New ACT Essay: Tips and Strategies 

One mistake students make when preparing for the ACT essay is to assume that the essay format will be similar to the SAT test. This is not the case. The SAT and ACT writing sections have several key differences, so each merits slightly different test prep strategies.

Remember: Even though the essay portion on the ACT is technically optional, I highly recommend students always take the ACT with Writing because many colleges (like University of California) will not accept an ACT score unless the essay portion was taken on the same day.

The Basics

  • Since the essay is the last section of the ACT test, I recommend students save one of your really sharp pencils for the essay. It will help you to write more legibly.
  • The new essay format is 40-minutes. Spend at least 5-minutes creating an outline for your position.
  • The answer sheet provides four pages of possible writing space, more than enough. Try to write at least 2 1/2 pages or more (hardly student writes on the fourth page unless he or she has really large handwriting).

Best ACT Essay Prep Book

For the essay, I really like the College Panda's ACT Essay: The Battle-tested Guide because the person who gives the advice has experience testing for the New ACT Essay prompt (most guides rely on outdated material for this section). Not every college requires the ACT Essay, but many do, so I always recommend sitting for this section. 

ACT Essay Checklist

  • Does the essay have a clear position (thesis)?
  • Did you  address the complexity of the issue by anticipating similarities and counter-arguments from Perspectives 1-3?
  • Do you not only state the counter-argument but also attempt to explain and respond to them by giving specific examples to support your claim?
  • Do the ideas unfold logically from general statements to more specific details and examples?
  • Are transitional words and phrases used to help the sequence of ideas flow smoothly?
  • Is a variety of vocabulary and sentence structure used in the writing?
  • Does the conclusion restate the argument?

My Favorite ACT Prep Book

Every student preparing for the ACT exam needs to purchase a copy of The Official ACT Prep Guide. That is a no-brainer because this book has real, copyrighted tests for ACT Inc., plus really good answer explanations. The Official ACT Prep Guide also has three, real ACT practice essay prompts as well as a discussion of student responses and scores to a given prompt. 

Take an ACT Practice Test

If you have read the several articles on my website, you know I am very big on taking an ACT practice test to get accurate diagnostic ACT scores. Why? Because if you do not have an accurate diagnostic score, how will you know how best to prepare for the exam? Or if you have your results from a previous test (and you want to score higher), try out a couple of the tips above or invest in some great ACT prep materials.

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