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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

3 ACT Writing Prompts to Improve Your Score

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What’s Covered:


Preparing for the ACT is a task that many high school students dread, as it requires hours of study and lots of practice before entering that testing room. One of the parts of the ACT that students have to practice for is the writing portion. Keep in mind, the ACT writing portion is actually optional, so you may only have to take it if your intended university requires it. Make sure to verify with your school. 


Learn more about this portion of the ACT, how it can affect your score, and what elements you should include in your writing to achieve the best score you possibly can.


Overview of the ACT Writing Test


When you sit down to take the ACT writing test, know that it will be important to use your time wisely. You have 40 minutes to read through a prompt and three different perspectives of an issue. Typically, the three perspectives have a conservative view, a moderate view, and a progressive view. Note that this doesn’t mean they’re necessarily political in nature, but more of a view of how change may be positive or negative.


You’ll then assess the prompt, present your own perspective of the issue, and address at least one of the perspectives given to you in the essay. You must write your essay with a No. 2 pencil, so make sure you’re prepared. 


The writing test is combined with your reading and English tests, and you must take the multiple choice portions before proceeding to the writing part of the exam. The test is graded on a score from 1-6, six being the best and one needing the most improvement. Your essay is graded by two separate people and they will combine those scores. So, you can reach a maximum score of 12.


ACT Practice Writing Prompts


When you get your prompt, it will be centered around an important societal issue. A great way to prepare for these types of prompts is to stay informed. That may mean watching the news, following news updates on social media, or even debating your viewpoints with others to practice. 


Prompt 1


Intelligent Machines 


Prompt: Many of the goods and services we depend on daily are now supplied by intelligent, automated machines rather than human beings. Robots build cars and other goods on assembly lines, where once there were human workers. Many of our phone conversations are now conducted not with people but with sophisticated technologies. We can now buy goods at a variety of stores without the help of a human cashier. Automation is generally seen as a sign of progress, but what is lost when we replace humans with machines? Given the accelerating variety and prevalence of intelligent machines, it is worth examining the implications and meaning of their presence in our lives.


Perspective 1: What we lose with the replacement of people by machines is some part of our own humanity. Even our mundane daily encounters no longer require from us basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for other people. 


Perspective 2: Machines are good at low-skill, repetitive jobs, and at high-speed, extremely precise jobs. In both cases they work better than humans. This efficiency leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone.


Perspective 3: Intelligent machines challenge our long-standing ideas about what humans are or can be. This is good because it pushes both humans and machines toward new, unimagined possibilities.


How to Approach this Prompt


First, read through the prompt carefully to ensure you understand all aspects of the issue. After that, you need to read all three perspectives. Each will offer a different viewpoint of the situation or issue. Think about each one, decide your own perspective, and then determine which perspective or perspectives from the prompt that you’ll address in your writing. 


After that, try to create a basic outline. Remember, you only have 40 minutes, so make sure to maximize your time. Your outline should have a thesis statement as well as some evidence to back up your viewpoint. 


An essay with the top score of 6 would have insight, cautioning people to move slowly with adopting this kind of technology and addressing the potential economic and cultural implications. It would flow well, use advanced vocabulary, and display knowledge of proper grammar and spelling. 


Prompt 2


Public Health and Individual Freedom 


Most people want to be healthy, and most people want as much freedom as possible to do the things they want. Unfortunately, these two desires sometimes conflict. For example, smoking is prohibited from most public places, which restricts the freedom of some individuals for the sake of the health of others. Likewise, car emissions are regulated in many areas in order to reduce pollution and its health risks to others, which in turn restricts some people’s freedom to drive the vehicles they want. In a society that values both health and freedom, how do we best balance the two? How should we think about conflicts between public health and individual freedom?


Perspective One: Our society should strive to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. When the freedom of the individual interferes with that principle, freedom must be restricted.


Perspective Two: Nothing in society is more valuable than freedom. Perhaps physical health is sometimes improved by restricting freedom, but the cost to the health of our free society is far too great to justify it.


Perspective Three: The right to avoid health risks is a freedom, too. When we allow individual behavior to endanger others, we’ve damaged both freedom and health.


How to Approach This Prompt


Remember, any essay you write needs to present your individual viewpoint and address at least one of the perspectives. Likely, this prompt was written before the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but if you were to get this prompt, you could address that in the essay and talk about how that has affected the concept of public health vs. freedom. This is a good example of why you need to stay informed in order to give the best argument possible in your essay, as you won’t know the prompt until you get there. That background knowledge could help you get a higher score.


