Welcome to Piqosity’s guide to the 2021-22 ACT writing practice test! Below are sample essays that illustrate how to (and how not to) answer the previously released 2021-22 ACT prompt, as found in the Writing section of the previously released 2021-2022 ACT exam (from “Preparing for the ACT Test” (form 2176CPRE)). 

The full PDF of the previously 2021-22 ACT is available FREE from the ACT for download. The ACT Writing portion explained below begins on page 52.

You can find additional Piqosity guides with answer explanations for the previously released 2021-22 ACT Practice Test in this series of articles:

When you’re finished reviewing the 2021-22 ACT Writing Practice Test PDF and guide, keep practicing for the ACT with Piqosity! We provide 10 additional full-length practice ACT tests, 70+ lessons and tutorials, personalized practice, and more! 

The 2021-22 ACT Writing Prompt & Sample Essays

2021-22 ACT Writing Practice Test Sample Essays

Remember that you have only 40 minutes to familiarize yourself with the prompt, plan your essay, and write it out. It is recommended that you take no more than 10 minutes to plan your essay, so that you have the rest of the time to write and review it. The test booklet includes blank pages for you to use when planning your essay. These blank pages are not scored; only the lined pages on which you write your essay will be scored.

Well-Written Essay Sample 

First, let’s look at a sample essay which would likely receive the highest possible score (a 6 in all categories, which results in a final ACT Writing score of 12). A top-scoring essay will align with the following ACT scoring rubric descriptions:

Many schools implement both academic and behavioral standards as prerequisites for joining an extracurricular activity. While this practice ensures that the students in a club remain accountable for their grades and behavior, it leaves out students who are unable to do so – particularly students who struggle with their grades. Students who struggle with their grades could still benefit from extracurricular activities, whereas students with unsatisfactory behavior would disrupt the activity and poorly represent the school. There should be behavioral standards for students that permit them to take part in extracurricular activities; however, academic excellence should not be a barrier between students and their participation in these activities.

By withholding enriching opportunities from struggling students who don’t otherwise impede the experience of other students, schools actively inhibit their growth as individuals. Extracurricular programs, teams, and clubs are spaces where students can form relationships with other students, build skills that they wouldn’t have the capacity to otherwise, and develop responsibility, teamwork, and leadership – all skills that can enrich their future social lives, academic experiences, and employment opportunities. They also provide an avenue for students to develop their individuality; students must take generally the same courses during their K-12 years and often don’t have a voice in choosing those classes, so offering a way for students to decide their own path helps them develop their own agency. Naturally, many students have certain academic weaknesses; for example, while a student may thrive in History and English classes, they may struggle to grasp the concepts of Math or Physics, no matter how hard they try and how many hours of studying they pour into it. Thus, they may be unable to reach the academic standards for extracurriculars. To bar these students from thoroughly beneficial extracurricular activities is unnecessarily harmful, especially since unsatisfactory grades have no negative consequences for the activities themselves.

By contrast, if school programs are open to students who disrupt the school environment, this would harm the success of the activity (such as distracted or irresponsible participants) and a negative representation of the school in off-campus events. Since it is very likely that disruptive students would behave similarly in a program outside of school hours, implementing behavioral standards for students and specifying that only students with good conduct are permitted to participate in extracurricular activities would improve student and school life. Encouraging excellent conduct by opening extracurricular activities to only well-behaved students also encourages the student body to improve their behavior as a whole – if a certain student has poor conduct of their own accord and wishes to join the debate club, for instance, they may work to improve their conduct in order to join the club.

It is true that many students have behavioral issues at school due to circumstances outside of their control, such as issues at home or with their mental health. These students deserve the support of their school; however, allowing them to participate in extracurricular activities can disrupt and hinder the experiences of other participants and the success of the club. Alternatively, academic shortcomings have no effect on the club’s success nor the experience of other students. Some may argue that it is unfair to hold club participants to a higher standard than other students who are not interested in participating in extracurricular activities. But participation in extracurriculars is a privilege, and the disadvantages students with poor conduct are likely to bring to club activities and events justify a stricter standard of conduct that helps to protect this privilege.

Extracurricular activities should be open to students that have good conduct, regardless of their grades. Holding students to a standard of excellent conduct in order to participate in these activities encourages the whole student body to improve their conduct and insulates the clubs from disruptive students, while including academically struggling students allows them to experience the many benefits of extracurricular activities and encourages their growth outside of the classroom.

Well-Written Sample Essay Score Explanation

Let’s look at how this essay aligns with the rubric descriptions for a score of 6 in each domain. Text in quotes comes from the rubric; italicized text comes from the student’s essay.

Ideas and Analysis

“The writer generates an argument that critically engages with multiple perspectives on the given issue. The argument’s thesis reflects nuance and precision in thought and purpose.”

The author’s thesis is easily located at the end of the first paragraph: There should be behavioral standards for students that permit them to take part in extracurricular activities; however, academic excellence should not be a barrier between students and their participation in these activities. This thesisand the introductory paragraph on the whole actively engages with the three perspectives laid out in the prompt, clearly states the central argument, and incorporates nuance by distinguishing between academic and behavioral standards. 

“The argument establishes and employs an insightful context for analysis of the issue and its perspectives. The analysis examines implications, complexities and tensions, and/or underlying values and assumptions.”

The essay has a core idea that extracurricular activities are very beneficial (paragraph 2) and supports this idea with examples of how extracurriculars can enhance a student’s experience. It goes on to evaluate the potential reasons (bad behavior, poor academic behavior) for barring students from these experiences in light of which reasons have the potential to disrupt extracurricular activities for all involved.

