged by climate change. It is a real case, not just a conspiracy belief. To conclude, I would suggest activists put more effort into pushing governments to act to stop climate change.  

This essay is much more logical and well-structured and definitely will get the highest score. Let’s look at each ACT essay scoring section to understand what makes this text better and more effective.

The second essay is more robust and better for students who need high grades. However, the structure of each essay is the same. If you find the best structure for you, there will be no problem with any topic for such a task.

Sample ACT Essay Prompt 2 & Analysis

You may think that an essay topic can influence ACT essay prompts. However, we are talking about standardized tests. You can complete excellent writing on any topic if you learn how to structure your text and what will make your test better. But you need to practice! Here is another example with a detailed analysis to illustrate the possible development of a topic and underline essential tips to make your paper better graded. Let’s look at the essay on paid/free medicine.

There is a belief in a lot of countries that medicine should be free for anyone. The topic of paid medicine has become one of the most discussed in recent years. For example, the United States is a well-known country with paid and expensive medicine. However, in many European countries, like Germany and France, people can get quality medical help without any payment, as they have already paid taxes. Read carefully three perspectives on paid medicine. Each of them outlines a specific view on how much people should pay for medical support, and it is possible to make the medicine entirely accessible to anyone.

Essay task Write a coherent essay addressing the discussion of paid instead of free medicine. In your essay: 1. State your perspective and analyze how it connects to perspectives defined in a prompt. 2. Support your point with examples. 3. Structure your ideas.

❌ Writing Essay Sample 1

One of today's biggest discussions is about paid medicine and how it should be developed worldwide. While there is a lot of support for the third perspective, described in a task. People believe they should not pay for medicine, as this is a basic need for everyone. However, I disagree with this point, as I support a capitalistic point of view. I believe people need to pay for quality medicine help, which is the only way to build an effective medical system in any country. That is why I have this point of view. First, we need to learn from the best world examples. This is definitely the US. Doctors in the US are very prestigious professionals, and they need to put a lot of effort into working in a clinic. Also, the best surgeries and innovators live in the US. It became possible to launch complicated research only because of funding. This is why I believe we need to pay for quality help, as this is the only reason to develop the system.

Clearly, this essay is not bad, but not the best one you can create. Applying an ACT writing score range, we would say this one about medicine will be in the middle. Detailed analysis of its pros and cons will help you improve your writing piece.

In general, this is a good example of an essay for a score of 3. It is not too simple and unstructured to get 1 or 2. However, there are a lot of improvements that can make the text more readable.

✓  ACT Writing Sample 2

There is no single opinion on building the country's best medical system. While some people believe that the best way is to make medical help paid, others think that the government should cover all medical expenses for people. I personally stand on the position that medicine should be free for everyone. I believe paid and partly-paid medicine discussed in this task is not a way to achieve transparency and democracy. First and foremost, paid medicine will divide people into groups - those who can pay and get qualitative help and those who will die because of no money. Let’s look at death statistics in the US, the country with paid and costly medicine. Almost 40% of people died last year because they could not pay their doctor or ask for help. The idea of developing a medical system based on money clinics get from patients is dangerous. People pay taxes anyway, and these taxes should be invested into building a clinic of the future. For this reason, I believe the only way to make any nation healthy is to pay for medical help from taxes, not from additional citizen payments.

Essay Scoring Analysis

You can see that the second essay looks stronger. We will analyze it based on an ACT writing score scale to illustrate what makes the text better. Let’s discuss each of the four aspects of scaling the writing sample.

This essay will get the highest 6 scores from graders.

How to Write the ACT Essay

Next, we will learn how to write an ACT essay step-by-step. You can see different samples and understand how your work will be scored. But how to write an essay and get the highest grade? Let’s go through each stage of ACT writing essay creation and clarify the importance of each step. Finally, our goal is to make you a proficient writer who is ready to work on any task without worrying about any topic.

1. Brainstorm the ACT Writing Prompt

Research is an essential step in creating an advanced essay. First, you must analyze act writing prompts and find as many arguments for your text as possible. 

