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ACT Essay Writing Section Changes This September

Starting September 2015, the ACT exam’s writing section will change to a new model that more precisely tests a student’s ability to write at the level appropriate for college courses and future careers. Here at B2A, we want to ensure that students feel prepared for these changes, which will affect all future tests.

First, let’s see how the ACT writing section has changed:

1) The prompt no longer focuses on school-themed issues.

For the previous version of the writing test, students addressed topics that ranged from uniforms in school to drug testing athletes. Now test takers will need to read a prompt that relates to contemporary issues, such as automation of human labor, and also three different perspectives on the issue. The essay must not only argue a position on the topic but also evaluate the three perspectives.

2) The raw score includes four domains of proficiency, which is converted into a 1-36 score.

Previously, ACT used two graders to simply score the essays on a 1-6 scale. From those two scores, students received a final score of 2-12.

Now there are four skill sets students must master: ideas/analysis, development/support, organization, and language use. Each of these skill sets receives a 2-12 score based on the combined 1-6 scores from two graders. ACT determines the final writing score by converting the four skill set scores into a 1-36 total.

Side note: if the two graders do not come within a point of each other, then a third grader is used to determine the score.

3) You have more time to plan and write the essay.

The old format gave test takers 30 minutes, but because the essay is a bit more complex, the time has been extended to 40 minutes.


What do these changes mean for how you prepare for the September ACT (and any thereafter)? Well, here are some of the strategies you should use to conquer the writing section:

1) Brainstorming - Use the extra time to make a strong essay.

Spend approximately 10 minutes reading the prompt and the perspectives, determining your viewpoint, and coming up with support for your thesis.

2) Structure - Keep the organization simple.

There is no specific format; however, you should aim to produce a 4- or 5-paragraph essay. The introduction can consider the multiple viewpoints, but it needs a thesis at the end. The two or three body paragraphs should support your viewpoint while also evaluating the different perspectives

3) Examples - Be as specific as possible with your reasoning.

Use current information or historical examples; it is not really necessary to use literature, but novels and stories could be helpful.

4) The Three Perspectives - Actually discuss and evaluate them.

Directly address these perspectives in the essay. For example, write “Perspective 1 believes. . .”


Good luck with studying, and make sure you are ready for these changes to the writing section. While the ACT test as a whole hasn’t changed, this update can still affect your chance at getting accepted to desired colleges.

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