The ACT has just revealed the format for its new Writing section. Beginning next school year, both the ACT and SAT will be undergoing major overhauls. For the ACT, most of the change will happen in the Writing section, which tests your ability to write a short essay at the end of the exam.

Even with the changes, the ACT essay will still be OPTIONAL. The ACT does not require that you take the Writing section. However, most colleges will want to see an essay score if you take the ACT, so be sure to check with the schools you plan to apply to.

 What will the new Writing section look like?

The ACT Writing section will still focus on a specific, controversial modern-day issue—for example, the role of cellphones in our lives or the importance of art and music in education. You will still need to express your own opinion and explain why you feel that way.

There will be one new element to the prompt. The new Writing section will provide students with three short excerpts (1­–3 sentences) from people expressing different perspectives on the issue. Students will need to evaluate these perspectives by talking about their strengths, weaknesses, or biases. Students will also need to compare their own opinion with these viewpoints.

How will it be scored?

As with the current exam, students will receive a total essay score from 2 to 36 points. In addition, the Writing section will remain separate from the ACT Composite Score. On your score report, colleges will see your Writing score (out of 36) and see a combined English/Language Arts Score that combines the English, Reading, and Writing sections (out of 36).

A change to make note of: you will also receive subscores for the Writing section that evaluate the following elements of your essay. You can use this feedback to improve on your next ACT.

  • Ideas and Analysis: ability to think critically about the topic and the material in the prompt
  • Development and Support: ability to explain your viewpoint and provide evidence in the essay
  • Organization: ability to structure the essay logically
  • Language: ability to use proper grammar, word choice, and rhetorical devices

When will it change?

The new ACT essay will go into effect in fall 2015.

How does this change affect me?

If you are currently a junior and want to avoid taking the new essay, plan to take the ACT at least twice this school year.

If you are a sophomore or freshman, you will have to take the new ACT essay if you decide to take the ACT. But fear not! Stay tuned for more tips on how to tackle this new Writing section and adjust your strategies.

For more on which test to take see ArborBridge’s Recommended Timeline for the New ACT and SAT.