Look at the selected ACT essay prompt from various angles and try to understand why this topic became part of the discussion. Refrain from sticking with the first idea you will have. Analyze all three perspectives and understand which will be the most successful. Identify all viable arguments for each stand. 

It is better to spend more time brainstorming than re-write the whole essay when you understand you have limited argumentation for a selected position.

2. Carefully Consider the Perspectives

You will have three different perspectives in your ACT prompt, and you need to analyze each before defining your line. Choose the perspective that will help you to create an excellent ACT essay. 

Usually, one perspective will support a topic, one will be against it, and one will be in the middle. Which one to choose for your test? First, define what each perspective considers and how you can develop this line. Second, think about possible argumentation you can use. You need to choose the one you will feel confident about.

3. Come Up With Your Perspective

After analyzing three topic perspectives, choose one for your essay. Remember that your attitude should be unique. It means you should not select one angle from the given task and state it. Try to combine ideas, and include a brief analysis of them from your point of view. If you want the highest score, your line and argumentation should not copy the one from ACT essay prompts. 

Writing the ACT essay is simple if you use unique ideas for the structure. Reread the topic and define which line is not represented in given perspectives. 

If this task is challenging, consider to pay someone to write your essay at StudyCrumb .

4. Write Your ACT Essay

You analyzed all perspectives for discussion, chose a unique line for your argumentation, and are ready to start working on ACT writing. What is next? The next step is working with an ACT essay format and structure. 

Create an outline of an essay. It means you must define what you will discuss in each section. 

Your text structure will be simple:

  • Essay introduction : Identify your perspective and briefly point to each perspective from the task.
  • Body paragraphs : Start with a topic sentence followed by your argumentation to support and explain your position. Make 2-3 paragraphs.
  • Essay conclusion : Provide your final summary.

ACT Essay Template

Here, you can find a template that is applicable to any topic. You can memorize or save it for your test practice.

ACT Essay Template

5. Proofread Your Writing

Like any other type of writing work, an ACT essay should be proofread before submission. You will have only 40 minutes to write 300+ words using a paper and pen. You need to have sufficient time at the end of your test to check spelling and grammar mistakes. An ACT writing section can be stressful, as you have limited time and must clearly illustrate your ability to think and analyze. You may write your essay in a rush and make some mistakes in spelling words. Plan around 5 minutes for essay revision .

ACT Writing Tips

The best way to ensure a high score on your exam day is to write an ACT practice essay and analyze your text based on a scoring system. Clear structure, advanced essay template, and robust perspective analysis for your statement are critical for scoring. 

However, there are a few more ACT essay tips for your test day:

  • Start with research and analysis.
  • Create an outline before starting to write.
  • Mention all 3 perspectives, especially the one that opposes your statements.
  • Use a unique statement for your essay.
  • Always proofread – it is better to submit clean text without mistakes that write more words than needed.

Bottom Line on ACT Writing Prompts

You are at the end of a detailed guide sample ACT essay writing. In a few paragraphs, we shared with you a few ACT prompts and identified critical steps in creating advanced writing. Remember that this task is not mandatory for test takers. 

But if you are already here, your University may require it. Do not panic! This is a standard test, and you can do your best by learning from ACT writing examples and focusing on templates we prepared for you. Be clear with your idea, analyze other topic perspectives, be unique, and use advanced vocabulary for this test! And you will succeed! 

If you found our blog post on the ACT essay helpful, you may also need a guide on how to write an SAT essay .


If you still struggle with your ACT essay, our professional academic writing platform can help. Our writers are experienced in academic writing and can deliver fantastic results within a short time. for quick and high-quality delivery. Order essays online to take this burden off your shoulders.

FAQ About ACT Writing Prompts

1. how long is the act with writing.

An ACT essay is only a 40-minute test, and it will present one writing prompt that describes a complex topic and provide three perspectives for analysis in your writing section. You won’t be able to write more than 250-300 words. Focus on test quality, not the number of words.

