The ACT, a well-known rival to the SAT for students planning to apply for college, has an optional writing section for students who want to display their writing skills. In mid-October the ACT announced plans to change this writing section for tests beginning in the fall of 2015, so current high school sophomores and juniors will want to pay attention to this change if they plan to take the ACT.
What's Changing on the ACT?
The format of the ACT core exam will stay the same, but students who choose to do the optional writing test will see a different type of exam than they have in years before. The original essay for the writing test was just like the essay on the SAT: students saw a prompt and had to argue for or against the idea in the prompt. The new writing exam will approach essay writing from a different angle. There will still be one prompt, but students will not argue for one side or the other in their essays. Instead, students will see a paragraph and three specific perspectives on that paragraph, and then students will write an essay analyzing these perspectives, stating relationships between these perspectives, and giving their own opinions on the paragraph. This new essay will not affect the ACT composite score, just like the current essay section, but students and colleges will be able to see the separate writing score. For a sample question for the new exam, look at the ACT's essay prompt. Other FAQs can be found on the ACT writing section page.
Why is the ACT Changing?
The ACT is changing because the ACT creators believe that asking students to write a generic essay in response to an open-ended prompt does not test how students create arguments and synthesize different ideas. The goal of this new writing section is to move away from the old ACT writing structure and the SAT essay structure, which has students choose one of two sides and write an essay supporting that idea, and instead ask students to combine different ideas, explain how those ideas fit together, and provide their own take on an issue. The creators of the ACT feel that their new essay structure, in which students analyze and evaluate different perspectives, is closer to the writing style students will need to use in college and in the workplace. By writing about and analyzing different perspectives, the students will have to create structured arguments in their essays, which is more involved than just choosing which side of a prompt to discuss.
How Can Students Prepare for the New ACT Essay Section?
It is important to remember that the new essay section will still remain optional, so students should think carefully about whether or not they would like to do the ACT essay section. Students who feel that they are strong writers may want to take the new essay section without much further thought, but other students who are on the fence about doing the essay section should look at the sample questions from the ACT creators and think about their own ability to write persuasively. Since the new exam requires students to think critically about multiple perspectives, not just to state their own perspective, students should practice analyzing different ideas about a topic and drawing conclusions about different ways to approach the topic. The rest of the ACT exam will remain the same, so students who already planned to skip the essay section won't need to change their test prep process.