ACT Writing: Guide to Organizing Your Essay

tl;dr: In the ACT Writing section, there is an optional essay option. If you understand the rubric and know how to structure your essay, you'll be able to get a high score on the organization section. Follow the five-paragraph structure with an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Additionally, having a strong organizational strategy with evidence explaining your perspective in each body paragraph, a unified controlling idea or purpose, a logical progression of ideas, and strong transitions. Plus, take advantage of Fiveable's resources to prepare for the ACT!

ACT Essay Overview ✒️

When taking the ACT, you can take the optional fifth section: the writing section or essay. Many students choose to take the essay because colleges or scholarships require it in their application. Double-check if you need the essay before signing up for the ACT ✅

If you’ve written an argument essay before, you’ll excel on the ACT. While the prompt is unique compared to other argument essays, the basic premise is the same: you’ll argue why your stance is the best, supplemented with effective evidence while disproving other stances.

The ACT prompt will introduce an issue that is fairly controversial with three provided perspectives. In your essay, you’ll write an essay arguing in favor of a perspective (typically one of the three provided) with effective evidence to support your stance.

Two graders will read your essay and score on a scale from 1-6 on four categories: Ideas & Analysis, Development & Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. Your scores from the four scoring criteria will be added from the two graders, meaning you can earn up to a 12 in each section. Then, your writing section score is an average of the four rubric section scores.

Let’s talk through the organization criteria of the ACT essay and how you can earn as many points as possible when you take your test 📝

Cracking the Code on Organization using the ACT Rubric 🆘

If you’re more of a fan of math and science and love applying formulas, you will love these grading criteria! Before going into the ACT essay, you should know broadly speaking how you’ll structure the essay. That way, when you take the exam, you can do a brief outline using that structure you previously came up with.

You can follow the five-paragraph structure if you’d like with an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Within those three body paragraphs, your first body paragraph and second body paragraph can cover the other two perspectives from the prompt you disagree with, and your final body paragraph can analyze the perspective you agree with ✍️

The rubric category for organization looks for these four️ things:

  • A skillful organizational strategy
  • A unified controlling idea or purpose
  • A logical progression of ideas that increases the effectiveness of the writer’s argument
  • Transitions between and within paragraphs that strengthen relationships among ideas

Strong Organizational Strategy 📅

Having a strong organizational strategy basically means that you aren’t jumping from perspective to perspective and evidence to evidence. By organizing your essay like the recommended structure in the previous paragraph, you’re setting yourself up for success in terms of having a solid strategy!

Make sure that you have evidence within each body paragraph that helps explain an example of the perspective and why the perspective is correct/incorrect. With parallel structure across your body paragraphs, your essay will stand out 🧍🥳

Unified Controlling Idea 🎛️

A unified controlling idea or purpose is code for an effective thesis you continually link back to or develop. That means that the thesis at the end of your introduction paragraph should be clearly connected to ideas in each body paragraph.

Moreover, in each of your body paragraphs, you should have a topic sentence directly tied back to the thesis! That way, your response is unified. Finally, your conclusion should link back to your thesis. An ACT essay basically must have an introduction and conclusion — make sure to include those, even if the conclusion is just a recap of the body paragraphs and a restatement of the thesis ➰

abstract black and white brain
Write a big brain response with an effective thesis and strong topic sentences in each of your body paragraphs! Image from Pixabay

Logical Progression of Ideas 🤓

This aspect of organization isn’t so bad -- you shouldn’t be making logical jumps that would confuse the reader. By structuring your three body paragraphs that speak to a different perspective from the prompt (with the final body paragraph being about the perspective you agree with), you set yourself up for a logical progression of ideas ➡️➡️

Make sure that you are connecting logic within your body paragraphs. In each body paragraph, it may be helpful to ask yourself “how is this true” and “why does this matter” to ensure you aren’t creating logical gaps.

Strong Transitions 💪

Transitions, while often seeming sort of unnecessary, are very important for the ACT writing section. In fact (see what I did there?), they are a major component of scoring a high score on the organization rubric category.

Within and between each paragraph, you should include transition words! If you’d like, they can help transition between the concluding sentence of a previous body paragraph and the introductory sentence of the next body paragraph. Here’s a great list of transitions that you can use to help improve your organization ​​📚

wooden bridge in a green forest
Transition words are a great bridge between your ideas to improve your organization! Image from Pixabay

Wrap-Up ✨

That’s all there is to organization on the ACT! As long as you know how you plan to structure your essay, you will be all set on test day 🥳

We’re all cheering you on here to get the score you want — if you need any other help with the ACT or other standardized tests like the SAT or APs, check out our Fiveable resources!

Need more ACT practice?

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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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