Magoosh Act Essay Prompt

Look, I know that you might not be super excited to write the ACT Essay. In fact, your dread of the ACT Writing section may mean that you’re not even that excited about taking the ACT.

But how would you feel if I told you that I’ve totally figured out how to change that?

Yup. Today, instead of talking about how to get a perfect 12 on the ACT Essay, we’re actually going to talk about how you can succeed at the universe’s all-time greatest school: Hogwarts.

Little-known fact: the 12 things you need to do to succeed at Hogwarts are exactly the 12 things you need to do to get a perfect 12 on the ACT Writing section.

Spooky, right?

Let’s take a quick look at them before diving in deeper:

  1. Know what you’re getting into.
  2. Take a look around the Hogwarts Express.
  3. Be assured that you CAN be 1 in 10,000.
  4. Get yourself a time-turner (but only if necessary!).
  5. Make sure you give the Sorting Hat options.
  6. Be a Gryffindor and take a risk!
  7. Be a Ravenclaw and be clever.
  8. Be a Hufflepuff and keep going.
  9. Be a Slytherin and be crafty.
  10. Know that the way you say something is just as important as what you say.
  11. Go into your O.W.L.s with a plan.
  12. Take a page from J.K. Rowling’s book and refuse to give up!

Read on, future Griffindors, Ravenclaws, and Hufflepuffs! (Slytherins, I think we all know your deal. Go talk to a snake or something.)

How to Use This Post

So what can you expect from this post? We’ll look at an overview of the ACT Writing section, then go into how it’s scored and the skills it tests. We’ll compare the ACT Essay to the SAT Essay and help you decide whether you should take the ACT with Writing or without. If you do decide to take it, we have prompts and grading advice for you to use, as well as point-by-point guides to raising your score 2, 3, or 4 points. Finally, we’ll finish off by looking at a template for a 12-scoring essay.

If you’re new to the essay, you’ll want to start at the beginning with the overview of ACT Writing and possibly even try your first practice essay today with one of the prompts here.

On the other hand, if you already have some experience with the ACT Essay, you may want to start with the guide to improving your score, or even with the template for a high-scoring essay.

Just to make it easier on you, here are links to some of the exciting places in this post where you can start your journey to the perfect ACT Essay!

Table of Contents


The Least You Should Know About ACT Writing

Before you sit down with your quill and parchment, there are a few things that you definitely need to know about ACT Writing, even if you’re taking the exam tomorrow.

Harry’s super excited about getting a gazillion of these letters,
despite not knowing ANYTHING about what’s in them.
In my opinion, this is the least believable part of the story.

First of all, it’s the last section on the ACT (okay, that phrasing might be a little confusing). This means that after you show off your skills reading and interpreting passages, calculating the square root of x, correcting dangling modifiers, and proving your aptitude for Potions in the Science section, you’re going to sit down and write an essay, just to cap it all off.

The ACT Essay is not required; however, it’s a good idea to take it, for reasons we’ll look at a little later on. It’s important to realize this in any case, because you’ll need to register for the ACT with Writing to make sure you have the chance to take it on the official exam.

Once you’re facing the ACT Essay, what will you see? One prompt in your test booklet, which you’ll respond to on a provided answer sheet, in No. 2 pencil (no mechanical pencils here).

The essay is an exercise in both persuasion and analysis. Students are given three perspectives on an issue and asked to “evaluate and analyze” the three perspectives, “state and develop” their own perspective, and “explain the relationship” between their perspective and the given perspectives. They can choose to agree with one of the provided viewpoints or may come up with their own.

Timing for the ACT Essay

From the time you turn the page in your test booklet to the ACT Essay prompt, you’ll have exactly 40 minutes to write your essay. In this time, you’ll have a variety of tasks to accomplish: read the instructions, the prompt, the sample opinions (we’ll get to this a little later), brainstorm, outline and write your essay, and proofread it.

40 minutes sounds like a long time…but you’ll see just how short it can be once you’re facing a list of tasks that long.


How Is the ACT Essay Scored?

Unlike other sections on the ACT, the Essay is scored between 2 and 12, rather than between 1 and 36. Two graders will individually score students from 1-6 on the four domains: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. These scores will be added together between the two graders, and the final ACT essay score from 2-12 is an AVERAGE of all the domain scores. Students will still receive an ELA score, which combines the essay score with their score on the ACT English multiple-choice section.

ACT Writing Subscores

Your ACT Writing score is made up of 4 subscores, in Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. Each of two graders will give you a score from 1-6 in each domain (giving you the opportunity to obtain a total score from 2-12 in each domain). Your four scores are then averaged to give you an overall score from 2-12. Your score report will reveal each of your domain scores, so you will get to see how much of an impact your grammar had on your composite score versus your ideas. You’re going to get a fair amount of feedback on why your essay received the score it did.

Who Does the ACT Writing Scoring?

Professors McGonagall and Flitwick, of course! No, sorry. In all seriousness: teachers trying to make the big bucks during their copious free time; retired teachers who want another income stream/to help humanity; experts in test prep who don’t have conflicting interests…you get the idea.

What if One of the Graders Doesn’t Like Me?

