Time to Learn the Ropes of the New ACT Essay


Kids studying

Yes, that’s right, there are yet again changes to the ACT test.

If your child is taking the exam on or after September 12th, 2015, then he or she (and you!) will need to learn the ropes of the new ACT essay.

But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

Change is in the air

Here’s how things are changing:


Students will have 40 minutes to complete the essay instead of 30 minutes.


There will be a description of a controversial issue, like whether smoking should be permitted in public spaces or if it poses too much of a public health risk.  Then there will be three perspectives on the issue that students need to read and evaluate.

It’s up to the student to either adopt one of the perspectives as their own, come up with an entirely new perspective, or take bits and pieces of the stated perspectives to create a position.


The four categories of scoring are:

  • Ideas and analysis (argument/thesis)
  • Organization, (introduction, body, conclusion)
  • Development and support (evidence)
  • Language use (grammar and mechanics)

Each section will be scored from 1-6 by two independent graders.  The result? A final scaled score of 1-36 (don’t try to figure out the math..).

The folks at the Online Writing Lab hosted by Purdue University know what they’re talking about when it comes to grammar, so have your child check it out for a quick review.  And be sure they review comma use!


How can your child take advantage of the changes?

Save yourself from getting overwhelmed by the changes by conveying to your child how she can make them work in her favor.

First off: make an outline!

Just because students now have extra time to write doesn’t mean that they ought to start writing as soon as the proctor says “Open your booklet and begin.”

Instead, students should use the extra time to plan their essay.

Completing a 5-minute outline always results in a better-organized essay than skipping it entirely.  Ask any teacher and if they don’t agree, send me a message because I need to have a little chat with them…

Think of the outline as a roadmap (or in today’s world, a GPS): without it, you end up wandering and lost, which is an inefficient expenditure of time and energy.

Remind your child that essay graders are looking for a standard 5 paragraph essay, so the easiest way to approach the outline is to spend about 1 minute jotting down notes for each section: introduction, body paragraphs 1,2, and 3, and conclusion.

Second: craft an argument!

An argument is basically a thesis statement that clearly takes a side or position on a topic.  Graders want to see that the student can understand multiple perspectives on a given topic and come up with evidence to support one over another.

PSST! Here’s a secret: the student can “stretch” the truth of his response!

Let me explain…

There is no rule that says your child must write about how he or she truly feels about a topic.  While picking the position that you actually identify with usually leads to better and easier writing, sometimes, especially with controversial or personal topics, it is more difficult.

So encourage your child to pick whichever position he can make the strongest case for—even if it goes against what he actually believes.  This is an exercise in good writing, not ethics.

And third: brush up on these skills

  • Evaluating, relating, and synthesizing multiple perspectives: how are they the same and different? What are the pros and cons of each? What is each missing? What kinds of people does the perspective take into consideration and whom does it ignore?
  • Articulating a clear (i.e. NOT ambiguous) thesis statement. The ACT essay is not a time to be complex and fancy: pick one position and put a ring on it for the whole essay!
  • Gathering evidence: how are you going to prove you are right? Can you draw on your own (perhaps embellished) experience? Can you think of logical reasons why your position is the better or correct one?

How can you help your child practice these skills?

Ask how they feel about current event news items and then challenge them to take an alternative perspective and disprove themselves.

Dinner table talk is about to get way more interesting!

If we can help your child prepare for the ACT or any standardized test, please don’t hesitate to check out our tutoring options or shoot Erin and email at [email protected].