ACT EssayThe new essay allows twice as much time to write (over the previous SAT essay), but demands much deeper analysis: The student is asked to read and analyze a 700 word fact-based passage and develop an essay describing how the writer builds the presented argument.

All passages will have these things in common:

  • Written for a wide audience
  • Argue a point
  • Express nuanced views on complex subjects
  • Use logical reasoning and evidence to support claims
  • Examine ideas, issues, or trends in the arts and sciences, or civic, cultural, or political life
  • Excerpted from published works


The prompt will always ask how the author uses:

  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.

The assignment is to craft an essay explaining how the author creates an argument to convince or persuade the reader. In doing so, the student is asked to analyze how the author uses one of more of the above to build the augment, not about explaining personal agreement or disagreement with the author’s premise.

The process will  follow these 3 steps:

  • Read – demonstrate an understanding of the ideas presented
  • Analyze – evaluate the presentation of the argument
  • Write – express your ideas effectively


Here are some recommended steps to follow. (The reading and analysis should take about 25-30 minutes and the balance of the time to write the essay.)

  1. Preview the passage to get a sense of the author’s point. Paraphrase each first sentence and jot it down. What is the author trying to convey to the reader, and how?
  2. Skim between 300-500 wpm to confirm what your learned from your preview
  3. Re-read more slowly to analyze – underline and/or take notes:
  • How is the author making his case – examples, anecdotes, reasons, data​?
  • Is (s)he merely appealing to the readers’ emotions?
  • Is (s)he coming from a place of authority?
  1. Write down the thesis based on an analysis of the passage. It will define the opening paragraph. State it in such a way that the reader clearly knows the point being made. Here’s is an example of how to write the thesis:

“Representative Jones makes the case that in order to save our democracy, it’s mandatory that the public realize the vital importance of the democratic process. When the public finally wakes up to the reality that voting is a right to be exercised, that results actually impact their everyday life, and that though they may have one singular voice, collectively, that voice carries more power than any one super PAC, then and only then will our democracy be preserved.”

There are three parts to the above thesis: voting is a right, the impact on everyday life, and the collective power of many.

  1. Go back and re-read the passage to find the information that supports the 3 claims made in the thesis. Make notes so the evidence is easy to find to be able to quote or paraphrase into your essay.
  2. Five paragraphs is usually the best way to go:

Paragraphs #1 should summarize the main point of the passage and state your thesis (as above) containing the three points.

Paragraphs #2, #3, and #4 should each represent the one of the three points of the thesis.

Paragraph #5 should reinforce and/or restate the thesis summarizing the supporting evidence.

What to be mindful of when writing the essay:

  1. The essay should be about 500 words long..
  2. Present the thesis in the opening paragraph and restate in the closing paragraph.
  3. Quotes or evidence excerpted from the essay should be incorporated to support claims.
  4. The structure flows from the thesis.
  5. Keep it direct and simple – better shorter, clear and grammatically correct sentence structure than long, rambling sentences.
  6. Expression of ideas reflect accepted grammatical constructions and mechanics.
  7. Use qualifying adverbs: essentially, basically, typically, usually, mostly, fundamentally, primarily, predominately, relatively, virtually, roughly, mostly, intrinsically, inherently, substantially, particularly, clearly, certainly.
  8. Try to incorporate more sophisticated language and or expressions – CORRECTLY!
  9. Avoid colloquial language – not a ‘cool’ idea – as this is a formal essay.
  10. Allow at least 5 minutes to proof the essay to make sure it addresses the above. Primarily:







How the essay is scored:

  • Two different people will read and score the essay.
  • Each scorer awards 1–4 points for each dimension: reading, analysis, and writing.
  • The two scores for each dimension are added.
  • There are three scores for each of the three dimensions – reading, analyzing and writing. The scores range from 2–8 points.

If you wish to find out more and actually read some sample essays, go to the CollegeBoard website.

Here is where you can find out which schools require or recommend the essay.

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