By Tiffany W., MPP Tutor

So you’ve decided to take the ACT. After making your way through the English, science, mathematics, and reading sections of the exam, you’ve still got one more hurdle to jump over: the writing section. If you’re stumped or stuck for where to start, you’ve come to the right place! This article offers a quick run-down of all aspects of the ACT essay, including its structure, grading system, and how to prepare for the essay.

What is the ACT essay?

The optional ACT essay one of five sections of the ACT test, and is always the last section of the exam. It is a 40-minute essay test that measures writing skills taught in high school and early college English courses. Its writing prompt features one complex topic and three different perspectives on the topic. Your task is to read the prompt and develop your own perspective on the issue. In addition to developing your own stance on the subject, you must also compare your perspective with the other provided perspectives. You can either introduce an entirely new perspective on the topic, or use one of the given ones as your own.

Should I take the ACT essay?

Although the test is optional, I recommend taking the ACT essay for several reasons. Firstly, many colleges, especially top-tier ones, require the ACT essay, so writing the essay can offer you more application choices when it comes to colleges. Secondly, the essay section helps give a more complete picture of your academic capabilities to college admissions officers. And lastly, the ACT essay can be very straightforward and even interesting to write and study for!

Writing the Essay

It is important to first understand what the prompt is asking for in your response. While the prompts tend to be formulaic in nature, each one varies slightly in what they ask you to evaluate. When you receive the prompt, take a few minutes to fully read the short passage, the claim, and the three perspectives. Annotate as you go to help you remember key points and avoid having to go back and waste time re-reading. Take time to formulate your own opinion and find evidence that supports each perspective. It’s easiest if your opinion is a unique variant of one of the three given perspectives.

Next, sketch a brief outline. The five-paragraph structure taught in high school works perfectly for the ACT essay. In your introduction, identify the main argument and your own perspective. Your three body paragraphs should compare multiple perspectives. For example, you can analyze Perspective 1 in the first body paragraph, Perspective 2 in the second, and so on. You can also add your own opinion, which can be examined in the third body paragraph. You should have a conclusion, even if it is brief. As you work in and out of ideas, make sure to sign-post with transition words and phrases to help your reader follow the logic of your writing.

Make sure to leave a couple minutes at the end to check for grammar, spelling, and other technical errors. Review your essay and arguments, and take out or add sentences where needed to polish up your essay and make it as clear as it can be. Feel free to cross out or move sections as you edit, but make sure to do so neatly so that the graders can clearly follow what you’re trying to do. Spend some time working through your first and last paragraphs so that your readers begin and end your essay with a bang!


The ACT Essay is scored in four areas: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. Two graders read your essay and assign a score of 1-6 for each category, which are then added together to get a total score of 2-12. For more specifics, you can check the rubric on the official ACT site. I recommend getting in the habit of grading your own essays when you practice, so that you have a better sense of where you do well and where you need practice. This also familiarizes you with what the graders are looking for. If you don’t feel confident in your own grading skills, a My Private Professor tutor is a great resource!

Additional Tips

The big secret? The ACT essay is like a puzzle; the more you practice, the better you get. It can be mastered through consistent practice. Take a couple of exams, both timed and untimed, to familiarize yourself with the structure and routine. Practice tests can be found on the official ACT site, or through third party workbooks.

Another consideration? Length. While there is no hard and fast rule for how long your essay should be, the best essays tend to be around two pages long. That being said, always aim for more analysis and context rather than just filling up space.

Don’t waste time trying to think of “smart” sounding evidence or fancy sounding vocabulary words—focused and concise vocabulary and examples can go a long way if wielded properly.

ACT Testing During COVID-19

In these unprecedented times, the ACT board recognizes that not all students will have equal access to resources and testing sites. They’ve offered a number of flexible testing options, including: opportunities for educators to offer testing centers at their schools, “pop up” sites to aid areas affected by test cancellations, remote proctoring, and on-campus testing for colleges across all 50 states to administer the ACT to prospective or admitted students. In Orange County, there are a number of testing sites available, including in Irvine, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Juan Capistrano, Westminister, Mission Viejo, and San Clemente, among others.

I’m ready! What’s next?

Find out more about test dates, structure, and rubrics from the official official ACT site.

Pick up a couple of practice workbooks or example prompts to begin familiarizing yourself with the prompt and the process of writing the essays.

Companies like My Private Professor, based in Orange County, California, offer excellent in-person and online tutoring resources to help you prepare for the ACT, even during the pandemic. By getting in touch with a My Private Professor tutor for personal guidance and feedback, you can feel confident and prepared when taking their ACT exams and can work towards getting your highest possible ACT essay score!


Tiffany W. is a tutor at My Private Professor, which provides individualized online & in-person tutoring to students in all subjects, including K-12 math, science, language arts, history, foreign language, AP exams, test prep, essays, & college counseling, by top tutors from top universities.