While the essay is optional on the ACT, some colleges require it for admission. Others suggest it (which pretty much means “require”). Some work the Essay score into a formula; others leave it as a stand-alone score for evaluation.

Beyond college admission there is a benefit to ACT Essay prep. The ACT essays are akin to many college midterms and finals, where analysis, organization, writing, and editing are all needed in a short time span. So how can you write a great ACT essay in 40 minutes?

Respond to THEIR Task

Class taking a test

Their rules govern how you are graded.  A beautiful, flowing, mellifluous essay that doesn’t answer their question and address the three Perspectives will be downgraded.

Then ACT has four “domains” for grading:

  • Ideas and Analysis
  • Development and Support
  • Organization
  • Language Use and Conventions

Not following their rules will hurt you on all but the fourth domain.

Organize Your Essay

Have in mind four “Templates.” You will be agreeing with all three, two, one, or none of the Perspectives. So, the Template will likely be:

“My view agrees with all three Perspectives.”


“My view coincides with ONE of the Perspectives; the other two fall short.”


“My view embraces two of the Perspectives; I will also address why one is inapt.”


“My position contradicts all three Perspectives, but I will show why this view is superior.”

Note that agreeing with none is within the rules, but is very brazen and should only be done when you’ve thought through your alternative position well before test day.

Making an intro paragraph, giving your view, and assessing each of the three Perspectives coincides with a five-paragraph essay, or a six paragraph essay if you choose to add a conclusion paragraph. However, a five-paragraph structure is NOT necessary. You’re not limited to five paragraphs. Indeed, when you change the subject within an argument, it is best to start a new paragraph to avoid any confusion.

Your Analysis SHOULD Include Your Opinion

ACT essay scorers expect your opinion.  This is sometimes unfamiliar to students if their English teachers have only been assigning personal journals, book reports, and analysis papers.    Get used to including personal opinions – liberal arts college professors typically expect them in their tests and papers.  On the ACT, you are actually giving four opinions: your conclusion, and one for each of the three Perspectives.

Use Illustrative Adjectives, Nouns and Verbs

This does not mean “use Big Words for Big Words’ sake.” It means using crisp adjectives, nouns and verbs. Specifics are good. Most importantly, use words whose meaning you really know. It makes sense to expand your vocabulary to include rhetorical devices. But, even if armed with a large logic vocabulary, don’t force a complex word when simple word will do.

Use Your Time Wisely

40 minutes to write a persuasive essay is not much time. Here’s an easy way to break it down:

  • Reading and Organizing: 4 – 8 minutes.
  • Writing: 30 – 36 minutes to write 3 to 4 pages.
  • Editing: 0 – 2 minutes to make changes. Plan on 0 if you need time to get onto page 4 AND you are a person who rarely finds your own errors.

One last tip to remember is that the longer your essay is, the better score you’re likely to receive. Yet, you shouldn’t fill the pages with meaningless information for the sake of length.

Ivy Bound tutors can help students build their essay abilities for the SATACT or general application (school assignments). Our tutors work with students on their grammar, organization, use of vocabulary and following assigned tasks. Contact us today to learn more about our Essay services.