Tips to help you succeed on the Writing Test.

High school is all about new experiences—getting your driver's license, going to your first prom, learning how to study for an essay test. The last one may not be as exciting, but nailing a three-point turn won't help you get into college, so it all evens out. Here's our best advice to prepare for the Writing Test.

What to do before you take the ACT Writing Test:

Don't just wing it.

The ACT Writing Test requires a completely different kind of essay than most students have written before. The task of considering multiple perspectives isn't difficult, but it could throw you for a loop if you've never done it before. Practice writing a few essays in a similar style.

On that note...

Recreate the test conditions as much as possible while practicing. 

You wouldn't run a marathon without running a few miles beforehand to build stamina, would you? It's the same as preparing for test day!

Find a quiet place, set a timer for 40 minutes, and write as much as you can. Practicing timed writing should help you gauge just how long (or short) that deadline feels, which should prevent you from starting your second body paragraph at the five-minute warning on Test Day. We're sweating just thinking about that.

Ask others to help you identify weak areas in your writing.

This might seem obvious, but it's hard to know what you're doing wrong if you don't know what you're doing wrong. Set up a meeting with your English teacher to review old essays and discuss how you could have improved them. If you've written any practice essays, your teacher could review those as well. Your teacher would definitely have something to say about our redundancy in the first sentence of this tip.

Read anything and everything.

The best way to become a better writer is to read. We're not just talking about the books you're assigned in English class or the latest issue of your favorite magazine (although both are good places to start). For a writing style that's a little closer to what you'll actually see on the ACT Writing Test, check out the editorial sections of newspapers or well-known essay publications like The Atlantic or The New Yorker. Remember that you don't have to agree with the authors' views to study how they construct their arguments.

Test day tips for the ACT Writing Test:

We love studying more than the average bear (a notorious procrastinator), but we would never leave our Shmoopers hanging on Test Day. These tips should help you write your way to ACT glory.

DON'T get hung up on brainstorming a perfect introduction before you even know what you want to say.

Read the prompt, reflect on the three perspectives, then start organizing your body paragraphs first. We can't make any promises, but hopefully as you start chipping away at the topic, a great introduction will reveal itself like Michelangelo's David emerging from the marble.

Create a rough outline.

Forty minutes isn't a ton of time, so you won't be able to draw up a perfectly detailed, color-coded outline—wait, are we the only ones who do that?

In any case, the ACT provides (optional, non-graded) planning questions to help students organize their thoughts. Take just a few of those precious minutes to jot down key phrases to help you stay on track. It'll pay off in the long run, we promise.

Find the middle ground.

The sample perspectives are included on this test because they're all valid, defensible views that somebody might have on the topic. Rather than fully agreeing with any single perspective, find a unique caveat or clarification somewhere in the middle—it'll make your essay stand out like a diamond in the rough and send your test graders cartwheeling down the hallways.

Address potential counterarguments.

Think about how others might disagree with your perspective—and leave space in your essay to respond to those potential disagreements. Commit this formula to memory: "While some people may believe (counterargument), (reason why the counterargument is not as strong as your own argument)." Addressing counterarguments is one of the most effective ways to show off your analytical skills.

At the end, read your entire essay to yourself (quietly) if you have time.

While the test proctors would frown upon doing this in a voice loud enough for anyone else to hear, we highly recommend whisper-reading your essay once it's finished. Sometimes our brains are just too amazing for their own good, so if you've accidentally repeated yourself or forgotten a word in the middle of a sentence while writing, your brain will actually adjust what it sees on the page to make more sense. It's a neat trick, but it could lead to careless errors. By speaking the words you've written, you force your brain to slow down and identify any awkward phrases or grammar no-nos.


Ready to put your preparation skills to the test? Get Shmoop's ACT® Test Prep to gain access to tons of practice questions, practice exams, and more!