Tips from a Costa Mesa ACT Tutor: Preparing for the ACT Writing Test

The ACT has made a change to the writing portion of the test. This can be confusing for students who are trying to compare the old test with the new one or who may be taking the exam multiple times. It’s important for students to understand fully what they will be expected to do on test day so that they are prepared and confident. The changes to the ACT are not as significant as those applied to the SAT, but they are worth knowing about – it’s never too late or too early to book your private Costa Mesa ACT tutor from TutorNerds.


1. Scoring guidelines

This is where it gets a little confusing. The current essay is graded on a scale of 1 to 36, while in the past it was graded on a scale of 1 to 12. The current exam is scored based on four subdomains. These domains, as stated on ACT’s website, evaluate the student’s ability to do several things:

“Analyze and evaluate multiple perspectives on a complex issue, State and develop your own perspective on the issue, Explain and support your ideas with logical reasoning and detailed examples, Clearly and logically organize your ideas in an essay, Effectively communicate your ideas in standard written English”.

On the current test, two expert graders will give the student a score of 1 to 6. So, each domain will have a minimum score of 2 and a maximum score of 12. The final composite score can be a maximum of 36. It’s critical to note that the scores aren’t simply added up to a final score. On the old ACT, the essay was scored by two graders, who each gave a score of 1 to 6 adding up to a composite score of 2 to 12 (READ: ACT Aspire: What is it?).

2. The prompt

A portion of the current sample prompt, directly from the ACT website, reads:

“Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on the increasing presence of intelligent machines.”

Students need to have developed strong analytical and persuasive writing skills. Most students would agree that this type of prompt is more complicated than the prompts from the old ACT, which included asking writers to take a position on topics such as school uniforms or whether or not technology should be censored in the classroom.

A major change is the addition of three sample perspectives, which students will have to analyze. In the past, students just read the prompt and responded to their writing. The essay will also require extensive reading comprehension and advanced analytical skills.

3. Time allotted

The present ACT essay will need to be completed within 40 minutes. This includes trying to read and comprehend the prompt, develop a position, make an outline, write, and edit. This is 10 minutes longer than the old ACT essay which allowed students 30 minutes to prepare and write. Students shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that they have an extra 10 minutes to bide their time. Rather, they will be responding to a more complicated prompt and will need this additional time to analyze and create an outline (READ: “ACT Tips from a Private Irvine Tutor”).

4. How to prep

Students are encouraged to sit down with their Costa Mesa ACT tutor or study group and create a plan of action for their writing portion test prep. Because the ACT essay is now graded on four separate domains: “ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use and conventions” (taken straight from the ACT website) students are encouraged to prepare to utilize all of these skills. Students should first focus on their ability to read, understand, and respond to the three sample perspectives. They should also work on their compare and contrast skills. They will then need to write and edit a clear and cohesive essay with good flow and varied vocabulary.

5. Is the writing portion still optional?

Yes, the ACT writing portion is still optional. Students who sign up to take the exam can still choose to skip it but only if all the colleges and universities they are applying to do not require the writing portion. Just because the ACT has made this part optional doesn’t mean that it’s optional according to any particular college admissions department. Students are encouraged to check with the colleges they are applying to and determine whether or not they will take the writing portion.


Writing Sample Essays

About the ACT Writing Test

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