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ACT Writing: Language Use & Conventions

4 min readaugust 27, 2021

brandonwu

Brandon W


ACT 🎒

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Preparing for the ACT: Essay

Overview of the ACT Essay

The writing section is the fifth and optional section of the ACT. Oftentimes, college admissions and scholarship offices require the writing section to accept your ACT score; therefore, it’s important you check before you register for the ACT.
You’ll write an argument essay in response to the ACT prompt, which provides three perspectives about a controversial issue. In your response, you’ll argue for a specific perspective (usually just one of the three from the prompt) and disprove why the other two perspectives are false ✅ ❌ ❌
In terms of scoring, two graders will analyze your essay through four broad rubric criteria: Ideas & Analysis, Development & Support, Organization, and Language Use & Conventions. Each grader will rank your essay from 1-6 in each section, meaning you can earn up to a 12 in each section. Then, your final writing score will be an average of the four section scores ➗
Let’s go through the tools you need to ensure you get a high score on the Language Use & Conventions scoring criteria.

Resources:

Earning a High Language Use & Conventions Score

If you already excel on the ACT English section — which tests your grasp on effective writing through revision & editing — you’ll score highly in this section.
In this rubric category, graders will look out for these five elements:
  • Use of language that enhances your argument
  • Skillful & precise word choice
  • Varied and clear sentence structure
  • Effective stylistic choices (including voice and tone)
  • Few errors in grammar & mechanics
Let’s talk through these different elements!

Use of Language & Word Choice

Your use of language is basically a measure of whether your response sounds like it was written by a high school junior or perhaps someone at a lower writing level. Make sure you use relevant and specific vocabulary throughout your essay that brings clarity to your points!
Word choice goes hand in hand with language usage—make sure that you’re not using broad language that could apply to other prompts, for instance. 
When writing, think about potential substitutes that could level up ⬆️ your response. It can be helpful when reviewing your practice essays to look up words in thesauruses to see more effective replacement words.

Varied Sentence Structure

The idea of varying sentence structure is usually something students already do implicitly, but you can improve your language use & conventions score by explicitly making sure you use different sentence structures! Throw in some sentences with introductory/conclusive clauses; try two independent clauses separated with a semicolon.\
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-fwVyag2rqoMT.png?alt=media&token=6c19a026-6a66-4b72-a9ff-00248018b3c0

Make your writing colorful through the use of different sentence structures! Image from Unsplash.

It’s great to have short sentences. It’s also fantastic to have longer sentences, where you’re able to develop more thought; in addition, don’t forget about transitions! In these few sentences alone, you can see how varying sentence structure brightens your writing ☀️

Stylistic Choices

In this rubric criteria, the ACT is looking for effective ‘voice’ and ‘tone’ that match what the prompt is asking for. Basically, you don’t want to be too colloquial to the point where it feels like you’re talking with friends as opposed to providing an effective argument.
In addition, some uses of figurative language like personification or onomatopoeia would be more effective in fiction writing; try to avoid them in argument essays here where they wouldn’t match the expected voice/tone of the writing section. 

Grammar & Mechanics

Finally, the ACT graders will check your writing for errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics — if they impede understanding of your essay, it’s unlikely you’ll score greater than a 6 on the language use section.
‘Impeding understanding’ just means that you don’t accidentally use wording or verb usage that may make the grader think you’re communicating a different idea. You probably shouldn’t worry too much about this—if you’ve written essays before and haven’t gotten this comment, you probably won’t get marked down for this on the ACT 😅
However, by making sure you’re top notch on grammar & mechanics, you can keep your language use rubric score high! The best way to ensure you score high on grammar & mechanics is to consistently proofread your writing—that way, you catch any mistakes you might make. You can also practice grading these sample essays released by the ACT to see what you’re expected to score to earn a high score on language use in general.
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-jwYJmAJk5psh.jpg?alt=media&token=bc924aa2-4c98-4d30-bb0f-8fa65148ac35

While you can’t edit with a red pen on the ACT essay, you should constantly reread sentences to make sure you don’t accidentally include grammatical errors! Image from Pixabay.

Wrap-Up

The language use and conventions section is not so bad after all—you’ve just got to keep track of those sentence structures, general word choice, and tone to succeed!
At the end of the day, all the writing you’ve done previously will help you score highly in this section. We’re all manifesting a high score for you here!
Remember that if you need any additional help, you can use our resources for the ACT, SAT, AP exams, and more at Fiveable.

Need more ACT practice?

Fiveable has you covered! Check out these articles that tell you all you need to know about each ACT Subject! If you're looking for additional ACT Essay writing help, make sure to check out our overview on it below!
Check out this list of additional ACT practice resources to help you strive for that 36! Get studying! Good luck 👏

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