Well, first of all, I think you mean, “What if one of them doesn’t like your essay?”, but I get it. We take critiques of our writing rather personally. However, the ACT has a safety net in place for such a situation. If the graders disagree on your essay by more than one point on any domain score, a third grader (don’t worry, not a third-grader) will be brought in to settle the dispute.

How Is My Essay Graded?

Since, as we’ve seen, the ACT Essay is not graded on how much your graders like you, how is it graded? Using this very specific ACT Essay rubric. Again, you’ll be scored from 1-6 in each of the four categories (Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions) by two graders, whose scores are then averaged.

Looking Around the Hogwarts Express: What Does my Score Mean Compared to Other Students’?

What is a good ACT Writing score?

Well. It’s hard to quantify exactly what a “good” score on the ACT Writing section is, just as it’s hard to quantify exactly what a good ACT score is, as many factors can influence what you consider “good.”

With that said.

One of the best ways to see how you well you’ve scored objectively is to look at your ACT Writing percentiles. Your percentile score describes the percentage of students who scored lower than you on the essay. For example, if you’re in the 99th percentile, congrats! You scored better than 99 out of every 100 students taking the exam.

We’ve compiled a table here of percentiles for ACT Writing. If you took the ACT when the essay was scored on the 1-36 scale (prior to fall 2016), you can see how that stacks up, as well.

ACT Essay Scores 2015-2016ACT Essay Scores Sept 2016 moving forwardScore Percentile

A quick note on decimals in percentiles: obviously, there is no such thing as .37 of a person (or if there was, I don’t think he/she/they would be taking the ACT). What this means is that you have to look at your score in a broader pool. For example, if you scored an 11 on ACT Writing, you scored better than 9,937 out of every 1,000 students taking the test.

Can You Be “The Chosen One”?

I know that a score of 12 = 100th percentile is confusing. You can’t score better than 100 out of every 100 students, right? You are one of those 100 students, after all.

All this means is that the decimal is so close to 1 that the ACT has rounded up. It’s likely that the actual situation is that those students scoring a 12 on the ACT Essay scored better than 9,999 out of every 10,000 students.

That alone should show you how tough it is to get a 12 on ACT Writing.

But can it be done? Well, someone has to be that 1 person in 10,000, right?

…or at least, one of them.

Why can’t it be you?

Let’s take a look at how you can get there, after we finish covering ACT Writing 101.

Ordering a Time-Turner: ACT Essay Rescores

Sometimes you’ll take a test, look at your score, and think “this can’t be right.” If this happens to you on the ACT Essay, you can request a rescore.

…and it’ll take us back to before our essays were graded!

ACT scores for essays are graded by two professional scorers. Both of them use the ACT’s official Writing Test Rubric. The rescore follows the exact same procedure, but with two new scorers. If the two new people who score your ACT Essay get a different score than the original examiners, your ACT score will be updated. If your score changes, the new scorers can choose to raise your score from the original score you received, or lower it. There’s also a chance that the new scoring session could get the same result a second time. In that case, your ACT Essay score won’t change.

How Do You Request an ACT Essay Rescore, and How Much Does It Cost?

To get your ACT Essay rescored, submit a request for a rescore in writing. Your request will need to include the following: your name, as it appeared on your ACT exam registration forms, the ID on your ACT registration account, and the month, day, year, and location of your exam. You’ll also need to include a check for $50 made out to ACT Student Services. All rescore requests must be sent no later than three months after you received your initial ACT scores.

Written requests should be mailed to:

    ACT Student Services
    P.O. Box 414
    Iowa City, IA 52243-0414

The ACT’s scoring team will notify you of any score changes within 3-5 weeks of the request.

Things to Consider Before Requesting a Rescore

Rescores are expensive and time-consuming. If you’re thinking of getting your ACT Essay rescored (or getting a rescore on the rest of the test), you want to be sure that it’s worth it. There’s a chance your score could go down. And if it does, the new, lower score will become your official score. Your score could also stay the same, which would mean you wasted $50 per rescore request.

Still, sometimes a rescore can help you, or at the very least can’t hurt. It’s best to do a rescore if your scores are just below the minimum requirement to get into school, or if you’re very confident that mistakes were made with your score the first time around.


Skills Tested in the ACT Writing Section

As we’ve seen, your essay will be scored in four different categories: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. But what does that mean for you in terms of preparation? After all, few (if any) of us have taken classes on “Ideas and Analysis.”

What Are the Goals of the ACT Essay?

We can infer the “goals” of the ACT Essay (or rather, the skills it’s asking you to demonstrate) from the four ACT Essay rubric categories we’ve already gone over. Ideas and Analysis means that the scorers are looking for you to demonstrate critical thinking at a reasonably high level; rather than just being able to understand a series of opinions, the ACT Writing section wants you to interpret them and come up with your own thesis.

The Development and Support aspect tells us that the ACT Essay is evaluating your ability to craft a whole argument, rather than just a thesis statement. Again, it’s testing your critical reasoning skills: can you determine, in a limited timeframe, what makes for convincing evidence for your argument? The Organization category indicates that the ACT is also testing how clearly you can present this information in a short essay, in a way that makes sense not just to you, but also to the reader.

