ACT Test Prep: Should I Take the ACT With or Without Writing? — The Prepared Student (2023)

The ACT gives students the option of taking an optional writing exam. This includes writing an argumentative essay on a given topic. There are a few reasons that we recommend that students consider taking the optional writing section in addition to the standard four ACT sections of English, math, reading, and science. Here, we’re taking a closer look at why students may benefit from taking the ACT writing section.

What does the ACT writing section look like?

The ACT writing section always has students write an argumentative essay. Students are presented with some background information on a subject and three differing perspectives. Students are instructed to select one of the perspectives to write about and to argue their point. That’s right - students don’t even have to make up their own argument! They can simply select one of the perspectives they are given and use it as the base of their essay. They will then develop supporting information and examples to support the perspective chosen. Students then get 45 minutes to plan, create, and review their handwritten essay.

Students are scored based on their ability to effectively argue their perspective. The ACT does a pretty good job of selecting ACT writing topics that are more or less relevant to modern American life and culture, so generally the topic is something that most students should have some level of familiarity with. For example, recent ACT writing prompts have included subjects questioning the decrease of face-to-face communication, the effects of childhood stardom, the safety of genetically modified organisms, and the importance of arts in education. So, while students do not get a sneak peek at what the topic of the essay will be for the upcoming test, they should not worry so much about what the topic is as making sure they have a strong grasp of the writing fundamentals that the ACT is looking for.

Here is a sample ACT writing prompt:

As you see with the prompt above, you’re to select one of the three given perspectives, and then your task is to write an essay in which you effectively argue that opinion. You are use to specific evidence, reasoning, and analysis in building your perspective.

How is the ACT writing section scored?

The scoring of the ACT writing section is a key difference from the other four sections of the exam. While all other sections are scored out of 36 total points, the ACT writing section is scored on a scale of 2-12. Since this is the only section of the test that is unable to be graded by a computer, the ACT has two separate evaluators read each student’s essay and give it a score on a scale of 1-6. These two scores are then combined to give the student a total score out of 12.

The fact that a human scores the writing section of the ACT can be a positive thing, as well as a negative thing. One downside has to do with the speed of scoring. Where a computer can quickly crank out Scantron test scores, humans take much longer to work through and score written essays. For this reason, ACT writing scores take about two weeks longer to be released than the multiple-choice counterparts of the same exam. On the positive side, a human has emotions and reactions and can be influenced by the essay that the student writes. This can be good to keep in mind while working through the writing essay. For example, data has shown that students who write more usually receive higher scores.

So, what are the evaluators looking for when they score an essay? Below are the four areas that the essays will be scored on. Here is the ACT’s identification of each of these categories. Per, these areas are as follows:

Ideas and Analysis—Scores in this domain reflect the ability to generate productive ideas and engage critically with multiple perspectives on the given issue. Competent writers understand the issue they are invited to address, the purpose for writing, and the audience. They generate ideas that are relevant to the situation.

Development and Support—Scores in this domain reflect the ability to discuss ideas, offer rationale, and bolster an argument. Competent writers explain and explore their ideas, discuss implications, and illustrate through examples. They help the reader understand their thinking about the issue.

Organization—Scores in this domain reflect the ability to organize ideas with clarity and purpose. Organizational choices are integral to effective writing. Competent writers arrange their essay in a way that clearly shows the relationship between ideas, and they guide the reader through their discussion.

(Video) How I Got A 36 On The ACT Without Being A Genius | ACT Prep 2023

Language Use and Conventions—Scores in this domain reflect the ability to use written language to convey arguments with clarity. Competent writers make use of the conventions of grammar, syntax, word usage, and mechanics. They are also aware of their audience and adjust the style and tone of their writing to communicate effectively.

Why take the ACT writing section?

College Application Requirement
A big reason that many students will sign up for and complete the ACT writing essay is simply because it is a college application requirement for one or more of the schools that they plan to apply to.

This is the biggest reason that students will elect to take the writing section of the ACT. It’s important for students to be aware of what the requirements are for the schools that they plan to apply to so that they make sure to take the writing section of the ACT if it is a requirement. You cannot take the writing section of the ACT without taking all four regular English, math, reading, and science sections, so it will be stressful to come back later and take the ACT again if it turns out to be a requirement. Make sure you know going into test day if you should add on the essay portion fort his reason.

Gauge a Student’s Writing Abilities
Another good reason that any student should consider taking the ACT writing section, required or not, is that it is a good indicator of whether a student’s writing skills are fit for college-level writing.

