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Are you a high school student preparing to enter your junior year? If so, you’re likely thinking about the ACT.

This is a standardized test that measures your readiness for college, covering four core areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science. It also includes an optional ACT essay. 

With so much on your plate already, you might be wondering if the essay portion is really worth completing. Today, we’re taking a closer look at this question to help you decide!

What Does the ACT Essay Portion Include?

Officially called the ACT Writing Test, this section is a separate 40-minute test that measures your writing skills. You’ll complete it using a pencil and paper. It costs an additional $16 to add this portion to your base ACT test. 

At the beginning of the test, you’ll receive one writing prompt that describes a complex issue. You’ll read three different opinions or perspectives on that issue and then form your own perspective on it. Your perspective can be completely unique, or it may incorporate elements from those provided. 

In your essay, you will analyze the connections between your personal perspective and at least one of the other perspectives given. 

How Is the Score Measured?

Your ACT Writing Test score does not hinge on the perspective that you take on the issue. Rather, reviewers will analyze the quality of your writing and analytical thinking, providing a total of five scores. 

First, there are four separate domain scores based on the ACT’s analytic scoring rubric. You can score between 2 and 12 on each domain, as it is reviewed by two readers who can each offer a score of up to 6.

The four domain scores are:

  • Ideas and Analysis
  • Development and Support
  • Organization
  • Language Use and Conventions

Reviewers will take the rounded average of your total domain scores to determine the fifth score: your subject-level writing score. This is also delivered on a scale of 2 to 12. You can review the complete scoring rubric online. 

The ACT will provide your scores to the colleges that you select. Those institutions will also receive an image of your essay.

Why Does the Essay Matter?

It’s optional, so do you really need to complete the ACT essay? The answer is “yes”. Here are a few reasons why you should plan ahead to include this portion on test day. 

English Language Arts Score

When college admissions officers review your ACT scores, they’ll see your results in each of the four core subject areas. In addition, they’ll also see a cumulative Composite Score, which averages your scores on each of the four tests. 

The ACT writing test does not affect your scores in the core subject areas. It also doesn’t alter your composite score. However, there is an additional score that you cannot receive if you opt-out of the essay.

This is your English Language Arts (ELA) score, which represents your overall performance on the English, reading, and writing tests. In most cases, you’ll only receive this score if you decide to complete the ACT Writing Test at the same time as your other test sections. You can’t go back and decide to add it on later. 

Why does the ELA score matter?

It’s an extra indication of your reading and writing abilities. This can offer admissions officers a greater, more well-rounded representation of your skills that could factor into their final decision. It might not be the top score they consider, but it could give you the boost you need. 

College Admission Requirements

Not every college or university will require that you complete the ACT Writing Test. However, there are roughly 300 academic institutions that do. These tend to be the more selective or competitive schools that use more detailed review criteria when analyzing applications. 

Even if the school you’re eyeing doesn’t require this test, most will at least recommend it. If you know where you want to apply, then you’ll need to review that school’s testing requirements to make sure you’re following their guidelines. 

Not sure where you’ll send your application to when that time comes? In that case, it’s smart to go ahead and take the test. That way, you won’t render yourself ineligible if you decide to try for a school that has mandated these scores. 

Otherwise, you might be required to go back and take the entire ACT over again if you do apply to a school that requires this portion. Especially if you scored well on your first try, this can be an unwelcome extra step that also includes an added expense. 

Preview of College-Level Work 

The ACT Writing Test gives you a great opportunity to peek into college-level ELA work. As you write this essay, you’ll have a clear representation of what it would be like to complete a similar task as a new college freshman. 

Whether you’re planning to pursue an undergraduate degree in English or not, it’s always helpful to know what to expect in a new environment. Nearly every major will require that you take at least a few introductory English courses, and after this test, you’ll have a better idea of what will be required. 

It can be jarring to go from high-school English to more demanding, rigorous college coursework. Though it’s brief, this 40-minute essay is a smart way to dip your toes in the water early!

Should You Ever Skip It?

Knowing the value that the ACT Writing Test provides, is there ever a time when it would be in your best interest to skip this optional portion?

This would only be advisable if you’re strictly looking at schools that do not require it. Again, it’s critical to fully understand the testing requirements of any school that you plan to approach. If even one school requires the ACT essay, then it’s wise to go ahead and complete it.

This way, you know you’re covered! Most students begin applying to colleges and universities by the beginning of their senior year of high school. When you take the ACT as a junior, you might think that you know where you want to complete your higher education, but a lot could change in one year. 

For a minimal fee and a little extra time commitment, you’ll be able to rest assured that you’re fully covered.

Preparing For the ACT Essay

Once you’ve decided to take the ACT Writing Test, you can start sharpening your reading, writing, and analysis skills. Let’s take a look at a few of the best ways to do so.

Review Sample Essays Online

One way to start is by reviewing the ACT essay examples available online through the ACT website.

Here, you can read sample essay prompts and see in-depth scoring explanations. This is a smart way to see what test readers are looking for and how they analyze a given response. 

Each score is broken into the four domains shown earlier, and the reviewers explain the detailed reasoning behind each number given. From the same webpage, you can also review sample test questions in the other four ACT core areas!

Customized Test Prep and Tutoring Program

Preparation is key when it comes to the ACT, SAT, AP courses, or any other college readiness metric. Cramming right before test day can leave you feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and confused. It can also be difficult to retain knowledge that you just learned moments prior.

A customized test prep program can put you on the right track far in advance. This way, you can approach these critical tests and reviews with confidence. Our team of experienced tutors can create a customized ACT test prep program catered to your unique needs and abilities.

From one-on-one tutoring sessions to ACT study tips, homework assignments, and practice tests, we can provide you with the resources you need to achieve the best score possible. We’ll also help you sort through all of the options to see if the ACT is the right test for you. 

Approach the ACT Essay With Confidence

The ACT Essay doesn’t have to be a scary or intimidating prospect. With the right guidance, expert support, and a little pre-planning, you can feel confident about adding this extra part to your test. 

Unless you’re 100% certain that the school you want to apply to doesn’t require this score, it’s in your best interest to complete it. This way, you can showcase your reading and writing skills, give your application an extra boost, and provide admissions officers with a more well-rounded view of your academic abilities.

At Tungsten Prep, we have the tools and resources you need to score well on this essay, as well as the core areas of the ACT. Feel free to contact our Parent Outreach Coordinator today to learn more about the services we offer.