ACT PlusWriting Test Information

Some colleges require you to take the traditional ACT with a writing test added on.  If you have to take the ACT Plus Writing test for the college of your choice, you will be expected to write a persuasive essay in thirty minutes.  Personally, I take more than thirty minutes to brainstorm my arguments before writing an essay.  I would be hard pressed to complete my brainstorming and a persuasive essay of quality in just thirty minutes, and I have written many a paper in my lifetime.  However, don't let that discourage you.  People expect more from English teachers than English students, and given the time limitations, the ACT folks can't expect perfection.

The test will present a two-sided issue by defining an issue and describing "two points on that issue," and then you have to pick a side and support it (9).  The test booklet stresses the importance of prewriting (brainstorming), and that's always a good idea, but watch your time and set a limit to time spent brainstorming.  For this timed  persuasive essay, just have having a column for reasons that support your side and a column for the opposing sides reasons should be enough brainstorming. Plus, I wouldn't waste time writing full sentences as my brainstorming, just a few words to remind me of the idea.

The booklet raises the question about using the five-paragraph essay formula and states that you are free to use a formula or not since points are awarded or deducted based on a formula or lack thereof.  However, this comes just a few paragraphs after a bulleted list of skills your writing must show.

If you have used the five-paragraph essay formula, then you know there is no better way to make sure you meet this criteria in a short amount of time.  Your thesis reveals the position you will take.  Topic sentences for each body paragraph help you maintain a focus throughout the essay.  Filling your body paragraphs with reasons your position is correct  and reasons the opposition is wrong requires logical reasoning and support.  By categorizing your reasons and placing them in their own paragraphs, you are organizing your essay in a logical way.  This "formula" has been around since the time of Cicero because it works so well. 

When you get into your favorite college, your instructor may hate the idea of the five-paragraph essay and require something else, but on the ACT test, it WILL work for you.  However, it's just the box into which you place your ideas.  If your reasons and examples aren't solid, a pretty box won't matter.


1.  Time management is key here.  Budget your time between brainstorming and writing.  Typically, writing without thinking first (brainstorming) reads like writing without much thought.  Yes, good writers can slop out something acceptable, but it won't be their best work.  So how do you know how much time to take? That brings us to #2.

2.  Practice at home. Ask your English teacher for some sample two-sided prompts.  Take them home, start the clock and see how much time it takes you to brainstorm and write an essay.  This is the best way to discover how to accommodate your writing process.  If you take an hour, you will have to adjust your brainstorming time and/or write faster.  Working against the clock in practice will help you on ACT test day.

3.  I mentioned brainstorming.  You have to take a side and back it up with reasons and examples, so thinking of them and then placing them in the best possible order is key.  Thinking up the opposing side's reasons may allow you to discover that you picked the wrong side in the first place, and you can change sides in your brainstorming.  If you try that in your essay, someone might just notice.

4.  I can write a great introduction given the time to think.  If I were taking this test, I would probably leave several blank lines (5-7) before writing my thesis statement, the sentence where I give the main idea of the essay by stating which side is correct. Don't water down your thesis with opinion labels like I think...I feel...etc.  Just state it as fact. Then after writing the body paragraphs and conclusion, I would come back to the introduction if I had time to write one.

5.  Body paragraphs: You have two choices in your body paragraph:  you can give your reasons first or the oppositions.  Since time is a factor, I would start with my reasons. If I had to keep a paragraph brief, I would want it to be their reasons.  Hopefully, you will have time to pick their three strongest arguments and tear them down.  Their reasons may be totally wrong, partially wrong, totally true but not pertinent or a deciding factor in this argument.  If all their arguments are totally true and relevant, you may have picked the wrong side.  Go with logical reasons, not emotion when you present your reasons.  Have a topic sentence for each body paragraph. Make sure you use the specific examples, varied sentence structure, varied word choices, and transitional words and phrases as you stay on topic jsut as page ten denotes.

6.  Have a conclusion. Restate your idea in a fresh thesis statement (not just copied from the beginning) and gracefully exit the essay.  You have to watch the time all the way through the test.  If you still have time, go back and gracefully enter the essay by filling the blank lines in the introduction.  If you're lucky, a brilliant introduction popped into your mind when you began the essay, and there will be no blank lines to fill.

7. Editing: If you have leftover time, check for misspellings, words left out because you think faster than you write, sloppy words that need crossed out and written carefully, etc.

Here are some links that might be helpful:
The Five-Paragraph Essay
Sample Essay
Good Writing Aids