Should You Take the ACT With or Without Writing?

Tyler York
ACT Writing with or without

Whatever the format, the ACT contains the same sections: English, math, reading, and science. However, there’s one optional section that not all students are required to take: writing.

So, should you take the ACT with or without writing?

This is common question among those considering how to prepare for the ACT. In this post, we’ll detail the differences between the two, things to consider when deciding which ACT version to take, then ultimately answer this question: should you take the ACT with or without the writing portion?

Why is there a writing section in the ACT?

First, let’s take a look at what this entire section covers. 

Historically, the ACT added the writing section just after the SAT did in 2005. It did this so it can offer similar academic measurements as the SAT. The SAT included a writing test for it in 2005.

However, the ACT did not require the writing portion simply to copy the SAT — it was included mainly to measure students’ reasoning and argumentative abilities through writing. It also gives schools better insight into whether or not a candidate’s writing skills can be on par with college-level writing.

That said, ACT evaluators will base your writing score on four domain scores. According to ACT.org, these areas are as follows:

  • Ideas and Analysis  your ability to generate ideas relevant to the situation and critically consider the multiple perspectives provided; your understanding of the issue given and application to the audience for which you’re writing for
  • Development and Support — your ability to discuss and explain ideas, then formulating a sound argument from these; your ability to prove your point through examples so the reader can understand your perspective
  • Organization — your ability to organize ideas with clarity and purpose; you will be expected to create a seamless flow of ideas that will effectively guide the reader from start to finish
  • Language Use and Conventions — your ability to deliver arguments through effective use of written language; your proficiency in grammar, word choices, syntax, and writing structure, all while considering the tone, voice, and overall message delivery

What does the ACT writing section entail?

ACT writing is an optional 40-minute essay test after the multiple-choice sections. In this test area, you will be given a prompt about an issue, along with three different perspectives to substantiate it. You would first read the prompt and perspectives, then create a perspective of your own through an argumentative essay. The one you’ll write must tie closely with the other three provided — it can either support the existing perspectives or be an entirely new one.

Factoring in the domain scores we’ve mentioned above, here’s how to structure a powerful argumentative essay for the ACT’s writing portion:

  1. Introduction. Your introductory paragraph is crucial because it should be able to grab your reader’s attention. In this section, establish the subject and include background information to support it. End your introductory paragraph with a thesis statement, which will include the perspective you’ll choose to defend.
  1. Supporting Paragraphs. After your introduction, proceed to writing your supporting paragraphs. There should be at least three paragraphs that have one focused topic within it. Be sure to not only write strong supporting statements, but also specific examples and evidence to back your argument. Pro tip: identify your focused topics prior to writing your essay. This ensures that your ideas are clear and organized.
  1. Counter argument. Identify at least 1 alternate perspective and discuss why some readers might agree with it. Then, refute this alternate perspective — this shows the reader that you are knowledgeable about opposing viewpoints even if you don’t agree with these.
  1. Conclusion. Wrap up your essay by writing a clear and concise conclusion. Most importantly, remember this: DO NOT introduce any new ideas or claims in your essay. Instead, do a quick recap by reiterating your essay’s general idea, then restate your thesis as your closing piece. 

Section difficulty

The ACT writing portion tests the writing skills you’ve acquired from your high school English courses. As mentioned earlier, this section will measure your analytical writing skills, reasoning abilities, and knowledge on contemporary issues — all under the pressure of a 40-minute time limit..

The topics usually revolve around modern American life and culture, so we strongly advise you to read up a lot on those things. Otherwise, you might find it hard to come up with ideas to support your argument.

More recent ACT writing topics include the effects of digitalization on face-to-face communication, arts in education, the safety of genetically modified food for consumption, and many others. Regardless of the topic, we recommend brushing up on your writing skills, particularly writing foundations (i.e., grammar, thought organization).

How long is the ACT
Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

Key things to consider when considering the ACT Writing section

One obvious deciding factor in taking the ACT with writing or without is whether or not your chosen school requires it. 

When the SAT Essay exam was discontinued in June 2021, most schools that offered ACT writing changed their policies about it. As a result, about two-thirds of schools don’t look at writing scores anymore; however, there are still those institutions that require it — top-tier schools like UC Berkeley and UCLA included.

It’s still best to verify if your dream school requires it. Or you can try looking it up online — simply type in “[name of school] ACT writing requirements” and check the results.

Regardless, taking the ACT with writing can make your college admission stand out especially if you’re planning to apply for an English, Writing, or Humanities major, or the college you want to get into has competitive admissions. The writing test complements the English and reading sections really well, so if you’re aiming for a higher score, we suggest taking the ACT with the writing portion.

Will the ACT writing section affect my score?

While the writing section is optional and most schools don’t really give it weight, it’s not to say that it won’t be an effective way of measuring your communication and language skills. 

A competitive ACT writing score indicates you have solid reasoning capabilities. Additionally, it showcases your ability to analyze and present arguments under time pressure. The writing section also gives you the opportunity to showcase how well you logically defend points of view. So, that’s a plus for you, especially as your writing score can boost your overall English language score one way or the other.

So… should you take the ACT writing section?

The simple answer is this: if your chosen school requires it, then go for it! Additionally, if you’re applying to competitive colleges (like the Ivy League or other top ranking schools), you should also take the writing. 

You most probably have to take ACT writing for better chances of getting into your preferred college if it’s a standard requirement; the major you picked is English- or Writing-focused; or you just want to achieve a stellar score to make your application shine. If so, then you’d need excellent practice essay materials and a reliable ACT prep course to get you going. Who knows, you just might be one essay away from getting into your dream college!

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