What to Expect on the ACT Essay

The ACT Writing Test—colloquially referred to as the ACT essay—is an optional 40-minute test that does not affect your overall ACT score. But just because the writing test is optional when you register, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s necessarily optional for you.
Select schools, maybe even your dream university, actually do require the ACT essay as part of the admissions application. Further, if you consider yourself more of a strong writer than a strong test-taker, the ACT essay can help you impress the admissions committee. Either way, understanding how the ACT essay is scored will help you perform at your best should you decide to write it:

Understanding the ACT essay prompt

The ACT essay will present you with an issue as well as three perspectives on that issue. Your task is to clearly state your own point of view and analyze the the similarities and/or differences between your perspective and one of the given perspectives. You are not evaluated on the perspective that you take; instead, you will be evaluated on how well you organize your thoughts, support your ideas with examples and reasoning, and communicate your argument clearly, using the conventions of written English.

How the ACT essay is scored

The ACT essay is scored across four domains: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. Each of these are scored by two independent graders on a scale of 1-6 (with 6 being the highest) for a total score in each domain out of 12. Your overall writing test score will be the average of your scores on the four domains, and thus, also out of 12:
  • Ideas and Analysis

    This domain evaluates your ability to analyze multiple perspectives (yours and one of the given perspectives). To score highly in the Ideas and Analysis domain, your argumentative essay should contain a clear thesis statement and address the complexity, underlying assumptions and implications of the perspectives you have chosen to write about.

  • Development and Support

    This domain evaluates your ability to support your point of view. To score highly in Development and Support, your must support your ideas with examples and logical reasoning. Be sure to convey the significance of your argument as well as address an alternative perspective in a way that ultimately bolsters your position.

  • Organization

    This domain evaluates your ability to craft a well-designed essay. To score highly in the Organization domain, your essay should include introduction and conclusion paragraphs, a thesis statement, topic sentences as well as transitions both between paragraphs as well as sentences as appropriate.

  • Language Use and Conventions

    This domain evaluates your ability to communicate your ideas using the conventions of written English. To score highly in the Language Use and Conventions domain, your word choice should be accurate and precise, you should use synonyms and pronouns as appropriate to vary your word choice, use proper sentence structure and write with a tone that matches the nature of your argument. Minor spelling or grammar errors that do not hinder the reader’s ability to understand your argument do not count against you.