How To Write a Top-Scoring ACT Essay for the Enhanced Writing Test

Enhanced ACT Writing Test: Fall 2015


In the fall of 2015, the ACT underwent quite a bit of a change. The single prompt and response essay task of the past was replaced by a single, somewhat controversial prompt with three different perspectives on the Enhanced ACT Writing Test. The ACT writers also started including probing writing questions and pre-writing space to help inspire thoughtful, organized, and analytical essays by ACT test-takers across the United States.

So, how do you nail this thing? How do you ensure a top score on the ACT Essay? Well, first, go back and read through the Enhanced ACT Writing Test details and click on a few of the writing prompts so you know what I'm talking about below. Then, get back here and keep reading.  

Enhanced Writing Test Expectations

Your essay will be graded on whether you can complete these three tasks:

  • “evaluate and analyze” the given perspectives
  • “state and develop” your own perspective
  • “explain the relationship” between your perspective and those given

1. Critique as You Read the Prompt (5 minutes)

Read the prompt with your pencil in your hand. Evaluate means to "judge or critique" and analyze means to "break down into parts." So, basically, you're going to need to find the strengths and weaknesses of the initial argument and the three perspectives quickly before you write anything. Here are some easy ways of doing just that:

  1. Underline the premises of each perspective. Premises are the statements that present the evidence. "Since President Jones raised taxes on businesses, business owners have had to fire employees because they can't afford to pay both."
  2. Circle the conclusions of each perspective. Conclusions are the claims the perspectives are making. It's what they say will or did happen because of the premise. "Since President Jones raised taxes on businesses, business owners have had to fire employees because they can't afford to pay both."
  3. Poke holes in each perspective as you read. Familiarize yourself with logical fallacies like post hoc, appeal to pity, etc., so you can accurately determine if the logic is sound within the perspectives.  Some perspectives will be logically inaccurate and you can use that as fuel for your own ideas. (Do business owners rely on the President for all financial decisions? Where is the personal responsibility of management? Fiscal responsibility? The President is not responsible for a small business owner's poor budgeting skills.)  
  4. Create alternatives instead of the conclusions offered by the premises. (Instead of firing people, business owners could reduce bonuses, stock options and salaries of top executives. Instead of firing people, business owners could offer buy-outs to dissatisfied employees as incentives to leave voluntarily.)

2. Create a Supportable Thesis (1 minute)

Now that you've thoroughly evaluated and analyzed the initial issue paragraph and each of the three perspectives, it's time to "state" your own idea. It's important that you come up with a firm thesis or main point, here. Your perspective may completely agree with an offered perspective, partly agree with a perspective, or be completely different. Whatever the case, you must choose. You may not, under any circumstance, write an essay where you waffle back and forth between agreeing and disagreeing and end up saying nothing at all.

3. Sketch a Quick Outline (10 minutes)

Here's where you get organized so your essay "develops" your idea and "explains the relationships" between your perspective and others, both of which you'll be scored on. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. You'll dip into your personal experience, knowledge and values to prove your points. In your quick outline, you'll scratch out where those points will go so you have a roadmap for your essay. You'll also make sure to add in the strengths and weaknesses of the given perspectives, adding in that analysis and evaluation you did when you read the prompt.  It does not have to, but your outline could look something like this:

Introduction with thesis

A. Point 1 which strongly supports my thesis.

  1. My support for Point 1 - development of your idea
  2. How Perspective 3 supports Point 1 with a strong argument, but Perspective 2 potentially weakens it until you realize that Perspective 2 is using faulty reasoning.  – explanation of the relationship between their ideas and yours

B. Point 2 which strongly supports my thesis.

  1. My support for Point 2 – development of your idea
  2. How Perspective 1 opposes Point 2, but Perspective 1 fails to consider my stellar personal experience and values. – explanation of the relationship between their ideas and yours

 Conclusion with challenge

4. Write Your Heart Out (25 minutes)

Go for it. Take your outline and dig deep into the task using your very best language and grammar. Vary your sentence structure and language. Make your introduction stand out. (For heaven's sake, don't start with a question.)

For the body, present just two arguments instead of the standard three you're often taught in the "five-paragraph-essay" format. Why? Because you need to get into those perspectives to present counterarguments, implications and complicating factors. You'll need to use facts, experience, and authority. Logic. Appeal to emotions. You'll need to move between general statements and specific reasons, examples and details with transitions. You simply do not have enough time to do all that for three separate ideas!

5. Proofread (4 minutes)

Try to set aside a few minutes at the end of your essay to proof your essay. I know it's tough, but you'll save yourself some points if you catch a major logical flaw and have a chance to rewrite a few sentences.You'll be scored on your ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use on a 2-12 point scale. Ensure you get every point you deserve.

Practice Your Essay

There is no better way to prepare for this exam than by practicing for it. Try a few of these prompts with your timer on so you know what you'll face on test day. 

Enhanced ACT Writing Prompts