7 Tips for Tackling the ACT Essay Section

Here are some tips on how to tackle the ACT essay section

Flickr user Tim Taylors

During the ACT’s 40-minute optional writing test, you’ll have to create a persuasive essay from a prompt. Some college require the ACT with Writing, others don’t—but it’s still a good idea to take it anyway.

That being said, the essay portion makes many students nervous. Let’s ease some of those nerves right here and now by going over a few handy tips that will make tackling the essay easier.

Outline Your ACT Essay

Instead of just charging in headfirst, take a few minutes to outline your essay. This is a vital and helpful step that gives you a road map to follow. It’ll help you gather your thoughts, formulate an argument, and organize a structure. It’s well worth the time to chart out your essay.

Clearly Define Your Thesis / Stance

Clarity is key. Pick your side of the persuasive argument and write out your thesis. What exactly are you arguing for or against? This will form the base of your entire essay, and round out your introductory paragraph, so it’s important to nail.

Be Specific: Explain Your Reasoning

In the body of your essay you should have three or four points. Bullet-list these in your outline. When you give a supporting reason for your thesis, explain exactly why. Be specific. Don’t assume the reader can read your mind, lay it out for them.

Mention the Opposing Side

Arguing your side of the debate doesn’t mean ignoring the opposition. It can actually strengthen your persuasive essay to mention a point of the other side, just be sure to counter it. Things like “while X may be true, Y outweighs it” or “Some would argue Z would happen, and while that’s a possibility…”

Don’t Get Hung Up on “The Facts”

The ACT essay readers won’t fact-check your essay. It doesn’t matter if you make up statistics or studies, your goal is to show them you have the writing talent to persuade. They know you haven’t prepared for this topic or researched it thoroughly. The key is in the ethos, logos, and pathos of your essay.

Mind Your Language

Vocabulary is a powerful tool, and this is the place to flex it. Language plays a large role in persuasion, after all. Spend some time learning some new words and pepper them in (where appropriate). Don’t overextend yourself and add “big” words for the sake of sounding smart, you’ll have to use them correctly.


Once you’ve finished your essay, use any remaining time to revise. Go over and check for spelling or grammar errors. Replace some “boring” words with something a bit more academic or eye-catching. Ensure that everything flows well together. Spending even a few minutes will help you catch any tiny mistakes.

Check out how your ACT score affects your acceptance odds with College Raptor’s free match tool!

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