The ACT recently released new details about the upcoming changes to the ACT Writing Test. These changes are scheduled to take effect in fall 2015, and the ACT is marketing these revisions as an enhancement. So, what exactly is changing?
According to Steve Kapple, Interim Vice President of the ACT, “While the current ACT Writing Test is an exercise in classic persuasion, the enhanced Writing Test will present students with a rhetorical purpose that is more broadly argumentative.”
The current version of the ACT Writing Test requires students to evaluate and respond to an issue. After reading two different perspectives on a given issue, students are expected to take a clearly defined position on the issue. In their response, students may write about their own opinion on the issue or about one of the two perspectives on the issue provided in the essay prompt.
On the Enhanced ACT Writing Test, Kapple writes, “Each prompt will present a paragraph that introduces and gives context to a given issue, and three perspectives on the issue. The writer is asked to ‘evaluate and analyze’ the given perspectives; to ‘state and develop’ his or her own perspective; and to ‘explain the relationship’ between his or her perspective and those given.”
The biggest change, then, is that students will now be expected to more fully articulate and support their own perspective while explaining that perspective’s relationship with competing or contradictory perspectives. This means that rather than only having to outline and support a single perspective, students must present their perspective within the larger context of the arguments surrounding it. Additionally, in order to score well, students must generate essays that specifically meet the three criteria mentioned above; namely, student responses must evaluate the positions of others, state and support their own position, and then explain the relationship of their position to the other provided positions.
The Enhanced ACT Writing Test will also provide parents, students, and educators with more detailed feedback on a student’s ability to write at a college level by providing students with writing competency “domain” scores. From the ACT website, these domain scores are described as follows:
- Ideas and Analysis – Scores in this category represent a student’s ability to comprehend the rhetorical situation; generate productive ideas in response; think critically about the task; evaluate and analyze multiple perspectives; and employ effective rhetorical strategies.
- Development and Support – Scores in this category reflect a student’s ability to illustrate, explain, and substantiate claims and ideas. Strong writers discuss and explore their ideas, making clear their pertinence by way of detailed, persuasive examples and sound reasoning. They bolster their claims by marshaling evidentiary support, drawing form their knowledge and relevant experience.
- Organization – Scores in this category indicate a student’s ability to structure an argument logically, sequence ideas strategically, and organize writing clearly.
- Language Use and Conventions – Scores in this category denote a student’s ability to use standard written English in service of a persuasive purpose. Competent writers demonstrate control over the conventions of grammar, syntax, word usage, and mechanics. Stronger writers make effective rhetorical choices in voice and tone, and express nuanced ideas by way of precise word choice.
The ACT Writing Test will remain optional, but most competitive schools will still require, or at the very least strongly recommend, students complete and submit Writing Test scores.
While the ACT has done a good job of avoiding radical and precipitous change a la the SAT, there will inevitably be additional changes to the exam over the next few years. Be sure to regularly visit College Compass to stay current on any changes to the ACT or SAT! And keep in mind that the ACT & SAT test experts at Test Masters are available year round for all your test preparation needs.