Prompt 3


Kid Stuff


Toys are for children, right? Not anymore. In recent years, things that used to be considered “kids stuff” have grown into popularity among grownups. Nowadays, adults regularly play video games, watch animated movies and television shows, purchase dolls and other collectible figures, and read comic books for their own enjoyment. Is adult enjoyment of children’s entertainment merely a sign of immaturity? In what ways can playing with kid stuff change the way adults understand today’s youth? Given that toys, games, and publications that used to be exclusively for children are growing in popularity among adults, it is worth considering the effects and implications of this trend. 


Perspective one: It’s good for adults to be familiar with kid stuff. They’ll understand the lives of children better and be more responsive to their needs, interests, and problems.


Perspective two: Adults need to be models of maturity and responsibility. When they act and think like children, kids have no one to look to for guidance.


Perspective three: Children need their own cultural space—their own books, their own toys, their own movies—in which to explore their ideas. When adults start to take over that space, kids lose out. 


How to Approach This Prompt


This prompt asks you to contemplate whether adults should engage with kid’s toys and if the effects of engagement are positive or negative. Since there isn’t much robust data out there (that the wide public is aware of) the “data” you use to back up your opinion can come from your own experience as a kid, or as an adult playing with “kid’s toys.” To write a strong essay, remember to consider all three perspectives and anticipate arguments in favor of all three so you can pick the strongest one. If you are able to refute or acknowledge opposing or differing viewpoints, your essays will likely receive a higher score. Remember to organize your thoughts clearly, in paragraphs that flow from one to the next. 

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Tips for Writing a Strong ACT Essay


While it is impossible to prepare for the exact prompt you’ll get once you’re seated in the testing room, it is possible to prepare yourself for writing an essay in a pretty short amount of time. The most important thing is to practice.


1. Practice, practice, practice.


Use the sample prompts above to draft essays and time yourself to see how long it takes. You’ll need to manage your time wisely, so practice is key to knowing how long you need on each step. Allot yourself some time to create a basic outline before you start. You want to ensure that your essay is as cohesive as possible. 


2. Get organized now.


While you practice your essay, you may find that you tend to align with one perspective over the others. Use that to your advantage on testing day. The one you agree with will be the easiest to write about, and then you can combine the other two into one paragraph where you address why you don’t agree with them. If you head in with a strategy in place, it will make it a lot less difficult to construct your essay in the allotted 40 minutes.


3. Don’t spend too much time on grammar.


Yes, grammar is important. But, it’s not the end-all-be-all of your ACT writing test grade. Your time is precious, and you need to focus on getting your writing done in time. Instead, make sure you address all the key points and present a cohesive, strong essay with critical thinking demonstrated throughout. The same goes for vocabulary. Don’t spend time trying to think of a fancy word for “big.” Only focus on elevating your vocabulary after you have finished writing a cohesive essay. 


4. Stay informed.


Stay up to date on current news events—and don’t just get your information from social media. According to Pew Research, people who get their news from social media are not as engaged and not as knowledgeable. You need to try and follow current events so that you can form an educated opinion for your essay. Those types of opinions, especially if you can back them up with facts, are the ones that are more likely to get you the top score of 5 or 6. 


Along with that, you need to know basic history, too. The prompt may address how the world has changed or is changing in some way. You may need to mention events that have happened in the past, such as World War I, the Civil War, the industrial revolution, the civil rights movement, and others. 


You may also need to use an example from your own life if your background knowledge ends up not applying to the prompt that you get. For example, think about what’s happened in your lifetime—when you were born, likely only a few people had smartphones. Today, almost everyone has one in their pocket with access to all of the information on the internet just a touch away. Sweeping changes that have occurred in your life could help you answer the prompt with substance and background. 


How Does the ACT Impact Your College Chances?


Just like the SAT, your ACT score is influential in your college application. However, remember that not all universities require the ACT writing portion. If you’d like to find out your chances of getting into your dream school, CollegeVine offers a free chancing engine where you can input all of your information like GPA, AP classes, SAT/ACT scores, extracurriculars and more, to get an estimation of your chances. We even share tips on how to improve your odds. 


Rachel Swearingen
Content Writer

Short Bio
Rachel has worked to develop college courses for many higher-ed institutions and also taught high school English for a while. She's now using her knowledge to help students who are looking for information online. When she isn't writing, she's busy with her two kids and supporting the Tampa Bay Lightning (Go Bolts)!