Essay Writing Practice and Prompts for the ACT

Essay Writing Practice and Prompts for the ACT

The ACT writing test is an optional exam, and is not always given as part of the ACT. The writing test is used to evaluate your ability to complete a piece that is on par with skills taught in either high school or entry-level college courses.

Type of Essay

The ACT writing exam requires you to offer something of a compare/contrast. The prompt provides three different perspectives on any given subject, and in your response, you are required to either identify the similarities and differences between two of the perspectives listed, or your own perspective and one of the perspectives listed. Within the time limit set, you are required to complete at least one form of comparison between two perspectives. The essay is not required to be of any particular length, provided that you fulfill the requirements contained in the prompt.

Type of Prompt

The ACT prompt is a single prompt, followed by three different perspectives about the information presented. These perspectives are given to provide a possible starting point for test-takers, if you are not sure what “side” you want to be on. You have the option of choosing one of the available perspectives to write your essay on, or coming up with your own unique take on the subject.

Time Limit

Before you begin planning and writing your essay, make sure you read through the entire paragraph and each of the opinions to find the opinion you feel most comfortable writing about. You will have** 40 minutes** to plan and write your essay, so be sure to get started as soon as you are finished reading through the prompts. You will be required to lay your pencil and booklet down the moment 40 minutes is up, so make sure you are making good use of your time and working to keep your responses at or under 40 minutes.

How It Is Scored

The exam has four separate scores of 2-12, grading on Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language and Conventions, and a fifth composite score (the final score), that combines each of the aforementioned four scores for a total final score. Essays are read by two readers trained to evaluate essays, who score the essays according to the 2-12 scale. You can learn more about the essay by reading the ACT Preparation Guide.

Writing Your Essay

Plan and write an essay that is unified and coherent. As you write, be careful to:

  • State your opinion on the topic clearly and compare and contrast it to at least one of the three positions stated above.

  • Use examples and reasoning to support and develop your position.

  • Be sure to organize your writing in a clear and logical way.

  • Use the principles of standard written English to communicate effectively.

You may agree with, disagree with, or think completely differently from any of the given opinions.

Sample Prompts to Practice

Prompt 1

Celebrations in School

Schools are known for having exciting activities and fun school days throughout the year in order to keep students engaged and inject a bit of fun into the task of learning day in and day out. Some of the more common days schools celebrate include crazy hair day, pajama day, and special holiday, week-long celebrations, in which parents, teachers, and students are encouraged to wear certain clothing items, bring certain objects into school, or engage in specific activities as a means of celebrating. Although these games, activities, and parties are typically seen as simple, fun, and safe, they do have the potential to place some children in an awkward situation, should their parents be unable to purchase items for parties, not have time to concoct elaborate hairstyles, or be unable to contribute to a class party. Is school an appropriate place for these types of activities and celebrations?

Opinion Statement
Opinion 1 It is not fair to punish all students because some students may not be able to afford to engage in school activities. Teachers can pick up any slack, as necessary.
Opinion 2 School is a place for learning, not creating social or class divides. These celebrations and activities should be left out of school.
Opinion 3 Students need distraction from the drudgery of daily learning, and need silly celebrations and activities to stay engaged in school. Schools should provide clothes or treats for any students who are not able to provide for themselves.

Prompt 2

Ethics in Coffee

Baristas are known for delivering rich, delicious coffee and tea to their patrons, and many people have used a barista job as a part-time gig while in high school or college, or continue to love the atmosphere and culture of coffee shops well into adulthood. Despite the tendency of coffee to seem sophisticated or more adult, many of these coffee shops offer drinks that boast sugar and calorie content rivaling that of soda and other drinks that are known to be unhealthy. Should coffee shops be offering drinks that deliver as much as \(\frac{1}{4}\) to \(\frac{1}{3}\) of a person’s total calorie needs in one day, or is offering such high-calorie, highly-sweetened drinks unethical for unsuspecting customers?

Opinion Statement
Opinion 1 Consumers have a right to educate themselves, and are solely responsible for their own calorie intake. Coffee shops should not have to change their drinks to serve customer health.
Opinion 2 Coffee shops should clearly list all of the contents and calorie counts of their drinks, so that consumers can make an informed decision without having to look up information about the drink themselves.
Opinion 3 Coffee shops should not offer drinks that deliver such high sugar and calorie contents. Regulations should be put in place that prevent consumers from having ready access to highly palatable drinks.

Prompt 3

Phones and Connection

There have been many articles and op-ed pieces about the lack of connection caused by everyone staring at their phones rather than engaging in face-to-face communication and being present with one another. Once considered an issue almost exclusively relegated to teenagers and college students, being glued to a screen is seen everywhere, from pre-teens to grandparents happily learning the ropes of social media. Are screens truly separating families and friends, or is much of the hype and concern regarding screen use excessive or ill-conceived?

Opinion Statement
Opinion 1 Phones are still relatively new, and the novelty is the primary reason for distrust. Phones are changing the way people communicate, but not lessening communication.
Opinion 2 People are so focused on their phones that family members and friends seem to be slowly forgetting how to talk to each other without some type of distraction or screen. Phone use is eroding relationships and harming communication efforts.
Opinion 3 Phones are changing the way people communicate. In some regards, the changes are negative, but in others, the changes actually have a positive effect on communication and relationships. There is a balance to phone use, and that balance can actually help improve relationships and communication.

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