ACT® Prep

With Shmoop, you'll be able to Hulk Smash the ACT. Just try to leave the desk intact.

Get Our Online ACT Test Prep

Get Started >

Want to learn a bit more about the strategy?

Writing Strategies


ACT Writing*

*This is a free excerpt from our Online ACT Test Prep

Real Food for Thought: Allez Cuisine!

Debate Topics: Wearing the Win-All Apron

Before we go any further, let's look a little deeper into the usual subjects of ACT Writing Test prompts. Luckily for you, the subjects of these prompts have to do with something we’re all good at: the ability to argue!

Say what?

We're talking about that fight you had with your younger brother about why you deserve the biggest steak at the family barbecue. What would your reasons be for deserving the bigger steak? Possibly:

  • 1) As the eldest sibling, you have inherent seniority.
  • 2) If you are a girl, you are much more likely than a boy to be at risk for iron-deficient anemia, and therefore need a reliable source of the mineral in your diet.
  • 3) You are clearly in a growth spurt and your basketball coach says you should be eating lots of protein for the upcoming season.
  • 4) You did all of his chores for him earlier that day, and you are hungrier as a result.
  • 5) Oh, the list goes on and on.

See what we did there? Without even trying, we already have four solid examples. Now, of course, the ACT will ask you to weigh in on a debate topic that is much more serious and widespread than a family BBQ, but you get the point.

Cooking Strategy: Sharpen Those Knives

Now that you know this essay is all about argument, you need to know what a good, thorough argument looks like and feels like. When writing a solid essay, you will always need to do the following:

1. Pick a side.

You have to show that you can form an opinion based on the prompt. Come down on one side of the issue, come down on the other, or whip out a third opinion. Any way you do it, you have to have an opinion. Essays that are off-topic or do not choose a side won’t even be graded and you will get a big fat zero.

2. Use style and substance.

Your writing needs to be clear and effective, without spelling or grammatical mistakes that make it hard to understand what you're trying to convey. Compelling transitions, varied sentence structure, and clear paragraph breaks are all essential elements to a good essay. The nice folks grading your essay know you only have 30 minutes to write it, and they'll take that into account when they grade your test.

4. Be specific in your examples.

Test graders will be looking for evidence that you can develop a logical position and support it with good reasoning. Many students can form opinions and state their positions but fail to adequately support them with written explanations and examples.

6. Consider an optional third solution.

We mentioned earlier that in rare cases, it is acceptable to pick a third stance that is a blend of the two sides of the debate, and argue for that instead. With the uniform or no uniform debate, a viable third option would be to argue for a school dress code that is formal and has rules (such as no short skirts or sagging jeans), but still allows for some student choice in outfits. Warning: Only attempt this if you are confident in your writing skills and know how to thoroughly incorporate both sides into your argument. If your third option does not include elements from the original debate, it will not look good to graders.

3. Stay on task.

Keep focused on your topic from start to finish, with no random digressions, tangents, or rants. A slice of chocolate cake, no matter how good, is not going to look appetizing on a plate with deviled eggs. Your graders will not appreciate (and not even score) a detailed account of your harrowing trip to Mexico, so save it for lunchtime at the cafeteria.

5. Address your enemy.

Every strong argument has an equally strong opposite argument. When you challenge an Iron Chef, you need to be ready to bring your A game to the table because they chew up rookies like last night's rigatoni special. Since you are being asked to write on one side of a debate topic, the prompt already provides the two sides for you. The side you pick is your argument, and the other side is the counter-argument. A six-point essay will always address possible objections by proponents of the counter-argument. If you argue that school uniforms are a good idea, an expected dissent from the other side would be freedom of expression. If you counter that opinion with the argument that, while freedom of expression is important, student safety is ultimately more important, then you have effectively addressed and shot down the counter-argument.

Free excerpts from Shmoop's online ACT subject material:

* ACT is a federally registered trademark of ACT, Inc. Shmoop University is not affiliated with or endorsed by ACT, Inc.