Have you ever read a book about snowboarding, then tried to snowboard down the toughest hill you could find? I did, and I fell flat on my face before flipping up into the air and twirling horizontal, only stopped by slamming into a tree. This taught me something important: reading does not make you an expert!
Reading, I realized, only makes my head smarter, but it does not actually give me a skill. This is true when it comes to preparing for the ACT Essay. You can “study” all the fact there are to know about this writing test, but the only chance you have of doing well is to actually practice writing your own essays.
Yes, this does mean writing essays in your spare time. But before you completely cringe and log off your computer, remember that old, true phrase: Practice makes perfect.
You might be a good writer, you might be a good student, you might be really smart, and you might be pretty well-versed on the ACT Essay’s requirements. But none of that makes you an expert. You can find lots of students who claim all of the above, and still complain, “I got a 4 on the Writing! This is crazy!” (Just check the forums online – there are tons of these statements). The truth is that writing a good essay in just 30 minutes is a unique skill that takes time to acquire.
So since practice makes perfect, then it is really, really important that you take time to practice this exact skill over and over again until you know you’ve got it! I genuinely feel bad for students who the first time they write a 30-minute essay is when they’re actually taking the ACT Writing test.
So How Do I Practice?
Here are four tips I give you on preparing for the ACT Writing portion.
1. Practice completing the Prompt Analysis: First of all, remember that this essay is an essay that tests your thinking. To have good ideas, you have to have practice thinking in a more complex, sophisticated way than the millions of other students. Take a look at the sample prompts on this website and give yourself about 20 minutes to fill out the prompt analysis document for each prompt. This will train your brain to think in more complex ways.
2. Practice creating thesis statements and outlines: For English essays I’d usually stare at my screen for a minimum of 2 hours before coming up with a thesis. What a waste of time! For the ACT Essay, you want to very quickly come up with what you want to say. Again, take a look at the sample prompts on this website and give yourself about 5 minutes to jot down the following:
• A thesis
• The topics for your body paragraphs
• Examples you can give in each body paragraph
3. Actually write the essay in 30 minutes: Grab a stopwatch, grab a prompt you haven’t seen before, and go! Write the whole essay – intro, thesis, body, conclusion – in just 30 minutes. See how far you get and how well you do. And try to reflect on your performance. What was hard for you? What areas of your essay are in need of the biggest improvement? You’ll never know until you actually do this task! I recommend doing one of these a day. It’s only 30 minutes. (Maybe make it fun and compete against a friend to write the better essay in 30 minutes…)
4. Get feedback from trusted sources: Okay, so you actually need to write the essay first, but once you do, have a trusted parent, teacher, or other adult tell you what they think about your essay. Outside feedback is invaluable! Check out some of your local libraries as well: many of them offer free feedback on essays online, including on these practice ACT essays.
So put yourself in the stressful predicament of having to write a 30-minute essay for the first time during the actual ACT Essay itself. Practice ahead of time, and you will be guaranteed that you’ll do your best on the test!