Last Updated On: November 2nd, 2015

In September 2015, the ACT introduced a new writing test on the exam. Now 40 minutes long instead of 30 minutes long, the new ACT writing test measures your skill in composing a persuasive essay in which you analyze a complex prompt. The essay is scored from 1 to 36, with additional separate scores from 2 to 12 in four areas: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use. This composition also contributes to the new English Language Arts (ELA) Score on the ACT, which averages the English, reading, and writing scores.

Though it remains an optional part of the exam, the new ACT writing test is a more involved essay than the previous incarnation. You are no longer simply agreeing or disagreeing with the prompt and providing concrete evidence for your thesis. You must accomplish three things in your essay: 1) show the strengths and weaknesses of the given perspectives in the prompt, 2) develop and support your own perspective, and 3) relate your perspective to those given. And, you must do all of this in 40 minutes.

To get an idea of what to expect on test day, let’s take a look at the first practice prompt released by the ACT:

Intelligent Machines
Many of the goods and services we depend on daily are now supplied by intelligent, automated machines rather than human beings. Robots build cars and other goods on assembly lines, where once there were human workers. Many of our phone conversations are now conducted not with people but with sophisticated technologies. We can now buy goods at a variety of stores without the help of a human cashier. Automation is generally seen as a sign of progress, but what is lost when we replace humans with machines? Given the accelerating variety and prevalence of intelligent machines, it is worth examining the implications and meaning of their presence in our lives.

Perspective One
What we lose with the replacement of people by machines is some part of our own humanity. Even our mundane daily encounters no longer require from us basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for other people.

Perspective Two
Machines are good at low-skill, repetitive jobs, and at high-speed, extremely precise jobs. In both cases they work better than humans. This efficiency leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone.

Perspective Three
Intelligent machines challenge our long-standing ideas about what humans are or can be. This is good because it pushes both humans and machines toward new, unimagined possibilities.

Essay Task
Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on the increasing presence of intelligent machines. In your essay, be sure to:

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

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial agreement, or wholly different. Whatever the case, support your ideas with logical reasoning and detailed, persuasive examples.

Whew. That’s a lot to unpack in 40 minutes. How can you address all of the salient points in such a short period of time? Your approach should be different than one used for the previous ACT essay, but the structure can be similar. Test graders are still looking for command of standard American English, vocabulary skills, organization, idea progression, transitions, proper grammar, syntax, and support for claims. You should pace yourself and employ complete paragraphs with a variety of language and sentence types.

Fortunately, underneath the prompt, the ACT provides you with space and the following guidelines for “Planning Your Essay”:

Your work on these prewriting pages will not be scored.

Use the space below and on the back cover to generate ideas and plan your essay. You may wish to consider the following as you think critically about the task:

Strengths and weaknesses of the three given perspectives

  • What insights do they offer, and what do they fail to consider?
  • Why might they be persuasive to others, or why might they fail to persuade?

Your own knowledge, experience, and values

  • What is your perspective on this issue, and what are its strengths and weaknesses?
  • How will you support your perspective in your essay?

Take five to ten minutes to brainstorm and construct an outline in this space. Figure out what you want to say and where you want to go. Do you agree with all three of the perspectives on machines? Some of them? None of them? What assumptions are present in these statements? How do you feel about robots in our lives? What examples can you include as concrete evidence to support your opinions?

Once you have your ideas in order, spend the next 20 minutes composing your essay, incorporating an introduction, two or three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Write as much as you can until the 35-minute mark. Make sure you have addressed all of the issues in the essay task. Then spend the last five minutes editing your work and solidifying your conclusion.

If you are unsure whether you should sit for this optional essay, then check the ACT website to see if your target schools require or recommend the ACT writing test: For example, Boston College, Tufts University, and Villanova University require the ACT writing test, while Howard University, Pace University, and Wake Forest University do not. Even if your current target schools do not require the essay, it may be in your best interest to take the ACT writing test, in case you later add a school to your application list that does require a writing score.

As with the rest of the exam, preparation is the key to performing well on the ACT essay. For more practice, there is another prompt for the new ACT writing test provided in the Preparing for the ACT Test guide, a free booklet on the ACT website: In addition to practicing on your own for the new ACT writing test, you can also work with a tutor to study more effectively. Click here for more information, or call 866.60.TUTOR for a free consultation with LA Tutors.

Mahlena-Rae Johnson

Author Mahlena-Rae Johnson

Mahlena graduated from Loyola Marymount and received her MBA from USC with a focus on Marketing, Entertainment, and Entrepreneurship. Her specialty lies in graduate level test prep and is also a regular contributor to the LA Tutors blog.

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