Finally, you can look on Language Use and Conventions as ACT English in practice. How’s your vocabulary and grammar? Can you write in an efficient and readable way? How eloquent (to an extent) can you be?

Or, in other words, your ACT essay has four major goals:

  • Make judgments: the graders evaluate how well you understand the perspectives, and their implications, values and assumptions. Did you understand the question they presented to you? Did you pick a side? Did you understand the strengths and weaknesses of different perspectives on an issue?
  • Develop a position: the graders evaluate how well you supported the argument you made in your essay. Did you give clear facts and relevant details that really helped your argument be more persuasive? Did you vary the types of evidence you used? Did you show the graders that you know the difference between assertion (just saying something) and evidence (showing why that assertion is true)? The more specific you can be, the more you show the graders how well you understood the topic and its controversy, which helps out your ‘make judgments’ criterion as well.
  • Organization and focus: the graders evaluate how logically you present your ideas. Did you have a clear introduction, body, and conclusion? Are your body paragraphs ordered in a way that makes sense? Can the graders follow your train of thought clearly from beginning to end? Did you use transitions between and among your paragraphs to show the readers how they all link together? Did you stay on topic?
  • Communicate clearly: the graders also look at how well you express yourself, in accordance with the rules of Standard Written English, a.k.a. “School, Work, and Business English,” as far as you’re concerned. Did you vary your sentence structure so that some sentences are short and others are long? Is your word choice effective? How is your grammar? If there are errors, are they particularly distracting? Can the readers still get your point or can they not understand what you’re saying?

Why Do Colleges Care About the ACT Essay?

Admissions officers are interested in your ACT Essay scores precisely because they demonstrate, to a certain extent, your skills in the above areas. No matter what you end up majoring in, critical reasoning skills, as well as writing skills, will end up being important. While it can be difficult to judge these skills based on one 40-minute essay, the four categories of the rubric and corresponding scores give admissions officers at least some sense of your experience and skill in these areas.

Where’s That Ideas and Analysis Class Again?

I know it seems like your education might not have prepared you for the ACT Essay. However, you’d be surprised at how much you already know. Your English classes will have taught you a lot about all four categories, while essays you’ve written for History, Social Studies, and even Science classes will have helped you develop skills in the areas of Development and Support and Organization. All the better if you’ve taken a class on persuasive writing or speeches.

How to Study for the ACT Essay Without Studying

I mean…you should do some specific studying for the ACT Essay! But know that you’re already preparing for the essay in your everyday life, even if you don’t know it. Every time you listen to someone’s opinion and evaluate it, every time you respond with your own opinion, you’re using the exact critical reasoning skills that the ACT Writing section tests.

It doesn’t hurt if you’re on the debate team, either.


ACT vs SAT Essays

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to take the ACT at all, and take the SAT instead, comparing the two essays might help. While there are a lot of factors to take into consideration when making this decision, knowing the differences in the essays may just prove to be the tipping factor that helps you decide in favor of one test.

Both the ACT and the SAT each have one essay. The ACT gives you 40 minutes to write it, while the SAT gives you 50 minutes to write it. The essay is optional on both tests. Furthermore, the essay is always the last section on each exam (this hasn’t always been the case with the SAT, but it is now!).

So what is the difference between the two essays? Well, it’s the type of assignment you’ll get.

On the ACT, as we’ve seen, you’ll see three different opinions on a debatable topic; the essay prompt will ask you to evaluate them and come up with your own opinion.

On the other hand, the SAT gives you a rather long (650-700 word) passage to read, then asks you to evaluate how the author develops his or her argument. Unlike the ACT, you do not include your own opinion or arguments on the SAT Essay.

So how to choose?

If you’re good at coming up with an opinion and developing strong examples quickly, the ACT Essay’s the one for on you. But

if you’re better at analyzing other people’s writing (the kind of work you do for most literature essays, for example), the SAT’s the better way to go.

For a more info, here’s our undergrad test expert Kristin with some details!



Giving the Sorting Hat Options: Should I Take ACT Writing?

If you’ve decided to take the ACT: awesome! I get it, though—you have enough decisions to make without throwing one more on top of the pile!

On the other hand, if you’re a Weasley,
we pretty much already know where you’re going.

Still, you will have to decide whether or not to take the ACT with Writing.

While we don’t have Madame Trelawney’s crystal ball (which, let’s face it, was pretty useless for the most part), we DO have a way to help you decide whether or not to take the ACT Essay section or not: our very own, expertly written quiz!


“Should I Take the ACT Writing Test?” Test


The Final Word: Be a Gryffindor and Take a Risk


The final answer is, you should probably take the test.
The vast majority of colleges don’t require writing, but the majority of highly competitive colleges do, which means if you aren’t 100% sure where you want to apply yet (and most juniors taking the ACT are not), you might be limiting your options if you don’t take the optional essay.

If you can spare the fee and feel you can get a good score, a decent ACT Writing score opens a lot of doors to you. It certainly doesn’t hurt your odds of being accepted into any school, but of course, every test-taker has different needs and realistically there are some situations where taking the ACT Writing Test may not be practical.