2. What is a good ACT writing score?

An average ACT writing score is 6.5 and above. It will work for a lot of Universities. However, you may need 8 or more on this test for highly competitive schools. If you apply to a top university or Ivy League, a good score is 10, 11, or 12.

3. Does the ACT essay affect your score?

No, this section does not affect your subject area scores or Composite scores. ACT essay scoring is essential only for a few Universities. And if you are unsure if you need it, it's better to take it. It won’t change your general test scores. Do not be worried about this section a lot!

4. What is an average ACT writing score?

Two graders will grade your work, and each one can grade you in four categories from 1 to 6. This is how you can get from 2 to 12 points in each category. In sum, you will have a score between 2 and 12, which is your average ACT writing score.


Rachel R. Hill is a real educational devotee. She prides in writing exceptional general guides while listening to every need of students.

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An actual ACT English Test contains 75 questions to be answered in 45 minutes.

  • Be aware of the writing style used in each passage.
  • Consider the elements of writing that are included in each underlined portion of the passage. Some questions will ask you to base your decision on some specific element of writing, such as the tone or emphasis the text should convey.
  • Be aware of questions with no underlined portions—that means you will be asked about a section of the passage or about the passage as a whole.
  • Examine each answer choice and determine how it differs from the others. Many of the questions in the test will involve more than one aspect of writing.
  • Determine the best answer. Read and consider all of the answer choices before you choose the one that best responds to the question.
  • Reread the sentence, using your selected answer.

Click on letter choices below to view the correct answer and explanations.

Sample Test Questions

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  1. How to Get a Perfect 12 on the ACT Writing Essay

    Part II: The Difference Between a 10 and a 12. If we asked the ACT what the difference is between a 10 and a 12 ACT essay, they would direct us to their scoring criteria (replicated in the table below) that describes the difference between the 5 and 6 essay scores in each domain. As you may already know, a total domain score of 12 comes from ...

  2. The ACT Writing Sample Essays

    Writing Sample Essays. Write a unified, coherent essay about the increasing presence of intelligent machines. In your essay, be sure to: clearly state your own perspective on the issue and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective. develop and support your ideas with reasoning and examples.

  3. Your Magical Guide to Scoring a Perfect 12 on the ACT Essay

    Unlike other sections on the ACT, the Essay is scored between 2 and 12, rather than between 1 and 36. Two graders will individually score students from 1-6 on the four domains: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions.

  4. 2021-22 ACT Writing Practice Test Sample Essays

    Well-Written Essay Sample . First, let's look at a sample essay which would likely receive the highest possible score (a 6 in all categories, which results in a final ACT Writing score of 12). A top-scoring essay will align with the following ACT scoring rubric descriptions:

  5. ACT Essay Template and Sample

    ACT Essay Template and Sample. Taking the ACT Writing Test is a great way to show off your writing skills to colleges. While you can't be sure of the exact prompt ahead of time, you can use the same general structure for every ACT essay. The following provides helpful suggestions for writing your essay. You do not need to copy this approach ...

  6. 5 Tips to Score a 12 On Your ACT Essay

    Tip 1: Know what a 12 looks like. In general, if you are aiming to do well in something, you should know what exemplary work looks like and try to emulate it. This is certainly the case for the ACT Essay, so before you walk into the testing center to write your essay, make sure you know know what essays that scored a 12 in this section look ...

  7. 2021-22 ACT Writing Practice Test Sample Essays

    The 2021-22 ACT Writing Request & Sample Essays. Remember that you have only 40 minutes go familiarize yourself with the prompts, plan your essay, and write it out. It is recommended that thou take no more than 10 minutes to plan your essay, so this you have the repose for the clock till write and review it. The test bookmark does vacant pages ...

  8. Writing Test Prep

    The ACT writing test is a 40-minute essay test that measures your writing skills. The test consists of one writing prompt that will describe a complex issue and present three different perspectives on that issue. It is a paper-and-pencil test. You will write your essay in pencil (no mechanical pencils or ink pens) on the lined pages of an ...

