How To Master the ACT Writing Section

If you’re in high school, and are a junior or a senior, there’s a good chance that you’re already turning your attention ahead to college. More specifically, you are probably researching schools and trying to determine where you want to go. Do you want a traditional four-year university? A community college? An online school? A school, such as Argosy University, that combines elements of online and traditional teaching? Do you prefer an institution that is public or private? There are certainly many questions to ask yourself at this point.

But before you start spending all your free time browsing CollegeBoard.com or Online-Degree.com, it is important that you take the necessary steps to improve your candidacy at whatever school you ultimately choose. This means working to maintain (or boost) your grades, adding extracurricular and volunteer work to diversify your application, and taking the SAT or the ACT so that you can be considered for admission in the first place.

Originally used primarily by Midwestern schools, the ACT has grown considerably in usage and popularity in recent decades, and it now surpasses the SAT in many regards. In 2005, the ACT added a 30-minute writing section at the end of its administration. The writing section, scored on a scale from 6 to 12, has become increasingly useful in recent years to colleges that seek to assess the expository skills of their applicants.

There’s a good chance, then, that the ACT and the ACT writing section will fall somewhere on your path from high school to your dream college. Here are a few tips for easily boosting your scaled score and mastering the writing section:

Have an introduction and a conclusion. Even if your introduction seems weak and your conclusion is only a couple sentences long, breaking up your essay into the standard expository format can translate into an automatic 2 point boost on your scaled score.

Pick a side and stick to it. The ACT graders don’t care which side of an argument you support. They do care, however, that you support one side and present an explicit opinion to that effect. A student that vacillates between the two viewpoints will not be viewed favorably when grading occurs.

In the introduction, start general and end with a thesis. No matter what the essay topic, starting the introduction with a broad observation and ending it with a prescriptive thesis is sure to immediately put your essay in the top half of scorers. If the essay question is: “Should high school seniors get parking privileges over underclassmen?,” you may want to start your essay with this generic statement: “People have long debated whether seniority should entail special privileges at school.” You can then provide a couple filler sentences and then transition to your thesis statement: “Seniors should (or should not) get parking privileges for reasons X, Y, and Z.” This is a standard thesis format that can be used for any essay.

Think outside the box. Picking a side of the argument and then giving obvious supporting reasons can leave you with an essay that receives solid scores. But if you want to fall in the 10 to 12 range, you can get an added point or two by thinking outside the box. Using our previous example, a standard argument for senior parking privileges may be that there needs to be some sort of method to determine spots, it’s fair because everyone will eventually become a senior, and seniors are usually more responsible by virtue of their age. An out-of-the-box reason, however, may be that seniors might need to often leave school during the day for college interviews or internships.

Acknowledge the opposing view. Acknowledging that the other side of the argument has some validity will get you 1 to 2 easy points on the writing section. Don’t go on and on about the strengths of the opposition, simply provide one sentence where you point out an argument on the other side.

These are the main ways you can boost your score on the ACT writing section. While it may be difficult to improve the quality of your writing and of your grammar, any student should be able to learn these tips and then apply them when the time comes.

By Jennifer Smith


How to Write a Descriptive Narrative Essay

The purpose of a narrative descriptive essay is to tell a story vividly to appeal to the reader’s senses. The more sensory images, or description, that is used to tell a story, the more interesting it will be to readers. Narrative descriptive essays are commonly assigned in first-year college writing classes, and writing one involves many steps.

  1. Choose an effective, interesting topic. The story you want to tell should be interesting. While a simple vacation to Florida may have been fun and interesting to you, think about whether it will be to your reader. Choose a topic that includes lots of sensory impressions so that you have lots to describe.
  2. Make an outline of the basic story you want to tell. Obviously, you need a beginning, middle and end. Having an outline of the story will keep the essay organized and help keep you on track in telling the story.
  3. Decide on the type of description to include. What images do you want to impress upon the reader?
  4. Write a statement of purpose. You probably won’t have a traditional thesis statement in a narrative essay, but you should have a clear purpose. What story are you telling, and why are you telling it?
  5. Write a clear introduction that tells the reader what story will follow. Include the purpose in the introduction. The introduction should hook the reader and make him want to read the story. For this type of essay, use a catchy opening line that is linked to your story.
  6. Tell the complete story in the body. Clearly tell the story that you have mentioned in the purpose.
  7. Organize the body chronologically. Because you are telling a story, you obviously want to tell it in order. Choosing a different organizational method may be confusing to the readers.
  8. Use lots of descriptive language. You want to paint a picture for the reader so she feels she is part of the story. Use description to set the scene. Describe people, events and other things as they come up in the story.
  9. Describe sounds, appearances, smells and anything else to make the story more interesting and real.
  10. Describe only what is pertinent to the story and moves the story along. Do not describe something in the essay that really isn’t relevant to the story.
  11. Write a conclusion that sums up the essay and leaves the reader with a parting word. What do you want readers to take away from the story?

About Differential Aptitude Tests

The U.S. Department of Education’s Educational Resources Information Center states that Differential Aptitude Test measures people’s ability to succeed in the work force. Employers use these aptitude tests to determine applicants’ cognitive skills as well as clerical and language skills. The eight sections of Differential Aptitude Tests provide an easy way to assess your skills for jobs in management and other industries.

Verbal and Numerical Reasoning

Differential Aptitude Tests measure your verbal- and numerical-reasoning skills. These sections of the test assess how well you understand ideas expressed in word and in numbers.

Abstract Reasoning

These tests examine your ability to understand abstract ideas when there are no words or numbers to guide you.

Perceptual Speed and Accuracy

Differential Aptitude Tests measure your skills for working in places such as offices, scientific laboratories, stores and warehouses. The skills evaluated include completing paperwork, filing and checking data.

Mechanical Reasoning

These tests test how easily you grasp physics laws governing everyday life, such as understanding machinery, tools and body movement.

Space Relations

This section of Differential Aptitude Tests accesses your ability to visualize 3-D pictures of solid objects by looking at the objects on paper.


The spelling section of Differential Aptitude Tests accesses how well you can identify the correct spelling of common English words.

Language Usage

This section of Differential Aptitude Tests accesses your command of the English language. It examines punctuation, capitalization and word choice.

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