But if you are very uncomfortable with writing or don’t plan to apply to schools that require the essay, well, there’s no need to put yourself through another 40 minutes of agony.

Here’s a slightly more detailed answer:



ACT Writing Prompts

So you’ve decided to continue with the ACT Essay. Great!

Or, you know, 12.

Let’s get into a little more detail. By now, you already know that you’re going to be evaluating three different perspectives on a debatable issue.

But what does that look like in practice?

Glad you asked! Here’s a Magoosh example of an ACT Essay prompt and stimulus.

ACT Essay Prompt: Censorship

Almost since human beings began sharing ideas, the issue of censorship (officially suppressing ideas or writing) has been debated. Proponents of censorship argue, for example, that offensive material might morally corrupt children or that governments have the right to protect their national secrets. Opponents argue that censorship infringes on individual freedom and hinders progress. Censorship has long been an issue regarding books and papers; now, it has become a critical issue concerning the great amount of information on the Internet. Given the continued impact of censorship on various aspects of our lives, it is an issue worth examining.

Read and carefully consider these perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the impact of censorship.

Perspective One

Selective censorship prevents children from being exposed to offensive material. It allows parents and caretakers to determine what material children are ready for and when they are ready based on their maturity level.

Perspective Two

Censorship intrudes upon freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Individuals have the right to learn about their world, both its positive and negative aspects, and express their ideas on it.

Perspective Three

Censorship should not be condoned because it places too much power in the hands of a few: no government or leadership system should be allowed to decide what information should reach the public.

Essay Task

Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on the impact of censorship on society. In your essay, be sure to:

  • analyze and evaluate the perspectives given
  • state and develop your own perspective on the issue
  • explain the relationship between your perspective and those given

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial agreement, or wholly different. Whatever the case, support your ideas with logical reasoning and detailed, persuasive examples.

…And that’s what an ACT Essay prompt looks like!

Want More ACT Essay Prompts?

You can find an official sample ACT writing prompt here, and you can find another ACT Writing practice prompt released by the ACT in the Preparing for the ACT guide here.


For Studious Ravenclaws: How Can You Grade Your Practice ACT Essay?


If you went the extra mile and used one of the above prompts for practice, fantastic! What now, though? What do you do with this beautiful practice ACT essay you’ve just written?

The first thing to do is to edit it, particularly if you wrote it under timed conditions (remember: ACT Essay time = 40 minutes). Without the constraints of time, you may see points you wish you’d developed, examples that could have been better, or even ways in which you could have improved your thesis statement.

However, if you’re going to improve significantly, it’s best to get a helping hand for editing. English teachers are a great resource; guidance counselors may also have enough familiarity with the ACT to help edit your essays. In most high schools, one teacher or staff member is usually the point person for standardized tests, and they’re a good place to start.

They can also be useful when it comes to grading your essay. Of course, you can and should use the rubric to grade your essay yourself; however, on the official ACT exam, you’ll have two graders—neither of whom will be as hard (or as easy) on you as, well, you are!

Once you’ve found your designated grader and/or editor, you can use Magoosh’s handy ACT Essay scoring tool to see what your current score would be.


ACT Writing Test Struggles: Be a Hufflepuff and Keep Going


After you’ve written a few practice essays (you can find even more prompts on full-length practice tests, which are a good idea to take regularly anyway!) and worked through scoring and edits with your designated ACT Writing expert, you may notice that you’re struggling in an area or two (or three, or four). That’s only natural—this is a new task for you, after all! And you may be relieved to find that several problems in particular crop up for students facing the ACT Writing test.

Where Most Students Struggle on the ACT Essay

In my experience, students struggle the most to:

  1. Pick an opinion to side with…
  2. …and to come up with creative examples to support it.

Notice that these are the first two categories of that good ol’ rubric, “Ideas and Analysis” and “Development and Support.” There are strategies you can use to work on your organization and language usage (and we’ll look at those in a little bit), but a lot of students just don’t trust their own ideas.

Choosing a Side

To help you with #1, Magoosh’s ACT expert David Recine did a little digging. Okay, a lot of digging. He called the ACT. Here’s what he found out:

There is a weird apparent contradiction between the ACT Essay requirements in the official ACT Essay score guide, and the requirements that appear in the ACT Essay examples on the official ACT website.

Remember how the ACT Essay prompt presents an issue and three opinions on the issue? Well, in the instructions for the sample ACT Essay prompt on the ACT website, it says you need to “analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective.” Therein lies the contradiction. The official ACT Essay score guide emphasizes the importance of analyzing “multiple perspectives.”

So which is it? To find out, I contacted ACT customer service. The representative I spoke with said that the online essay prompt mentions “at least one perspective” because you need to analyze at least one of the three perspectives to have a chance at a score of more than 2. She then informed me that you need to analyze two or three of the given perspectives to have any chance at a score of 10 or higher. From there, ACT Customer service emphasized that including all three perspectives gives you the best possible chance at the full 12 points.

The customer service rep’s argument in favor of analyzing all three perspectives is supported in The Official ACT Prep Guide. Interestingly, the ACT Prep Guide’s prompts do not indicate that one perspective may be enough. Unlike the essay prompt on the ACT website, the writing instructions in the ACT OG tell you “evaluate multiple perspectives” and “evaluate perspectives given.”

