ACT Writing: Guide to Developing Your Essay

tl;dr: The ACT Writing section includes an optional essay option. You can score up to 12 points for it. Learn how to achieve a high development & support score by providing adequate examples to support your claims, integrating your line of reasoning, and incorporating qualifications and complications.

Overview of the Writing Section

On the ACT, you will write an essay for the optional fifth section of the ACT. Remember to check with college admissions offices or scholarship organizations to make sure if you need to take the writing section.

For the writing section, you will write an argument essay. In the essay, your goal is to answer a prompt with multiple perspectives covering a debatable topic. Your thesis will consist of a stance on the issue (which is just one of the provided perspectives). 🧍‍♂️

Two graders will score your essay using four rubric categories: Ideas & Analysis, Development & Support, Organization, and Language Use & Conventions. The maximum score in each section is a six. Since each of the four scores is averaged, the highest score you can get on the writing section is a 12, and the lowest score is a 2.

We’re here to make sure you understand how to score the highest score you can on the development & support criteria. ✅

Achieving a High Development & Support Score using the ACT Rubric

From the ACT rubric, you will need to achieve these three things to earn a score of 6️⃣ on development & support:

  • Developing ideas and supporting claims that deepen insight and broaden the context
  • Integrating your line of reasoning and conveying an argument’s significance
  • Incorporating qualifications and complications that help strengthen your ideas and analysis

Let’s talk through each of these areas and how you can incorporate them throughout your essay to ensure you score as high as you can on development & support.

Developing Ideas & Supporting Claims

A core aspect of any argument essay is the evidence that you use to support your argument. In every body paragraph, you should have evidence that proves your logical reasoning — that way, the graders will have an easier time understanding what you are trying to argue. For instance, you should provide a real-life example of perspectives that you may strongly disagree with; that way, when you argue against it, you can demonstrate how both the perspective and the argument have flaws.

One of the biggest hurdles to scoring high in development & support is finding adequate examples to use as evidence. Luckily, the ACT does not try to fact-check pretty much anything in your essay (unless it’s egregiously wrong, like 2 + 2 = 5). That means you are 💯% able to make up examples that help boost your claim. One word of caution is that your examples should sound pretty realistic/reasonable; if they sound outlandish, your graders may believe that the examples are not supportive of your argument.

For instance, you could say that “Harvard University conducted a study and found that climate change could lead to millions entering poverty by the year 2050.” Citing reputable sources can also demonstrate effective support, even if the fact is not valid.

Woman at white desk looking at computer with plant on desk and window in background
Image from Unsplash

Citing professionals or professional sources can build credibility and strengthen your argument.

One acronym that is fantastic for evidence gathering is REHUGO, which stands for Reading, Entertainment (pop culture), History, Universal Truths (general ideas that everyone agrees to), Government (or current events), and Observations (personal anecdotes). You can use this acronym whenever you get stuck on example writing.

Integrated Line of Reasoning

An ACT Writing concept that often confuses students is the line of reasoning. A line of reasoning is essentially the broad structure that serves as the backbone of the essay. Another way to think about it is if someone were to try to reverse-outline your essay (or write down the main points and arguments) — that would be your line of reasoning.

Put the two perspectives you disagree with as your first two body paragraphs and elaborate on how they fall short - this is an instance of a line of reasoning! It’s also important to include why your thesis/perspective still stands despite the alternative perspectives, as you’ll see later.

In your final body paragraph, where you elaborate on why your provided perspective is the strongest, think of it as tying a ribbon around your line of reasoning! 🎀 Since you’ve discussed your perspective in each of the prior body paragraphs in relationship with the contrasting two perspectives, you effectively integrate your essay’s line of reasoning.

cupcakes with cherries on top
Image from Unsplash

A strong line of reasoning that flows throughout your essay is the cherry on top of a strong ACT essay!!

Qualifications and Complications

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Similar to the ‘examining implications, complications, and tensions’ category of ideas and analysis, the ACT in this criteria wants you to include qualifications or complications to help bolster your claims. For instance, maybe you could point out an idea that even your perspective doesn’t necessarily address. You could also demonstrate how your perspective doesn’t account for an issue within another perspective. 😮


Development and support aren’t so bad after all! By providing reasonable and effective examples to support your perspective and counter perspectives, you’re directly contributing to both your essay’s development and a high ACT essay score!

Need more ACT practice?

Fiveable has you covered! Check out these articles that tell you all you need to know about each ACT Subject!

Check out this list of additional resources for ACT practice to help you strive for that 36! Get studying! Good luck 👏

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