ACT Tips and Advice Post

The New ACT Essay / Writing Section

Big news:  in an effort to make the test more accessible, and compete with the new SAT, the ACT has turned its Essay (Writing) section into a multiple-choice test. 

OK, not really.  But kind of.

As you may have heard by now, the ACT is changing the format of its Writing Test (a.k.a. the essay section).  Instead of 30 minutes to write, you are now given 40 minutes to write, and instead of being given only a prompt and an assignment, you will now be provided with a prompt, an assignment, and three different perspectives on the essay.  You are then asked to evaluate the different perspectives on the issue, to provide your own perspective, and to explain the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective, using examples, analysis and logic.  (In the words of the ACT, students are asked "to develop an argument that puts their own perspective in dialogue with others.")

Below is the exact prompt from a recent essay.  Please note that the assignment has been changed frequently, and that any ACT essay prep materials you use may not have been updated to reflect these changes.

The new essay will be scored out of of 12 points.  It will also be given a grade of 2-12 (two graders will score the essay from 1-6 and add their scores) in the following areas:  Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, & Language Use and Conventions.  You can read more about those sub-scores here and here.

While you're at it, you can read an example of a perfect-score essay from the makers of the ACT.  However, because I'm not a huge fan of the ACT's sample essay (it includes misspellings and is light on examples and structure),  I have also written my own example of a perfect-score ACT essay.  Here's another one I wrote as well. 

The ACT has released two free sample PDF essays in the new format, in addition to the 3 in the new book.  You can find them here and here (scroll to pages 54 and 55 of the new ACT diagnostic test).  If you need additional practice prompts, then I would recommend that you check out ACT tutor Shane Burnett's website, Mighty Oak Test Prep, where you can download 6 additional ACT prompts written by him.

Here is how I would classify the change, in general terms:

1) You are presented with a very unbiased account of a situation in our society.  Factual observations are made, and rhetorical questions asked, but no opinions or answers are provided. 

2) Three different perspectives are given on the issue, usually about two sentences each.  They are along the lines of yes / no / maybe, but of course the perspectives are more nuanced than that, since the question is no longer posited as a "true or false?" scenario. 

First Question: "Automation is generally seen as a sign of progress, but what is lost when we replace humans with machines?"

Second Question: "In a society that values both health and freedom, how do we best balance the two? How should we think about conflicts between personal health and public freedom?"

Overall, I would say that this is a positive change, even if it is a rather transparent (and abrupt!) reaction to the new SAT redesign.  The irony, of course, is that the SAT changed its format to more closely mirror that of the ACT, to which it is losing market share as students are increasingly opting out of the SAT to take the ACT instead.

Why is this a good change?  A couple of reasons: it gives you 10 more minutes to write, and instead of having to come up with your own perspectives on the question, they are provided for you already, and you can take your notes directly on the page, circling and underlining key terms and using them to structure your outline.  No more racking your brain, wondering what you are going to write about--nearly everything is already provided for you. 

Good luck!

copyright 2018 Brian R. McElroy
Founder and President, McElroy Tutoring Inc.
Toll-Free: 1-866-584-TUTOR (8886), x 4
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