So, if you want the best possible score (and who doesn’t?), you should include all three given perspectives — along with your own — in the new ACT Essay.

So that’s definitely something to keep in mind when you’re shaping your thesis statement.

Here’s some more food for thought, particularly if you’re aiming for that perfect 12. Choose the option to provide your own perspective on the ACT essay, but only switch it up slightly.
Now, this is tricky. You can get a perfect score simply by completely agreeing with one of the three presented perspectives, and for the vast majority of students, this is the best course of action to make sure you don’t go completely off track and end up hurting your score. However, if you consider yourself to be a very strong writer, you might be able to truly impress by adding your own twist on the prompt. In most cases, the easiest way to do this is to narrow the scope of one of the perspectives. For example, if you look at sample essay #5 on, you’ll see that the graders applauded the student for evaluating the perspectives through the “lens of a particular ideology”: capitalism:

Studying for a standardized test can be like navigating the Amazon River by yourself. It’s possible to do it on your own—but at some point, you’re probably really going to wish that you had a guide. Lucky for you, finding an ACT study guide online is (slightly) easier than going down the Amazon! While finding the right ACT test study guide may seem overwhelming, given all the material that’s out there, we have the perfect resources to help you navigate those muddy waters of ACT prep! So let’s start our journey by taking a look at Magoosh’s ACT prep study guide and what you can expect to find in it.

Table of Contents

The Magoosh ACT Study Guide eBook

Why do you need a guide to the ACT? In the first place, it can be intimidating to approach a 3+ hour exam without having a sense of what’s on it. In the second place, gathering together strategies and refreshing your knowledge of content will give you the best chance of reaching your goals for the test.

But with so much material out there, what should you look for in a good ACT study guide? The best ACT test study guides will:

  • Provide you with a clear overview of the exam, explaining what you’ll encounter on test day;
  • Explain how to use the test’s logistics (scheduling, timing, format) to your advantage;
  • Introduce you to the material (content) the ACT tests, before giving you an in-depth look at the different sub-content areas the exam may ask about;
  • Teach you strategies you can use, both in each section and on the test as a whole, to get your highest possible score.

If that seems like a tall order, good news! You can find all this and more in our ACT eBook.

And best of all? It’s free!

What makes the Magoosh ACT Test Study Guide so special? Other than all the awesomeness I’ve already listed above: the study guide is comprehensive; it’s great for students at all levels, aiming for all kinds of scores; and, more than anything, it’s fun!

So what are you waiting for? Download the Magoosh ACT Study Guide now, and let’s go through how you can make the most of our expert advice with ACT test study guide schedules, calendars, checkpoints, and summaries, ensuring that you get the maximum benefit possible out of the study guide!

ACT Test Study Guide Schedules

So, what next?

Go ahead and skim through the eBook if you haven’t already. Spend a minute or two orienting yourself with the Table of Contents and take note of the format, resources, and key concepts we’ve included.

Using the Magoosh ACT Study Guide

It can be tempting to try to get through it all in one go. If your test is tomorrow, go for it—you have nothing to lose! But if you have a little more time for your ACT prep, know that smarts and strategy will win this race. Even with the best study guide, it still can be hard to know the best way to approach your prep.

With that in mind, we’ve created a One Month Calendar to show you how to get the most out of your ACT exam study guide!

For full instructions on materials and each day's activities, visit Magoosh's One-Month Study Schedule!
1Study Day 1: Intro & Math
(1 hr) ACT structure, timing & strategies
(1 hr) Review ACT Math test concepts
(15 mins) Review math formulas list
= Total: 2 hrs 15 mins
Study Day 2: English and Science
(1 hr) English video lessons
(20 mins) English practice questions
(15-30 mins) Start error log
(35 mins) Science video lessons
(35 mins) 40 Science questions
(15-30 mins) Update error log
= Total: 3 hrs - 3 hrs 30 mins
Study Day 3: Reading, Science, and Essay
(30 mins) Video Reading lessons
(35 mins) 40 Reading questions
(15-30 mins) Update error log
(35 mins) Science practice questions
(15-30 mins) Update error log
(1 hr) Writing lesson videos and practice
= Total: 3 hrs 10 mins - 3 hrs 40 mins
Practice Test
2Review Practice TestStudy Day 1: Math
(30-60 mins) Math video lessons
(25 mins) 25 Math questions
(15-30 mins) Update error log
(40 mins) Math practice questions
(15-30 mins) Update error log
= Total: 2 hrs 5 mins - 3 hrs 5 mins
Study Day 2: Science and English
(30 mins) Review Science topics
(25 mins) Science video lessons
(30 mins) Science practice questions
(15-30 mins) Update error log
(35 mins) English video lessons
(30 mins) 45 English questions
(15-30 mins) Update error log
= Total: 3 hrs - 3 hrs 30 mins
Study Day 3: Reading and Essay
(35 mins) Reading lesson videos
(30 mins) Reading practice questions
(15 - 30 mins) Update error log
Optional: (45 mins) Reading questions
(30 mins) Writing lesson videos
(40 mins) Practice essay
= Total: 2 hrs 30 mins - 3 hrs 30 mins
Practice Test
3Review Practice TestStudy Day 1: Science
(25 mins) Science lesson videos
(35 mins) Science test
(15-30 mins) Update error log
(35 mins) Science test
(15-30 mins) Update error log
= Total: 2 hrs 5 mins - 2 hrs 35 mins
Study Day 2: Math
(30-60 mins) Math lesson videos
(60 mins) Math practice test
(15-30 mins) Update error log
(60 mins) Math test
(15-30 mins) Update error log
= Total: 3 hrs - 4 hrs
Study Day 3: Reading
(25 mins) Reading video lessons
(35 mins) Reading test
(15-30 mins) Update error log
(35 mins) Reading test
(15-30 mins) Update error log
= Total: 2 hrs 5 mins - 2 hrs 35 mins
Practice Test
4Review Practice TestStudy Day 1: English
(60 mins) English lesson videos
(30 mins) 40-50 English questions
(15-30 mins) Update error log
Optional: (45 mins) English test
(15-30 mins) Update error log

