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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

The Plan

This section discusses how you will use the writing process to successfully write a quality essay in a half-hour's time. For our purposes, we will refer again to the sample topic about the teen center that you just read and which is reprinted here:

    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.


This is the brainstorming stage. There is no time for a long outline here; simply draw a line down the center of your scrap paper to create two columns. In the column on the left, you will write down one point of view about the teen center, and in the column on the right you’ll write the opposite or opposing viewpoint.

For example, for the sample topic’s columns you would write "In Favor" (to mean "in favor of the teen center") as the title of the left column and "Not in Favor" (to mean "not in favor of the teen center") as the title of the right column.

Here is what your paper would look like so far:

In Favor

Not in Favor

Now you are ready to begin gathering ideas. You will write appropriate phrases under each column heading. Think of two or three ideas and jot them down. If the ideas are simply spilling out of your head, write four or even five, but you won’t need to have a huge list to write your essay, and you do not want to take more than 5 minutes for gathering your ideas.

For the sample topic we are working with, for "In Favor" you might write the following phrases:

  • Need a fun place to hang out.

  • Can never get a good basketball game going.

  • Basketball complex is closed some nights.

  • There is nothing else to do at the basketball complex but play or watch ball games.

Here’s how your paper would look after writing these ideas:

In Favor

Not in Favor

Can never get a good basketball game going.

Need a fun place to hang out.


Basketball complex is closed some nights.


There is nothing else to do at the basketball complex but play or watch ball games.

Now complete the second column on your drafting sheet. Under the "Not in Favor" heading, you might write the following:

  • Tougher students will get into trouble regardless of supervision.

  • Some students will be intimidated to go to a teen center.

  • It would be too expensive to renovate it. Where would the money come from?

Here’s how your paper would look with both columns filled in:

In Favor

Not in Favor

Can never get a good basketball game going.

Tougher students will get in trouble regardless of supervision.

Need a fun place to hang out.

Some students will be intimidated to go to a teen center.

Basketball complex is closed some

It would be too expensive to renovate it.

Where would the money come from?

There is nothing else to do at the basketball complex but play or watch ball games.

Quickly assess both columns and decide which one has the most comments below its heading. If you are unable to quickly figure out which column has the most phrases or ideas listed in it, just choose either column. It doesn’t really matter which direction you take when you actually write your paper.

Put an "X" or a star next to the column you have chosen. This will be the main stance you will take for your essay.

You are now ready to move to the next phase of the writing process.


This stage is where you will put your ideas together and actually write your essay. To do this, you will first write a one- or two-sentence opening that states your viewpoint about the issue or idea and shows that you understand what the essay topic is asking you to write about. It is also a good idea to attempt to personalize your opening sentence, like this: "Bayport needs a teen center in the city, and the old movie theatre is a perfect place to put it. There are some problems with the idea though."

Another way to write an opening sentence is like this: "Mayberry has been discussing a new teen center for years. Now some city officials are pressing the idea of converting the movie theater on Locust Street into a center. In my opinion, this is not a very wise plan."

Note that it does not matter at all if you are creating city and street names and ideas. The question you are responding to is fictional. Just ensure that your essay is entirely believable and doesn’t take a science fiction or other implausible turn. Don’t attempt to be humorous here either; it is entirely possible that your essay scorer may not share your sense of humor.

Now that you have written your introduction, you are ready to add the body of your essay. To do this, you will write each idea from your chosen side of the viewpoint columns in your essay and then further explain each one by writing an explanatory sentence below it.

For example, suppose you starred the left column. The first comment in the left column is, "Can never get a good basketball game going." Write a full sentence stating this point in your essay and then add a comment—a sentence or two—to explain it: "The same guys end up on one team, and they never let anyone else on their team. Girls have a hard time getting into a game."

Charge forward and move on to the next comment in that column, remembering to add a sentence or two underneath each comment each time. After you work through each comment and write a sentence or two explaining each one, you have completed the first paragraph of your essay.

Begin a new paragraph using the opposing viewpoints from the other column on your prewriting sheet. Create your opening sentence with a statement such as, "Some people who live in the city may not agree with my views," or "I have heard opposing viewpoints in town." Then, state each point just as you did for the first paragraph, adding a sentence or two of explanation to refute each one. Discuss why each of these statements is not plausible or is not a viewpoint that you agree with. Use one sentence or a few for this explanation.

Now tie up all the ideas and thoughts in your essay with a concluding statement that summarizes your work. For this essay, an example could be, "I hope they renovate the theatre quickly. I want to be able to use it before I graduate," or "I’m happy that the adults in the city have concerns about the activities of the teens in the area. I am eager to see what happens next."


In this phase, you will make sure that your essay makes sense, that it is grammatically correct, and that all the words you have used are correctly spelled. You won’t be rewriting or recopying your work because there is simply not enough time. You’ll read over and revise what you have already written.

Read through your entire essay. Think about whether the sentences and ideas make sense and flow together well. Be sure that all the words are spelled correctly. If you are unsure of a word’s spelling, consider using a synonym that you are sure about how to spell. Look to see whether all sentences are punctuated correctly. Ensure that you are confident about everything you have written. Use the following checklist as you read over and revise your work:

  • Is my essay convincing to the reader?

  • Will the reader find my work interesting?

  • Do I stay on the topic?

  • Are my points and opinions clear to the reader?

  • Is my writing legible?

  • Are all words spelled correctly?

  • Are all sentences punctuated correctly?

  • Do the sentences flow one into the next?

Do not make any large-scale changes to your essay at this time. If you have used the quick and efficient writing process format as described here, your essay is already in fine shape. Don’t second guess yourself and try to improve it.

Glance at your watch before you begin this revising stage and make a mental note of how much time you have to reread your essay. If you have sufficient time after that, read every sentence slowly again to ensure that each makes sense.

Remember that your entire ACT Writing test essay only needs to be approximately 300 to 400 words, although feel free to write more if you want to. The essay scorers are not looking for long essays, but well-put-together ones.

To know what 300–400 words looks like, you might want to type up a sample essay and then do a word count on your computer. Because individual students’ handwriting style varies greatly, it’s difficult to know how long your essay will be. (Look at the four paragraphs at the beginning of this section’s chapter, under "Preparing for the ACT Writing Test." This is about 350 words.)


Your essay is now complete, and it is a good bet that your 30 minutes are up. Take a deep breath, let it out, and hand in your essay! You might wonder how your essay will be scored. Unlike the other subject areas of the test, which are graded by a computer scanning system, the ACT Writing test is assessed manually by professional ACT essay scorers who assign grades on a scale from 1 to 6. A score of 6 applies to an "outstanding" essay, and a score of 1 is used to indicate a "very poor" essay. Essays in the top half of the scoring schema—4, 5, and 6—are considered to be of "average" or "above average" quality, whereas those scored from 1 to 3 are considered to be deficient in the type of writing necessary for college-level classes.

Two test scorers will read each essay and will use these scoring guidelines. They’ll add their scores together, for a possible total score of 12.

The following types of essays usually score 4–6, with 6 being the highest grade awarded:

  • A clear understanding of what the student is writing about. Perspectives and opinions are clear and opinions and ideas are well developed.

  • Specific examples are included to support the writer’s opinions and ideas.

  • Clear focus to the entire piece.

  • The essay shows competent use of language.

  • There are few errors, and these don’t detract from the essay.

These types of essays usually score 1–3:

  • Writer’s perspective is not always clear to the reader.

  • Ideas are not fully developed or are too general.

  • The student is not fully focused on the issue.

  • There are frequent errors that distract the reader.

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