Writing is generally a much bigger part of college academics than it is of high school academics. Most students will write some essays in high school, but most students will write MANY essays in college and on a variety of topics. For this reason, students who have a strong writing foundation upon entering college have a much easier time with the writing intensity than those who struggle to write multi-paragraph essays.

The ACT writing score can be used to determine if a student’s current writing abilities are fit for the college level or if the student should spend extra time preparing in this area before going on to college.

How do you write a great ACT essay?

A great argumentative essay will consist of several well-written paragraphs that are structured in an organized fashion:

(Video) ACT Prep – What to Prepare for the ACT Test Day

(Video) ACT Tips & Tricks that ACTUALLY work (minimal studying) in 2023

The introduction of any essay is very important for one reason: this is your first impression. You’ve probably had teachers tell you that you need to include a catchy hook in your introduction - this definitely isn’t a bad idea. You want to grab the reader’s attention and make them keep reading and paying attention. Your introduction should always close with your thesis statement.

Thesis Statement
A thesis statement is a concise, usually one-sentence, summary of the overarching point you’ll be making throughout the essay. If your essay is arguing that cats are better pets than dogs, then this is the type of broad information that you’ll want to include in your thesis statement. Make sure that the reader knows exactly what the broad topic of the paper will be.

Supporting Paragraphs
This is where you’ll attempt to persuade the reader to believe your perspective. A rule of thumb for essay writing is that you want to try to have 3 supporting paragraphs. In these paragraphs, you’ll want to use concise facts and supporting information — the more specific the better! If you’re arguing that cats are better pets than dogs, you might have one supporting paragraph that focuses on the level of independence of cats, one that discusses the high intelligence level of cats, and a third that examines a cat’s lifespan. (These are just examples off the top of my head - there could be so many more reasons that cats are better than dogs, or why dogs are better than cats! Alas, you sadly will not see an essay prompt that looks anything as casual as this one test day…)

Counter Argument/Opposing Viewpoints
A great argumentative essay will demonstrate an understanding of and respect for different viewpoints than one’s own. This is extremely important on the ACT — they want to see that you can argue a point, but they also want to see that you understand why someone may believe something different than you do. A good place to put this paragraph is right after your supporting paragraphs and before your conclusion. For my essay about cats and dogs, here is where I would write a brief paragraph discussing why some people prefer dogs over cats. I would then gently refute this perspective and lead into my conclusion.

In your conclusion you want to offer a broad recap of your point. Restate your thesis using different wording, and wrap up the essay nicely by summarizing your entire point.

Including all of these pieces with your essay will ensure that your structure is easy to follow and includes all of the required information.

(Video) ACT Last Minute Prep - Testing Hacks Without Studying (NIGHT BEFORE ACT REVIEW)

How many times should you take the ACT writing section?

We recommend that all students take the ACT writing section at least once. Even if this is not required by any of the colleges a student is applying to, it will give valuable insight to the student’s writing ability. Essay writing is a big part of college academics, so students whose writing skills lag behind may have more difficulty at the college level than those that are able to structure and craft strong multi-paragraph essays.

We’ve found that students who score at least a 6 on the ACT writing essay have a good foundational understanding of how to organize, develop, and write an essay that effectively makes a point or analyzes a topic. That being said, students who score at least a 6 on the writing section of the ACT have the writing skills necessary to be able to write a college-level essay.

Students who receive a writing score lower than 6 may want to do some extra work and instruction related to overall essay writing. This type of additional help will prove helpful when they get to college-level writing.

A score of 8-9 or higher is generally considered a strong ACT writing score. For students applying to competitive colleges and universities with rigorous academics, it may be smart to continue to attempt the ACT writing section until they reach at least these baselines.

While the ACT writing section may seem like a nuisance that wastes more of your Saturday morning and does not contribute to your composite ACT score, it can actually be very beneficial for students preparing to make the leap to college. The ACT writing essay evaluates a student’s ability to write essays effectively based on organization, ideas and analysis, development and support, and language use and conventions. Even if the writing section is not an admissions requirement for the specific schools that you plan to apply to, it might help you to gauge your writing abilities and thus determine how easy or difficult of a time college-level writing will be for you. Of course, there is much more preparation that can be done to ensure a student is ready to excel on the ACT writing section. If you want to refine your essay writing skills to make sure they are fitting for a high score on the ACT essay, one of our expert tutors would be happy to help you prepare. Reach out to us on our Contact page or by email at to discuss your ACT test goals and test prep needs.

Good luck, and happy studying!


Working one-on-one with a test prep & college counseling expert can help you maximize your score on test day and get accepted to your dream school. Whatever your college prep goals, our team can help!