= Total: 1 hr 45 mins - 3hrs 15 mins
Study Day 2: Science and Math
(25 mins) Science lesson videos
(35 mins) 30-40 Science questions
(15-30 mins) Update error log
(35 mins) 40 Science questions
(15-30 mins) Update error log
(35 mins) 40 Math questions
(15-30 mins) Update error log
= Total: 3 hrs 20 mins - 3 hrs 35 mins
Study Day 3: Final Review
(1 hr) Review error log and make "cheat sheet"
(30 mins) Review ACT Tips for Test Day and pack your bag
Relax and go to bed early!
= Total: 1 hr 30 mins
ACT Test Date!

If you want a printable copy of this calendar, download the One Month Study Calendar PDF.

Making Progress with the ACT Exam Study Guide

As you study for the ACT exam, and work through all those ACT prep questions, you may find that you’re struggling to measure your progress. Should you amp up your practice before the big exam, or are you on track to get your dream score?

Take a look at our Weekly Checkpoints for the One Month Study Schedule to follow your progress and ensure that you’re on the right track.

To use the checkpoints, simply copy the following information into a notebook at the end of each week, after you’ve taken an ACT practice test. Or, if you prefer, you can print the PDF version of the checkpoints and track your progress directly on that paper. If you’re going the printer route, make sure to print four copies so you have one for each week of the ACT Study Guide!

My test score for this week was______. This was + / - ____ points from my last practice test.

Question Type  Correct AnswersIncorrect AnswersTotal QuestionsAccuracy (Correct/Total)This week, I'll work on...
English (overall)
English: Usage and Mechanics (overall)
English: Usage and Mechanics: Grammar and Usage
English: Usage and Mechanics: Punctuation
English: Usage and Mechanics: Sentence Structure
English: Rhetorical Skills (overall)
English: Rhetorical Skills: Strategy
English: Rhetorical Skills: Organization
English: Rhetorical Skills: Style
Math (overall)
Math: Pre-Algebra
Math: Elementary Algebra
Math: Intermediate Algebra
Math: Coordinate Geometry
Math: Plane Geometry
Math: Basic Trigonometry
Reading (overall)
Reading: Detail
Reading: Main Idea
Reading: Comparative Relationships
Reading: Cause-Effect Relationships and Sequence of Events
Reading: Inferences/Generalizations
Reading: Meanings of Words
Reading: Author's Voice, Method, or Purpose
Science (overall)
Science: Detail
Science: Pattern
Science: Inference
Science: Scientific Method
Science: Compare and Contrast

If you want a printable copy of these checkpoints, download the Weekly Checkpoints PDF.

Adapting the Study Guide for the ACT to Your Schedule

It’s important to note that you don’t have to use the Magoosh Study Guide for ACT in just one month. Some students find that they want to devote more time to their ACT studies. That’s great! What counts as efficient ACT prep can vary from person to person.

Keep in mind that, combined with the resources we mention in the ACT Study Guide 2016-2017, you can adapt the above calendar to suit your own schedule. You can also find advice for One Week, Two Month, and Three MonthACT Study Schedules right here on the Magoosh High School Blog!

Next up, let’s look at study guides for each ACT test.

ACT English Study Guide

What’s the first thing you’re going to see when you open that test booklet on the official exam? Well, after all the administrative stuff, you’ll see the ACT English test. Here’s what it will look like and how to get the most out of the ACT English Study Guide!

The Format of the ACT English Test

The ACT English test is 45 minutes long and, as we’ve seen, the first section of the ACT. Within that time frame, you’ll answer 75 multiple-choice questions—that’s more than one a minute!

With that kind of time pressure, you’re not going to want to waste precious seconds figuring out what a question’s testing you on. With that in mind, let’s take a look at…

What to Study for ACT English

As you work through the ACT Study Guide, you’ll see that the 75 English questions fall into only a few categories. To make your ACT English practice easier, let’s divide them into two categories and six subcategories:

  • Usage/Mechanics
    • Grammar and Usage
    • Punctuation
    • Sentence Structure
  • Rhetorical Skills
    • Strategy
    • Organization
    • Style

Suggested Resources for ACT English Practice

Within the Magoosh ACT Study Guide, you’ll find the English section covered from pages 57-103. If you’re still craving ACT English practice, check out more resources on the Magoosh ACT English page!

