Tips for Taking the Writing Essay Test (e-Write)

Pace yourself

Colleges and universities can set up varying test administration times for ACT Compass e-Write; this includes setting up e-Write as an untimed test. However, the standard e-Write test setting gives you 60 minutes to read and think about the issue in the prompt, and to plan and write your essay. You should feel free to ask testing center staff how much time you will be allowed at your school and plan your writing time accordingly.

When asked to write an essay, most writers find it useful to do some planning before they start writing, and to do a final check of the essay when it is finished. It is unlikely that you will have time to draft and fully revise your essay. Therefore, taking a few minutes to plan your essay before you begin writing is a good strategy.

Plan before you write

Some writers like to plunge right in, but this is seldom a good way to do well on an essay writing task. Planning and prewriting gets you thinking about the issue, suggests patterns for presenting your thoughts, and allows you to come up with ideas for introducing and concluding your essay. Before writing, carefully read the prompt and make sure you understand it—reread it if you aren't sure. Decide how you want to answer the question in the prompt.

If you choose to do some prewriting, ask testing center staff if you may use paper they provide to organize your thoughts. This prewriting might simply be a list of ideas, reasons, and examples that you will use to explain your point of view. Write down what you think others might say in opposition to your point of view and think about how you would respond to their arguments. Think of how best to organize the ideas you are going to present in your essay. You can refer back to these notes as you write the essay on the computer.

Please note that because COMPASS e-Write is a secure test, testing center staff will need to collect any notes you've made after you have completed testing.


Once you're ready to write your essay on the computer, proceed with the confidence that you have planned your writing. At the beginning of your essay, make sure readers see that you understand the issue. Explain your point of view in a clear and logical way. If possible, discuss the issue in a broader context. Address what others might say to refute your point of view and present a counterargument. Use specific examples. Vary the structure of your sentences, and use varied and precise word choices. Make logical relationships clear by using transitional words and phrases. Do not wander off the topic. End with a strong conclusion that summarizes or reinforces your position.

Your essay will be evaluated according to how well you:

  • Formulate a clear and focused position on the issue defined in the prompt
  • Support that position with reasons and evidence appropriate to the position taken and the concerns of the reader/audience
  • Develop the argument in a coherent and logical manner
  • Express ideas using clear, effective language

Students often ask whether it is a good idea to organize the essay by using a formula, like "the five-paragraph essay." Points are neither awarded nor deducted for following familiar formulas, so feel free to use one or not as you prefer. Some writers find formulas too limiting, while other writers find them to be useful.

At the end of the writing prompt, there is a suggestion that you write a multi-paragraph response of about 300–600 words. It's important to note that this suggestion is included to encourage you to write a fully formed response, rather than simply writing one or two sentences. However, the exact numbers of words and paragraphs in your essay are less important than the clarity and development of your ideas. Writers who have something to say usually find that their ideas have a way of sorting themselves out at a reasonable length and in the right number of paragraphs.

As you write, remember that you have been asked to write a letter to a specific person or group who is looking for feedback regarding a specific issue. Your response is being written to persuade a person or group, so it's important that your essay be focused on your readers and their concerns. Begin your letter with an introduction; end your letter with a conclusion that summarizes the points you've made. Make sure that the audience understands your position at both the beginning and the end of your essay.

Review your essay

Take a few minutes before submitting your essay to read it over. Correct any mistakes in grammar, usage, punctuation, and spelling. Within the time available, try to make your essay as clear, as focused, and as polished as you can.

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