I want to sign up! - Set up online lessons using the link to our scheduling system.

I want more information! - Fill out the information in the link, and someone will reach out soon.

(Video) how i ~finessed~ a 36 on the act + tips!


Does it matter if you take the ACT with or without writing? ›

Taking the writing test does not affect your subject area scores or your Composite score. However, without a writing test score, no English Language Arts (ELA) score will be reported.

What is the best way to prep for the ACT? ›

The best way to prepare for the ACT is to take challenging classes in high school. However, there are test-day tips and strategies that you can use as helpful tools before and during the ACT test: Get familiar with the test. Review the information found in the Preparing for the ACT practice booklet.

Do colleges accept ACT without writing? ›

Perhaps surprisingly, most top-ranked colleges and universities do not require ACT Writing. In recent years, many top schools, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Duke, and Brown have stopped requiring the ACT Writing test. Currently, none of the Ivy Leagues require ACT Writing.

Can the writing portion of the ACT hurt your score? ›

Your score in the writing section will not affect your scores on the multiple-choice or your Composite score. The writing section is a 40-minute essay test that measures your writing skills—specifically, writing skills taught in high school English classes and in entry-level college composition courses.

How long does it take to complete the ACT without writing? ›

The ACT is 3 hours long (technically 2 hours and 55 minutes). Including breaks, the exam takes 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete. If you sign up for the optional essay (the ACT Plus Writing), the test clocks in at 3 hours and 40 minutes or just over 4 hours with breaks.

Is 1 month enough to prepare for the ACT? ›

With just one month to study for the ACT, you'll want to be as organized as possible to make the most of your time. It's ideal to spread your ACT prep over two or three months, but one month is still enough to see score gains.

How many hours a day should I study for the ACT? ›

Plan to study for two hours each day, every day of the week leading up to your test. Readjust your schedule if necessary. You should aim to study for the ACT every day over the course of a few months, in addition to weekly timed practice tests.

Is 1 week enough to study for the ACT? ›

You can make a lot of progress in 10 days, but you need to dedicate the necessary time to improve your ACT score. In this guide, I'll walk you through the steps to raise your score by up to four points in just 10 days. WARNING: Don't use this rushed study program unless absolutely necessary.

Does Harvard consider ACT Writing? ›

Harvard requires you to take the SAT Essay/ACT Writing section. They'll use this as another factor in their admissions consideration.

Does Harvard need ACT Writing? ›

If you choose to submit standardized tests, you may submit the SAT or ACT (with or without the writing component). While the College Board no longer offers Subject Tests and they are not a requirement for applying, you may submit Subject Tests taken in the last 5 years.

What ACT Writing score do you need for Ivy League? ›

If you decide to report your scores to an Ivy League school despite test-optional policies, you should strive for an ACT composite score between 32 and 36.

Does guessing on the ACT hurt you? ›

At present, a wrong answer on either test does nothing to your score—it won't hurt it, but it can't help it either. Many students (and their parents) remember the old guessing penalty, and they are afraid to take a chance on a question.

What's the average ACT Writing score? ›

The ACT Writing Test is scored on a scale of 2 (lowest score) to 12 (highest score). The average ACT Writing score is between a 6 and 7.

Why is my ACT Writing score so low? ›

The simple answer is that the ACT essay prompt and scoring system has changed (that's not the only thing that's changed on the ACT — read this post for more on other changes: important changes to the new ACT.)

Can you skip the ACT essay if you signed up for it? ›

Test takers should have no problem dropping the essay on test day but may have to take a loss on the extra Essay or Writing fee. Just be sure to express your preference when you arrive at the test center.

How many times is it OK to take the ACT? ›

How Many Times Should You Take the ACT? If you're not satisfied with your scores, you can retake the ACT. ACT Inc., which administers the exam, lets you take the test up to 12 times, though it's best to take it no more than 2-3 times. Beyond that, you're unlikely to boost your scores substantially.

How many days do you need to study for the ACT? ›

It is recommended to study for at least 10 hours so you are prepared. It is also better to keep your studying within one to six months before the test: Less than one month, the material doesn't have time to sink in.

What time of year is the ACT easiest? ›

Origin of the Myth

But here's the thing: While there were studies done that showed higher scores in one month than another, those months changed year to year. First experts would cry “December is easiest! Take it in December!” and a few years later they'd swear “May is by far easier!”

How much can you realistically raise your ACT score? ›

Many students can improve on average 150 to 200 points on the SAT and three to five points on the ACT with hard work and tutoring."