It’s also important to note that ACT testmakers published the Real ACT Prep Guide (4th Edition), also known as the “Red Book.” And while this book does have its flaws, the fact that it’s written by the official testmaker makes it a valuable resource. The same can be said for the free practice you can find on the ACT website.

ACT Math Study Guide

After the ACT English test, you’re going to have to switch gears pretty quickly, because here comes ACT Math! While the math test covers a variety of topics, don’t let it make you nervous. With the right preparation, you can get enough ACT math practice under your belt to feel nothing but confidence on test day.

The Format of the ACT Math Test

The second test (section) of the ACT, the ACT Math test throws 60 questions at you and gives you 60 minutes to answer them. While that’s more time per question than the ACT English test gave you, most students will still feel the time crunch. You can use a calculator on the exam, but make sure it’s an approved one!

And what will you be looking at during that hour?

What to Study for ACT Math

On the surface, ACT Math only covers six concept areas. However, each of those areas (Pre-Algebra, Elementary Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, Coordinate Geometry, Plane Geometry, and Basic Trigonometry) could take an entire semester to master.

So, more specifically, what will you see on the ACT Math test?

  • Pre-Algebra: decimals, fractions, integers, positive and negative numbers, square roots, scientific notation, factors, ratios, proportions, percents, charts and graphs of statistics
  • Elementary Algebra: exponents, evaluating algebraic expressions through substitution, using variables to express relationships, algebraic operations, and factoring quadratic equations
  • Intermediate Algebra: quadratic formula, rational and radical expressions, absolute value equations and inequalities, sequences and series, systems of equations, quadratic inequalities, functions, matrices, roots of polynomials, probability, and complex numbers
  • Coordinate Geometry: evaluating points and lines on a graph, polynomials, circles and other curves, graphing inequalities, slope, parallel and perpendicular lines, distance, midpoints, and conics
  • Plane Geometry: angles and relationships among perpendicular and parallel lines, properties of circles, ellipses, rectangles, triangles, parallelograms, trapezoids, transformations, area, volume, three-dimensional geometry
  • Basic Trigonometry: trigonometric relations in right angles, values and properties of trig functions, graphing trig functions, using trig identities, solving trig equations


Suggested Resources for ACT Math Practice

First of all, you’ll find ACT Math in the Magoosh ACT Study Guide on pages 104-202. (I know it looks like a lot, but trust me—it’s fun, and it’s a great way to cover alllll those topics we just looked at.) For more practice and tips for the math test, you can also check out Magoosh’s ACT Math page.

Finally, it’s really important to keep in mind that, unlike the SAT exam, the ACT does not provide students with any math formulas. With that in mind, we created this Math Formulas on the ACT PDF for you to use as a handy-dandy study guide (just be sure to wean yourself off of it well before the test)!

ACT Reading Study Guide

Hold onto your hats, because we’re rapidly switching gears again: this time, from Math to Reading. I know, it would be awesome if all the English, Reading, and Writing were together and the Math and Science were back-to-back…sigh. That’s not the case. Enough dreaming! Let’s look at the reality.

The Format of the ACT Reading Test

The time pressure here seems to be a little lighter than on English test—at first. Yes, there are only 40 questions to answer in 35 minutes, but keep in mind that those 40 questions are about 4 passages, which can be lengthy and take some time to read.

What to Study for ACT Reading

As you start your ACT Reading practice, you’ll soon realize that the genres of the passages that you’ll see (fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science) are less important than the types of questions that accompany those passages. So what are those question types?

  • Detail: questions that ask you to find a detail in the text.
  • Main Idea: questions that ask you to determine the primary message of a paragraph, section or entire passage.
  • Comparative Relationships: questions that ask you to compare two or more people, viewpoints, events or theories.
  • Cause-Effect Relationships and Sequence of Events: questions that ask you to determine what caused something else or what is the effect of something in the passage.
  • Inferences/Generalizations: questions that require you to synthesize information and boil it down to a more concise form.
  • Meanings of Words: questions that ask you to determine the meaning of a word in context.
  • Author’s Voice, Method, or Purpose: questions that ask you to draw conclusions about the author’s point of view and method; basically how a passage is developed or its purpose.

While that might not seem like a lot, it can take a lot of Reading practice to determine exactly how to identify which types of question you’re working on and how to answer it. But don’t worry! Because we can offer…

Suggested Resources for ACT Reading Practice

To learn more about Magoosh ACT Study Guide for Reading, scroll on over to pages 204-220 of the eBook Study Guide. You can find more practice in the Magoosh ACT Reading blog posts, as well as in the “Red Book” and on the ACT website.

What is the best thing you can do, outside of practicing and practice testing? Read on your own time! Read for fun, read for information, read for a higher test score—as long as you’re reading, you’re helping your ACT Reading score.

