Preparing for the ACT Optional Essay

The ACT Writing Essay tests your ability to understand and analyze multiple perspectives on an issue and convey your own perspective. While it is an optional part of the test, most colleges prefer candidates who submit an essay score, and 27 of the top colleges only consider candidates who submit an essay score.

The prospect of writing about an unknown subject can seem a little daunting, but with preparation, it doesn’t have to be.

  • The ACT Essay is an optional part of the test, however, while only 27 colleges require it, most universities prefer candidates with an essay score
  • The prospect of writing an essay on an unknown subject can be daunting, but with a little preparation it doesn’t have to be

Prep Expert ACT Prep Courses are available all year round to help you prepare for every section of the ACT.

The Format

Let’s start with what to expect from the question itself. While the question is different every year, the format is usually the same:

A short paragraph will introduce a debate around a current issue affecting the US or the world in general. This paragraph will briefly explain the issue itself and the two sides of the debate. This is followed by three paragraphs each presenting a perspective on the debate. Usually, two of these perspectives will oppose each other, while the third holds a more moderate position agreeing with some points from each side.

You will then be asked to analyze and evaluate these perspectives, develop your own perspective and relate it to the three provided perspectives.

While you won’t know the topic of the Writing Essay in advance, it is intended to focus on well-known issues most students have some awareness of.

Let’s start by covering the basic format of the question:

  • A short paragraph will introduce a current social issue, giving you some basic information and why it matters
  • This is followed by 3 perspectives on that issue, typically these will be two opposing viewpoints and a more moderate position that sees both sides of the debate
  • You will then be asked to analyze and evaluate these perspectives, develop your own opinion and relate it to the perspectives provided

Analyze and Evaluate

You are being tested on your ability to understand and evaluate different perspectives, whether you agree with them or not. With the information given in the question and your own knowledge, your essay should try to answer the following questions for each of the perspectives presented:

  • What are the facts and reasoning their perspective is based on?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of their arguments?
  • Do you agree or disagree with their reasoning? Why?
  • What are the similarities and differences between your perspective and theirs?

It is not enough to simply say a perspective is right or wrong, explain your conclusions with clear reasoning and examples.

Develop Your Perspective

  • Even if you agree with one of the given perspectives, you should show that you have taken that viewpoint after considering the factors identified in the prompt
  • Discuss the extent to which each perspective agrees or disagrees with your own
  • Show you understand the strengths and flaws of your own perspective as well as the given perspectives

Dos and Don’ts

  • Read the question twice! You’ve been hearing this one since 6th grade, but that’s only because it’s great advice. Make sure you fully understand the issue and perspectives before you start writing.
  • Use your own information. The writing prompt is intended to cover a pressing social issue which you are probably already aware of. If you’ve already been learning about that subject in your own time, show it!
  • Go on a tangent. When writing about your own opinion on a social issue you feel strongly about, it can be very easy to get side-tracked into other related subjects. Keep the focus on the perspectives you are being asked to discuss
  • Try to ‘win’ the argument. This essay is about showing you can understand multiple perspectives even when you disagree. Make sure you’re not ignoring points that counter your perspective, and explain clearly why you disagree

If you want to learn more about ACT prep take a look at our how to prepare for the ACT article.

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