What section of the ACT is easiest to improve? ›

If you're trying to boost your ACT score, the English section is the easiest to tackle. Here's why: there is only a handful of technical grammar content covered and there are really only a handful of rhetorical skills covered.

How can I raise my ACT score fast? ›

ACT Tips and Tricks to Reach Your Target Score
  1. Work questions out of order. Spending too much time on the hardest problems means you may rush through the easiest. ...
  2. Choose a “Letter of the Day.” ...
  3. Forget the right answer—find the wrong ones. ...
  4. Know the best way to bubble in. ...
  5. Tailor your strategy to each section of the ACT.

Do colleges care how many times you take the ACT? ›

You can take the ACT up to 12 times, and many students end up taking the test between 2-3 times before applying to college. Most colleges are neutral about multiple scores. Many students, in fact, make score improvements by retaking the ACT. Give yourself time to improve before you begin filling out applications.

Do colleges see how many times you take the ACT? ›

Colleges do not have access to your test history unless you submitted all your test scores to that particular college. When you take an SAT/ACT test, you get a composite test score. It is up to you whether to pre-send those test scores to a college or send them the test score after you know what you got on them.

What is the best month to take the ACT? ›

Most high school student are advised to take the ACT in spring of their junior year and the April ACT test dates is a big favorite of many college counselors.

What section of the ACT is the hardest? ›

Do You Feel Confident in the Content? Obviously, it's not a good idea to take the ACT® unless you have a good grasp on the content that will be tested. The ACT® Reading and ACT® Science sections are both the hardest and easiest to prepare for.

Should I study for the ACT the night before? ›

Cramming the day before the ACT can cause fatigue and poor performance on test day. So taper your "workout" the day before the ACT by skipping the study session. In doing so, you will be alert and mentally ready to tackle the four subject tests (and writing section, if you've signed up for the ACT Plus Writing).

What is the lowest GPA accepted to Harvard? ›

Continue to work hard, take difficult classes, and show your passions outside of school! To get to Harvard your GPA has to be at least a 4.0 and even then if you get in your lucky but they require at least a 4.18 GPA only .

Can I get into Harvard with a 32 ACT? ›

The average ACT score for students who get accepted into Harvard is between 32 and 35. This is well above the national average of 21.

Does Harvard prefer ACT or SAT? ›

No matter what you might've heard, Ivy League schools have no preference between the ACT and SAT. You can submit scores from either test or from both of them without worrying that your application will be dinged.

Is 34 ACT good enough for Harvard? ›

There's no need to retake the ACT with a score of 34. A 34 makes you eligible and competitive for all colleges and universities, which is the goal! For juniors, remember that most colleges weigh ACT scores and GPA about equally.

Do Ivy League schools require ACT? ›

Generally speaking, you need a minimum ACT score of 31 to get into an Ivy League School. The minimum score is 32 at a few of these schools, including Harvard and Yale. The minimum SAT score to get into an Ivy League school ranges from 690 to 730 for the reading section and from 700 to 730 for the math section.

What ACT score is needed for Yale? ›

ACT Composite: 33-35.

What is the lowest ACT score to get into Harvard? ›

Average ACT: 34

There's no absolute ACT requirement at Harvard, but they really want to see at least a 33 to have a chance at being considered. A university with Harvard's stature has equally high ACT standards.

Which ACT scores should I send to colleges? ›

You should send an individual or ACT superscore to colleges well before any application deadline. This strategy ensures college admissions counselors receive a complete application portfolio as soon as possible.

Can I get into an Ivy League with a 25 ACT? ›

To be at the top of the Ivy League application pool, you will need to be one of the top 1% of test takers in the country!
What's a Good SAT/ACT Score for the Ivy League?
School NameYale
75% SAT1560
25% SAT1480
75% ACT35
25% ACT33
7 more columns
Sep 27, 2022

What's the best letter to guess on ACT? ›

C or H are right (and wrong) as often as any other answer choice. The only guess letter you don't want to use when you are completely guessing is E or K because they only show up on the math test. Ok, myths exposed, let's move on to how and when to guess.

Is C the most common answer? ›

In other words? There is no most common answer on the SAT. Ultimately, guessing C (or any letter!) will give you the correct answer only a statistical 25% of the time.

Should you try to answer every question on the ACT? ›

Why You Should Answer Every Question on the ACT. First of all, there is no penalty for choosing a wrong answer on the ACT, so make sure to never leave a question blank. You'll earn one point for every correct answer you choose and zero points for any blank or wrong answers, so it doesn't hurt you to make a guess.