ACT Science Study Guide

Our fourth and last (required) test on the ACT is, yes, ACT Science. As you practice and work your way through the Magoosh ACT Study Guide for Science, remember that the Science test is all about reasoning. While familiarity with basic science terms is necessary, you don’t need to have a Nobel Prize (or AP test) under your belt to ace this section!

The Format of the ACT Science Test

Like ACT Reading, the ACT Science test will give you 40 questions to answer in 35 minutes—that’s just under than one minute per question. Unlike ACT Reading, you’re going to get a lot of different passages: expect to find 6 to 7 in ACT Science.

The good news is that these passages are shorter and more visual than Reading passages (think lots of charts and graphs). So, there’s definitely a big distinction between the science-based ACT Reading passage and the reading passages in the ACT Science test.

What to Study for ACT Science

Don’t spend your time boning up on tiny details from advanced physics courses (at least, not for the purposes of the ACT). Instead, work on interpreting charts and graphs, reading science articles for non-specialists, and practicing ACT-specific materials. That way, you’ll be able to recognize and master the following question types:

  • Detail: questions that ask you to find a specific data point on a graph, table, diagram, etc. and report the answer.
  • Pattern: questions that ask you to predict a trend or relationship among the given data, generally by finding a point between existing data points or continuing to follow a trend beyond existing data.
  • Inference: questions that ask you to draw conclusions from the data, sometimes combining information from multiple figures or experiments, and sometimes evaluating how new information would affect the experiment.
  • Scientific Method: questions that ask about how experiments are designed, or how experimenters test and interpret data.
  • Compare and Contrast: questions that only appear on the “Conflicting Viewpoints” passage and ask you to compare various aspects of opposing hypotheses on a scientific phenomenon, or explain how additional information might affect the various arguments presented.

Suggested Resources for ACT Science Practice

To put those question types in context, take a look at some ACT Science practice passages! To find Magoosh’s Science Study Guide, turn on over to pages 221-244. The Magoosh blog is also a great place to find tips and tricks for the ACT Science test. The “Red Book” is also strong in this area.

ACT Writing Study Guide (Essay)

A quick note: The ACT essay is optional, but some colleges require it for admission. So check the admissions requirements of the schools you’re applying to. And, if you don’t yet know where you’re applying, it’s a good idea to sign up for the essay.

A lot of students balk at preparing for the ACT Writing test (otherwise known as “the essay”). These students often get stellar grades in their English classes, so you’d think they’d embrace this section. Instead, they think that their great English class essays will translate to a great ACT essay score.

This is not necessarily true! It’s really important to remember that the ACT Essay is unique. What gets you high grades on your essays for school may not get earn high scores on the ACT.

So what will? Let’s take a look at the format of the test first, then see how you can use that format to get your best score on the ACT Writing test.

The Format of the ACT Essay

The ACT Writing test provides you with a prompt and gives you 40 minutes to write an essay response. The prompt consists of a debatable topic and three different perspectives on that topic. ACT asks you to evaluate those perspectives, provide your own, and explain the relationship between your opinion and those provided.

What to Study for ACT Writing

If writing English class essays doesn’t prepare you for the ACT Writing test, then what does?

Though your prep for this section will necessarily be different than your preparation for the others, there are a few specific skills that can help you score well:

  • 5-Paragraph Essays, particularly how to structure them;
  • Choosing Examples—and then using them well;
  • Brainstorming and related note-taking;
  • Proofreading, particularly proofreading your own work.

Suggested Resources for ACT Writing Practice

These might seem like difficult concepts to practice, and they can certainly be tricky to grasp at first if you’re working on your own. Lucky for you, we’re here to help! For more info on ACT Writing, check out pages 244 to 257 of the eBook and Magoosh’s ACT Writing posts.

ACT Prep Study Guide Resources

Want more ACT prep resources to add to the hundreds of pages of strategies and practice in the Magoosh ACT eBook, and the thousands of posts from our experts on the High School Blog?

If you’re looking to flesh out different aspects of your own personal ACT Test Study Guide, then you probably do. We’ve got you covered:

  • ACT Practice Test: Free Online PDF
    • This full-length ACT practice test contains over 200 of Magoosh ACT’s best practice questions. Use it as your practice test during any week of the Magoosh One Month Study Guide, then watch the free Explanation Videos for all the questions you missed. It’s the perfect way to learn from your mistakes and increase your score!



  • Magoosh ACT Mobile Apps
    • I can’t recommend our free ACT apps highly enough! Both the Magoosh ACT Flashcard App and Magoosh ACT Lessons App are available for Android and iPhone. They’re perfect for studying on the go.


  • ACT Prep Book Reviews 2016-17
    • If you’re thinking about getting an ACT prep book, don’t miss our evaluation of the best ACT books currently on the market. It’ll help you save time and money!



And don’t forget about Magoosh ACT Prep! See if it’s right for you by signing up for our seven-day free trial (no credit card info needed).

A Final Word

In the end, learning how to study for ACT comes down to learning the test format, the scoring system, and how to practice—and then practicing, practicing, practicing!

Do your best to regularly evaluate your work, make sure your practice is consistent, and stay strong. The fact that you’re this invested in your ACT success is a great sign that you’ll do well.

Good luck, ACT test-takers!

About Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!

Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *