Home / Blog / Changes to the ACT Writing Test

Changes to the ACT Writing Test

Small Logo on Transparent BG

Students taking the optional ACT Writing (essay) Test this fall will notice that the format has changed somewhat. For one thing, students now have 40 minutes (instead of the previous 30) to write their essays. In addition, the assignment given in the prompt is different. Whereas the Writing Test used to be a purely argumentative essay, the redesigned format requires students to both analyze an issue and defend their own positions on that same issue.

It’s important to note that this change in format is nowhere near as radical as that between the old and new SAT Essay exams. Many of the skills that students have spent countless hours honing for the old ACT Writing Test format will be applicable to the new format. Those skills will just need to be applied in a different way.

Old ACT Writing vs. New ACT Writing

The old ACT Writing format presented students with a prompt summarizing some current controversy that related directly to their high school careers. Students were then asked to choose one of the positions presented in the prompt or to come up with their own positions.

The new format presents students with a prompt that contextualizes some contemporary issue, such as a recent social or technological development. Students are then presented with three “perspectives” on the issue. One of the perspectives presents the issue in a generally positive light. Another perspective views the issue more negatively. A third perspective either falls somewhere between the extremes of the first two or comes at the issue from an entirely different angle. Students are expected to “analyze and evaluate” all three perspectives, state and develop their own perspective(s) on the issue, and explain the relationship between their perspective and those given.

The New Writing Test in Action

Possibly the most challenging part of the new Writing Test is the way the prompt itself is structured and worded. Simply put, the new prompt makes the task required of students seem much more difficult than it actually is. What the prompt is trying to do is give students a more guided approach to writing their essays than the intentionally vague prompts of the old Writing Test did. While students do need to engage with the three perspectives presented in the prompt, the sample essays released for the new ACT Writing Test make it clear that the perspectives are primarily jumping off points for a student’s own opinions on the topic.

For example, the two highest-scoring sample essays still include a short introduction that rephrases (not repeats) the issue presented at the beginning of the prompt. Both introductions conclude with a thesis statement that clearly presents the student’s position. The body of each essay devotes a paragraph to each perspective. The perspectives that support the student’s position are first used to develop arguments in favor of that position. The perspective that most directly contradicts the student’s position is then used as the basis for a counter argument. Each essay ends with a simple conclusion that restates the student’s position and summarizes his or her arguments in favor of that position.

In other words, a high-scoring essay on the new ACT Writing exam will have many of the same elements as a high-scoring essay on the old exam. However, instead of having an essentially blank canvass for their essays students will need to incorporate some additional information presented in the prompt into their arguments. Students should not view this extra information as a hindrance. On the contrary, they should use the new information to their advantage, developing the perspectives that support their positions while arguing against the ones that do not.





Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,