The essay, or the writing section, is the fifth section of the ACT that is completely optional for students to take. Note, you might have to take the writing section as a requirement for college admissions or scholarships. Make sure you double-check (and honestly triple-check) whether you have to take the ACT or not. ✅
In your essay, you’ll write a developed and organized argument essay. In the prompt, you’ll read multiple perspectives about a hotly contested issue with some background information. You’ll argue for a specific perspective in response to the prompt with clear logic and relevant evidence.
Unlike the other four sections of the ACT, your essay is not graded on a 1-36 scale. Let’s break down how graders will evaluate your writing section.
The first thing to know is that two people will read over your essay, so it’s not just the opinion of one person who will decide your fate 😈
There are four rubric categories that graders will evaluate you on: Ideas & Analysis, Development & Support, Organization, and Language Use & Conventions. Each grader can give you a score as high as a 6️⃣ on each of the four rubric criteria; then, the two scores from each grader are added in each rubric category (meaning a maximum of 12 in each rubric category!). At the end, the average of your four scoring criteria is your essay score.
The minimum score you can receive on the essay is a 2, and the maximum score is a 12. Here’s the rubric released by the ACT in full if you want to see what the graders will see! Let’s broadly talk through each of the four grading criteria and see how you can reach your maximum scoring potential.
Ideas & Analysis
The most important things that the ACT rubric outlines for this rubric category include:
- Engaging with multiple perspectives from the prompt
- Writing a nuanced and precise thesis
- Establishing context for the issue and different perspectives
- Examining implications, complexities, and tensions in addition to values & assumptions
This section of the rubric materializes throughout the essay. For instance, each body paragraph should engage with multiple perspectives, whereas writing a strong thesis is only pertinent to the introduction.
With ideas & analysis, you need to make sure that you have clearly picked a perspective for your thesis and include arguments against other perspectives to strengthen your points. You can include elements like counterarguments or concessions within each body paragraph to demonstrate your knowledge of implications, complexities, and tensions.
Overall, this section of the rubric is pretty all-encompassing, but with some practice, you can succeed!
Development & Support
In this rubric criteria, graders will want you to achieve these things in your essay:
- Substantial evidence and development for your ideas that broaden the context and deepens insight
- An integrated line of reasoning with support that conveys an argument’s significance
- Qualifications and complications that further boosts the ideas and analysis of your essay
Development and support mainly appear in your body paragraphs — the bulk of your ACT writing section. With your evidence, you want to make sure it’s as specific as possible and ties into your logic. Line of reasoning requires you to have a topic sentence directly tied to your thesis and the rest of your body paragraph.
The final point in this category is similar to the ‘implications, complexities, and tensions’ point from ideas & analysis — make sure you bring up some counterpoints that can disprove other perspectives and/or boost your chosen idea!
For the organization category, you’ll need to have these specific aspects of your essay covered:
- A skillful organizational strategy
- Controlling idea or purpose that unifies your essay
- A logical progression of ideas that makes your argument more effective
- Including transitions both within your paragraphs and between paragraphs to develop relationships between ideas
For many, the organization section can be the highest scoring area because many students already write in a pretty organized way! For instance, having paragraphs with each perspective representing a different body paragraph can already score you up to a 4 out of 6!
In addition, you want to make sure that all your ideas in your essay link back to your thesis and that your organizational structure doesn’t jump back and forth. To help make your essay more cohesive, you want to make sure you’re spicing it up ✨ with some transitions here and there — both at the start of your paragraphs and inside your body paragraphs!
Language Use & Conventions
With language use & conventions, your essay should have the following:
- Strong use of language
- Skillful and precise word choice
- Varied and clear sentence structures
- Strategic choices in tone and voice
- Few errors in grammar, mechanics, and usage that don’t impede understanding of your essay
Finally, the language use & conventions rubric criteria checks to see if your writing effectively articulates your point. Make sure that your sentences don’t all sound the same — try different sentence structures using things like semicolons, dependent clauses, and colons if you can!
It’s also important to sound pretty authoritative in your essay, so don’t write too casually. Finally, read through your essay as you go to make sure your grader won’t get distracted from any grammar mistakes.
You got this at the end of the day — the ACT rubric is not so bad once you break it down. Remember, if you need any other help with the ACT, the SAT, AP exams, or college admissions, check out Fiveable for all your different learning needs!