How rare is a 12 on the ACT Writing? ›

Average Scores on the Current 12-Point Writing Exam
ACT Writing Score Percentiles
12100 (top 1%)
1199 (top 1%)
1099 (top 1%)
996 (top 4%)
8 more rows
Mar 29, 2020

Is 20 a decent ACT score? ›

A 20 ACT score puts you at the 49th percentile, meaning you scored higher than 49% of all test takers — which is certainly something to be proud of! To increase your competitiveness during the college application process, though, you'll want to meet or exceed the national average, which is closer to a score of 21.

Is 23 a decent ACT score? ›

A score of 23 on the ACT is above the current national average and will make you a strong applicant at many universities, but it may fall below the average score for accepted students at more selective colleges. The higher your ACT score, the more options are open to you.

Do colleges prefer ACT with writing? ›

Currently, most schools will view your ACT Writing scores if you send them, but it won't at all be an important part of your application. Currently, six schools specifically state on their website that they recommend taking ACT Writing: Colorado School of Mines (CO) Bethune-Cookman University (FL)

Do colleges care about writing ACT? ›

Generally, more selective schools may require or recommend a writing score, while less selective ones may not (though there certainly are exceptions). It's worth noting that most schools no longer require the ACT with Writing, though many schools recommend it.

What is the lowest good ACT score? ›

Getting a high ACT score can increase your chances of getting into selective colleges. In general, a good ACT score is any score in or above the 75th percentile — at least a 24.

How long should you prepare for the ACT? ›

It is recommended to study for at least 10 hours so you are prepared. It is also better to keep your studying within one to six months before the test: Less than one month, the material doesn't have time to sink in.

What should you not do before the ACT? ›

7 Night Before The ACT Tips That Work
  1. Don't let the last few hours before taking the ACT stress you out. ...
  2. Don't try to shove new information into your brain.
  3. Don't rush to gather everything before heading out.
  4. Make sure you know where you're taking the test.
  5. One alarm might not be enough.
Mar 13, 2020

When should I start preparing for ACT? ›

In Summary. Generally speaking, most first-time ACT and SAT test-takers should start studying for these exams about three months before the big day. However, students who have a hard time grasping certain skills and/or weren't previously able to earn a good score should study up to six months in advance.

Do colleges look at ACT anymore? ›

If the colleges you're applying to require standardized test scores, however, the two main test scores they'll look at are your SAT and your ACT scores.

Should you study for the ACT the night before? ›

Cramming the day before the ACT can cause fatigue and poor performance on test day. So taper your "workout" the day before the ACT by skipping the study session. In doing so, you will be alert and mentally ready to tackle the four subject tests (and writing section, if you've signed up for the ACT Plus Writing).

What should I do 24 hours before the ACT? ›

The best thing you can do the night before you take the ACT is relax: watch a movie, read a (non-ACT related!) book, take a long bath, go for a run. Do whatever stress-relieving activity works best for you. After that, give your body and mind the rest they need so that you can perform your best!

What is the hardest month to take the ACT? ›

March is the worst! Avoid it like the plague! Don't you dare take October; that's when the smart seniors are sitting. All the jocks take December, that's the surest bet for a high score!

Can you increase your ACT score by preparing for the test? ›

One of the most commonly asked questions of ACT is “how do my students improve their scores?” The simple answer is have them take challenging courses and test prep. Because the ACT tests what students learn in high school, the best way for them to prepare is to take core classes, study, and participate in class.

How much high school math do I need before I can start preparing for the ACT? ›

ACT recommends your high school coursework should include the following: English - 4 Years. Math - 3 years (including Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II) Science - 3 years (including Biology, Chemistry, and Physics)


1. ACT English 10 Hints, Tips, and Strategies
(Beyond The Test)
2. Why You Should Take the ACT®
3. Best ACT Math Prep Strategies, Tips, and Tricks - "Cheating" Using the Answer Choices
(Best ACT Prep)
4. Should you take the ACT or SAT?
(Higher Scores Test Prep)
5. How To Prepare For The ACT
(Peterson's Test Prep)
6. 10 Last Minute Tips for the March SAT!
(Strategic Test Prep)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jeremiah Abshire

Last Updated: 03/24/2023

Views: 5773

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (74 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jeremiah Abshire

Birthday: 1993-09-14

Address: Apt. 425 92748 Jannie Centers, Port Nikitaville, VT 82110

Phone: +8096210939894

Job: Lead Healthcare Manager

Hobby: Watching movies, Watching movies, Knapping, LARPing, Coffee roasting, Lacemaking, Gaming

Introduction: My name is Jeremiah Abshire, I am a outstanding, kind, clever, hilarious, curious, hilarious, outstanding person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.