ACT Writing: Guide to Ideas & Analysis

tl;dr: In this guide, you'll learn about the ACT Ideas & Analysis rubric and how to get a 6. The four criteria for success include: how to account for multiple perspectives, write a nuanced and precise thesis, provide insightful context, and analyze implications. With some practice and knowledge of the rubric, you can ace the ACT Writing section!

Overview of the Essay

The writing section — or the essay — is the fifth section of the ACT that is optional for students to take. You may need to take the writing section for scholarships or college admissions, so make sure to check with the places that you are submitting your ACT scores! ✅

The ACT writing section is, in essence, an argument essay. You will answer a prompt with multiple perspectives about a controversial issue and background information. In your essay, you’ll typically write an essay arguing a specific perspective (which can be your own, a provided perspective, or a mixture of the two).

Two graders will evaluate your writing with four categories: Ideas & Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. You can score up to six points in each section. Your ACT writing section score will be an average of the four scores (which will add up to 12), meaning that the highest you can score on the ACT is a 12 and the lowest is a 2. ✍️

Let’s break down the ideas & analysis grading criteria to help you get as many points as possible on exam day!

Mastering Ideas & Analysis Using the ACT Rubric

For the ACT ideas & analysis rubric section, you need to achieve these four things to get a 6 on the ACT essay according to the ACT rubric:

  • Engage critically with multiple perspectives on the provided issue
  • Include nuance and precision in thought and purpose in your thesis
  • Establish and employ an insightful context while analyzing the issue and its perspectives in your argument
  • Examine implications, complexities, and tensions, and/or underlying values and assumptions in your analysis

While these sound sort of complicated, they aren't so bad once we talk through each aspect!

Engaging Multiple Perspectives

When engaging multiple perspectives, your goal should be to adopt a perspective and analyze all three given perspectives effectively. It's best (timewise) to use one of the given perspectives (typically, there's one that sounds the most logically palatable). Afterward, I would recommend structuring your three body paragraphs to discuss the other two perspectives with your perspective as your final body paragraph  — more on this in the organization guide too! By including your perspective in the final body paragraph, you set up your essay for success.

white hand holding a glass sphere that has a city reflected in it
It’s crucial to analyze all given perspectives for a high-scoring analytical argument essay! Image from Unsplash.

It’s important that you effectively respond to both of the other perspectives, providing an example of what the argument may look like and how it proves false. Then, you want to connect your argument to the contrasting perspectives by analyzing why your viewpoint makes more sense logically.

In the final body paragraph reflecting your perspective, you should add additional detail to your perspective while also providing a rationale why your perspective is the best of the three provided perspectives.

Writing a Nuanced and Precise Thesis

This one is pretty simple — you want a complex thesis that simultaneously gets your point across concisely. You want to make sure you balance both nuance and precision.

Your thesis should directly answer the prompt, and you should include wording from the perspective provided by the prompt. That’s all there is to an effective thesis!

Employing Insightful Context

To help develop a strong thesis and essay overall, you can include context in the introductions to build your analysis and show knowledge of the topic. Feel free to cite examples from history, current events, or literature. By including a simple fact outside the prompt, you can boost your ideas & analysis ACT score!

Analyzing Implications, Limitations, and Tensions

This aspect of the ideas & analysis section includes so many different concepts, but in reality, you use implications, limitations, tensions, values, and assumptions all the time in your writing.

Implications, limitations, and tensions are all relevant to the impact and significance of your analysis in body paragraph. Implications have to do with answering the question "who is affected?" — for instance, the implications of greater cell phone use could be that people become less communicative in person.

Side view of a Newton's Cradle
Just like a Newton’s cradle, the impact of your own argument is extremely important. Image from Unsplash.

When discussing the limitations of a perspective, you’ll discuss how that argument may exclude ideas that have not yet been mentioned. For instance, an argument for the internet to be banned for those under age 16 would have the limitation of reducing online education. You’ll typically include limitations before you conclude each body paragraph. Similarly, tensions may discuss contradictions within the perspective.

Finally, you’ll include ‘values and assumptions’ within the final body paragraph discussing the perspective you agree with. All this means is that you are explaining the thought process behind why your perspective is the strongest!


Ultimately, the ACT writing section is not so bad, especially with practice and knowledge of what the readers are looking for ahead of time. After reading through this guide, you can craft effective ideas and incorporate strong analysis in all your future essays — ACT or not!

Check out Fiveable for all of your ACT, SAT, and AP needs; if you need help with any of those areas, we’ve got your back! At the end of the day, you’ve got this writing section in the bag, and we’ll be manifesting a ​high score for you!

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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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