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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Preparing for the ACT Writing Test

There are several effective ways to get ready for the Writing test. The preparatory reading of high-quality magazines and periodicals you have been doing for the ACT Reading test will also serve you well in this part of the test. Reading good writing helps your own writing improve. You will come to recognize how an opening sentence hooks the reader, how an article or essay is organized, and how a conclusion is intended to tie up the entire piece. You will also come to know which writing simply makes sense and sounds good to you.

As you read, pay close attention to the particular words a writer uses, how sentences and articles are organized, the tone of the writer, and how a writer’s opinion is first stated and then expanded upon in different types of articles and writing. Think about how some articles hold your interest, whereas others are written in what may be referred to as a flat or boring tone. You’ll want your writing to be of interest to those who read it, no matter what you are writing about.

Regardless of how good a writer you believe yourself to be, you will need to practice your own essay writing to prepare for this test. You will have to think and write relatively quickly here because the Writing test requires you to complete your essay in a half-hour’s time.

In the days and weeks ahead, and as your study and preparation time permit, choose topics from the list on this page and practice thinking fast and writing 300 to 500 words off the top of your head. Use lined paper and pencil just like you will do on the actual test. Don’t use a computer to type up your work; you may falsely believe that you are a quicker writer than you actually will be under strict test conditions. You won’t have spell check or grammar check to fall back on when you take the writing test.

Keep in mind that your reading and writing preparation is essential to your success on this test. Like the other parts of the ACT Assessment, it is also fundamental for you to already be completely familiar with this test section’s instructions prior to the morning you take the test.

Spend some time now reading and thinking about the instructions for the ACT Writing test. Keep in mind that just like the other areas of the test, the wording here may be a bit different from what you see on the actual test you take, but the directions themselves will never change from test to test. When you take the test, feel free to skim the instructions and move on to the actual paragraph and begin writing.

As the test directions explain, on the Writing test you will be presented with a short topic paragraph. You will read it, consider the viewpoints or angles about the topic, and then formulate an essay in response to the prompt at the end of the paragraph.

Writing the essay won’t require specific knowledge about any particular subject you may be unfamiliar with. Rather, the essay will always be about something that anyone in your position would be able to comfortably write about. Your essay will not be graded on what you state as your opinion, but on how well you are stating it.

The "plain, natural style" the directions refer to means just that—write as if you are talking to the reader. Don’t embellish your essay with big words meant to impress the essay’s scorer. It will seem forced and fake. Don’t make yourself write in a different way than you normally do. Clear, natural, and uncomplicated writing works perfectly on the Writing test.

Read and consider the following example of a typical topic you might encounter on the Writing test:

  • The city where you live is considering converting an old and unused movie theater into a teen center. The new teen center would have pool tables, Ping-Pong tables, arcade games, a concession stand, and would be designed to keep the city’s teens off the streets and out of trouble at night.

  • Many residents of the city are not happy with the idea. These people say that the teens will get into even more trouble in the teen center; that there will be insufficient supervision as no city employees will want to work the late hours required. They also say it would cost too much money to renovate the movie theater, and they wonder aloud where this money will come from. Many parents say that the city’s basketball complex is where the teens should be hanging out, there or in their own home studying.

  • Argue in favor of or against the teen center.

It is probable that after reading the paragraph, you have ideas swimming in your head about how you would write an essay to respond to the prompt. If given adequate time, it is a sure bet that you could write a decent essay clearly stating your viewpoints and including sentences backing up your opinions. The problem is that you may not have adequate time to get down all your ideas and write a good essay. In order to get a quality essay written in 30 minutes, you will need a good system.

To respond to the prompt, you will use the writing process. It is probable that you have been using the writing process with all your essay and article writing throughout your junior high and high school career. For our purposes here, we are going to assume that the writing process consists of the following phases (although you might not know these phases by the names given here or have separated the different phases quite like this):

  • Prewriting—Thinking of ideas, outlining, jotting down notes

  • Drafting—Writing a preliminary first try of a piece

  • Revising—Rereading your initial draft and making notes on what needs to be changed, rewriting the draft with those changes, and then considering your final copy

  • Presenting—Ending up with a polished work of writing

Each of these phases is part of the process of writing and must be completed to ensure a quality piece of work. Although the entire writing process can take anywhere from days to weeks to even months for some longer works, for the Writing test you have just a short time to complete all the writing process’s components. To do this, you will have to think fast, write, and be confident in what you are writing about. You won’t be able to crumble up your paper and start again when there is only a half-hour to complete your work.

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