  9. Sample ACT Essay Prompt (and How to Tackle It)

    No need to stress! The ACT essay follows a predictable format, which means you can practice and prepare beforehand. Take a look at a sample ACT writing prompt and learn five key steps to penning a high-scoring essay. Keep in mind: The ACT writing essay is optional. Currently, only 27 colleges and universities require the ACT with Writing.

  10. Essay Writing Practice and Prompts for the ACT

    Essays are read by two readers trained to evaluate essays, who score the essays according to the 2-12 scale. You can learn more about the essay by reading the ACT Preparation Guide. Writing Your Essay. Plan and write an essay that is unified and coherent. As you write, be careful to:

  11. Sample Essay Explanations to the Previously Released 2015-2018 ACT

    ACT 2020 Practice Test Sample Essay - Score 6/6 Well-Written Essay Sample. First, let's look at a sample essay which would likely receive the highest possible score (a 6 in all categories, which results in a final ACT Writing score of 12). A top-scoring essay will align with the following ACT scoring rubric descriptions:

  12. How to Do Well on the ACT Essay

    The ACT Essay Scoring System. The ACT essay is scored by two independent graders on a scale of 1-6 across four different domains: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. The scores from each grader are added together for each domain, resulting in a domain score ranging from 2-12. These four ...

  13. ACT Essay Format and Templates You Can Use

    ACT Essay Outline. The 5-paragraph structure might seem boring, but it is a good way to keep your points organized when writing an essay. For the ACT essay, you'll need an introduction, two to three body paragraphs (at least one paragraph for each perspective), and a conclusion.You should state your thesis in your introduction and conclusion (using different words in your conclusion so that ...

  14. ACT Essay Samples

    Thankfully, ACT has provided some helpful ACT essay samples that you can study based on good vs not-so-good examples. In addition, here are 10 helpful ACT Essay prep tips to practice before test day. ACT Essay Samples Prompt. This provided prompt, Intelligent Machines, is a good representation of how prompts are provided to you on the actual ...

  15. How to Get a Perfect 12 on the ACT Writing Essay / Sample ACT Essay

    Crucial: If him haven't read these two other ACT Writing guides before, take one minute and read them buy: The ACT Writing Rubric: Analysis, Explanation, and Business. How into Write an ACT Essay, Step by Step. Is be make which rest of the article make additional sense. Partial EGO: What a 12 on the ACT Essay Means

  16. PDF Preparing for the ACT Test 2023-2024

    Note. • For your practice essay, you will need scratch paper to plan your essay and four lined sheets of paper for your response. • On test day, if you are taking the paper test, you will receive a test booklet with space to plan your essay and an answer document with four lined pages on which to write your response.

  17. (Updated) ACT Essay Scoring: Completely Explained

    Each ACT essay is scored by two different graders on a scale of 1-6 across four different domains, for a total score out of 12 in each domain. These domain scores are then averaged into a total score out of 12. NOTE: The ACT Writing Test from September 2015-June 2016 had a slightly different scoring scale; instead of averaging all the domain ...

  18. New ACT Essay Prompts & Writing Samples With Score Analysis

    Sample ACT Essay Prompt 2 & Analysis. You may think that an essay topic can influence ACT essay prompts. However, we are talking about standardized tests. ... In sum, you will have a score between 2 and 12, which is your average ACT writing score. Article posted on: Apr 21, 2023. Article updated on: May 10, 2023. Rachel R. Hill Author. Rachel R ...

  19. ACT Writing Prompts: The Complete Guide

    5 Sample ACT Essay Prompts. The idea behind the ACT essay is that it's a fair test of everyone's writing ability because nobody knows the topic or question before the test. In order for this to be true, the ACT actually has to choose from a pretty small sliver of questions (since the topics must be broad enough that all test takers can write ...

  20. The ACT English Practice Test Questions

    An actual ACT English Test contains 75 questions to be answered in 45 minutes. Be aware of the writing style used in each passage. Consider the elements of writing that are included in each underlined portion of the passage. Some questions will ask you to base your decision on some specific element of writing, such as the tone or emphasis the ...