Cart 0

Changes to ACT Writing

ACT Writing Changes

The ACT Writing Section is changing this Fall, starting with the September 12th, 2015 administration.  Unlike the coming changes to the SAT, which have been extensively covered in the media, this new ACT change is a bit of a surprise.  

Why is it changing?

The Common Core Curriculum, which has been adopted by the majority of U.S. states, calls for new writing standards.  The ACT prides itself in alignment with Common Core Standards.

Colleges consistently complain that high school graduate's writing is neither complex enough nor academic enough.  The ACT wants to remain a relevant tool to help college admissions officers avoid pulling their hair out.



How is it changing?

A spokesperson for the ACT says that the changes to the Writing section "allow students to more fully demonstrate their analytical writing ability."  

The new Writing assignments will have:

  • More Complex Prompts
  • Assignments that are Less Specific and More Open-Ended
  • New Scoring Guidelines

Longer, More-Complex Prompts

Thus far, the ACT has released only one sample prompt, so we must make all of our conclusions based on this prompt:

Intelligent Machines

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.


This prompt is quite different from the old style of prompt.  There is no specific assignment.

  • The prompt first presents a General Statement that automation is replacing human labor.  
  • It then gives us specific examples supporting this statement.  
  • It then asks a Core Question: "what is lost when we replace humans with machines?"
  • Finally it gives us an Abstract Assignment:  "it is worth examining the implications and meaning of their presence in our lives."

After the prompt, the ACT then presents three Points of View.

Perspective One 

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 Two 

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 Three 

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.

  • Perspective One tells us that automation is bad.  Culture is lost.
  • Perspective Two tells us that automation is good because it is efficient.
  • Perspective Three tells us that automation is good because it pushes the boundaries of human possibility.

Less Specific, More Open-Ended Assignments

After bombarding us with this dense prompt the ACT gives us some instructions.

Essay Task

Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on the increasing presence of intelligent machines. 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.

This will most likely be similar on all Writing Sections.

Students will have to pick their own perspective, write about each of the presented perspectives, and discuss how their perspective relates to the given perspectives.

Then, the ACT gives us even more.

Planning Your Essay

Your work on these prewriting pages will not be scored. 

Use the space below and on the back cover to generate ideas and plan your essay. You may wish to consider the following as you think critically about the task:

Strengths and weaknesses of the three given perspectives

  • What insights do they offer, and what do they fail to consider?
  • Why might they be persuasive to others, or why might they fail to persuade?

Your own knowledge experience and values

  • What is your perspective on this issue, and what are its strengths and weaknesses?
  • How will you support your perspective in your essay?

New Scoring Guidelines

This chart discusses the new criteria:

Old ACT Writing, Score of 6 

New ACT Skill Name

Enhanced ACT Writingadds...

The essay takes a position on the issue and may offer a critical context for discussion. The essay addresses complexity by examining different perspectives on the issue, or by evaluating the implications and/or complications of the issue, or by fully responding to counterarguments to the writer's position.

Generate ideas (Judgment, Analysis, Narration and Reflection)

> multiple perspectives

> articulate insight/depth of understanding

> situated perspectives (context)

Development of ideas is ample, specific, and logical. Most ideas are fully elaborated.

Develop Ideas (Develop a Position, Support an Explanation, Give an Account)

> appeals to emotion/feeling

> identify and explore relevant underlying assumptions, ideas, or values

> arrive at insight/deeper understanding through thoughtful consideration

A clear focus on the specific issue in the prompt is maintained.

Sustain ideas (Focus)

> Nothing New

The organization of the essay is clear: the organization may be somewhat predictable or it may grow from the writer's purpose.  Ideas are logically sequenced. Most transitions reflect the writer's logic and are usually integrated into the essay. The introduction and conclusion are effective, clear, and well developed.

Organize ideas (Organization)

> Sequence narrative elements effectively

The essay shows a good command of language. Sentences are varied and word choice is varied and precise. There are few, if any, errors to distract the reader.

Communicate Ideas (Language Use)

> Use appropriate voice and tone

> Use narrative techniques

> Use descriptive vocabulary

This is what the ACT has to say about these enhancements.

The new Writing test is obviously much more complex than the old one, but the ACT is also giving students 40-minutes, instead of 30 as on the old Writing test.

Colleges are aware of the coming changes and will probably not weight the writing scores as heavily on the first few administrations of the test.

As always, here at Tried & True Tutoring, we will keep you updated about coming SAT & ACT changes, and of course provide private tutoring and classes for SAT Prep and ACT Prep.