The writer supports the main idea further by evaluating counterarguments (paragraph 4). They address the idea that while both bad behavior and bad scholastic performance may be caused by issues outside of a student’s control, only bad behavior has the potential to disrupt extracurricular activities for others. The author clarifies that students with behavioral issues “deserve the support of their school” but not at the expense of other students’ experiences. 

Finally, the writer cinches their argument that participation in extracurricular activities should be open to all students, regardless of academic standing, by highlighting the importance of giving academically struggling students the opportunity to be well-rounded in an environment that is not disrupted by behavioral issues.  

Development and Support

“Development of ideas and support for claims deepen insight and broaden context. An integrated line of skillful reasoning and illustration effectively conveys the significance of the argument. Qualifications and complications enrich and bolster ideas and analysis.”

One of the essay’s core ideas is that extracurricular activities are beneficial, and the author supports this idea by developing reasons why they are important: “Extracurricular programs, teams, and clubs are spaces where students can [develop] skills that can enrich their future social lives, academic experiences, and employment opportunities… They also provide an avenue for students to develop their individuality…

The author also uses clear, intermittent examples of students engaging with school and extracurriculars to convey the real-life uses of their ideas: “…if a certain student has poor conduct of their own accord and wishes to join the debate club, for instance, they may work to improve their conduct in order to join the club. And, “…for example, while a student may thrive in History and English classes, they may be unable to grasp the concepts of Math or Physics, no matter how hard they try…”

Finally, the author draws a firm distinction between how academic issues and behavior issues might affect the success of students participating in extracurricular activities. They state that “unsatisfactory grades don’t impact the activities…” but that “it is very likely that disruptive students would behave similarly in a program outside of school hours.”

Organization

“The response exhibits a skillful organizational strategy. The response is unified by a controlling idea or purpose, and a logical progression of ideas increases the effectiveness of the writer’s argument.”

The writer uses a five-paragraph essay structure, utilizing the first body paragraph to discuss academic standards, the second to discuss behavior standards, and the third to discuss counterarguments.

The arguments logically build upon one another as the author develops support for their thesis, namely; extracurricular activities are important and should be available to all students who may benefit from them; implementing academic standards creates unnecessary barriers to well-behaved students who would become more well-rounded while participating in these programs; implementing behavioral standards protects said students from disruptive behavior and supports the continued success of the programs themselves. These ideas are then bolstered as the author refutes counterarguments.

“Transitions between and within paragraphs strengthen the relationships among ideas.”

By beginning with the phrase, “By contrast,” the topic sentence of the third paragraph simultaneously establishes a relationship between the ideas discussed in the second and third paragraph and while making it clear that the latter issue will differ in some way to the former. And this is, in fact, what occurs; the second paragraph concludes by stating that academic issues have “no negative consequences” for extracurricular activities, while the third paragraph begins by stating that behavioral issues “would harm the success of the activity…”

The author also uses transitions within their paragraphs to help clarify their ideas, such as the use of “For example” in paragraph two to illustrate a point via a list of examples, and “Alternatively” in paragraph 4 to present a counter argument.   

Language Use

“The use of language enhances the argument. Word choice is skillful and precise. Sentence structures are consistently varied and clear. Stylistic and register choices, including voice and tone, are strategic and effective.”

There are no significant language or grammar problems. The author uses a wide range of vocabulary (enriching, withholding, unsatisfactory) and precise language. Throughout, the student also uses appropriate academic language and a formal tone. Sentence length varies; a wide variety of punctuation is used correctly. All of this indicates a strong command of written English.

Mediocre Essay Sample 

Now, let’s look at a sample essay which would likely receive middling scores (a 3 in all categories, which results in a final ACT Writing score of 6). A mid-scoring essay will align with the following ACT scoring rubric descriptions:

Extracurricular activities should be open to all students who want to do them because it is fair to everyone and it is unfair to keep students from doing it, no matter what your point of view is. Banning any students that don’t have the best conduct or grades from them would make school unbearable for them and it wouldn’t help them do any better in school. Plus schools would lose a lot of opportunities that good student athletes or actors would give them by limiting who could be in these programs.

Some people have a lot of trouble focusing when they’re in school because of problems outside of school or because they are being taught things that won’t matter in their lives. Trouble focusing leads to bad grades and bad conduct. If they couldn’t participate in extracurricular activities, school would become a terrible place for them. Think of all the times an athlete helped there school team win a game, or student musicians who finally learned to play that difficult note. These students don’t have bad grades or conduct on purpose so they are punished for things out of their control.

Extracurricular activities help students become who they want to be in life. They let kids try new things, and find what they like. For example someone may be interested in sports and try out for soccer. Next thing you know, they go to college on a soccer scholarship and get on a really good team after college! Or there’s a student who’s always liked movies and plays who tries out for the drama club. Turns out, they become an A-list celebrity and actor in tons of hit movies! Even if students don’t end up becoming what they do as an extracurricular activity, it’ll still help them in the future. Like a student on the debate team can become a lawyer, or someone in band keeps playing their instrument for the rest of their life.

Limiting the number of students who can do extracurricular activities won’t only make the lives of students more miserable, but it would hurt the school. Schools can get a lot of money for really good sports teams or other clubs. And think about how much people like the schools that a bunch of famous athletes, successful writers, or CEOs came from. They may have been students on the basketball team, book club, or business club. Schools get prestige from these kinds of graduates, which make them more successful schools.

The solution is to make school itself a better place for students. Stop punishing students for misbehaving and doing bad in class. Give longer time between classes and for lunch so that they can relax and get energized for class. And continue offering extracurricular activities so that the students can have better lives and the school can have more success.

Mediocre Sample Essay Score Explanation

Let’s look at how this essay aligns with the rubric descriptions for a score of 3 in each domain. Text in quotes comes from the rubric; italicized text comes from the student’s essay.

Ideas and Analysis

“The writer generates an argument that responds to multiple perspectives on the given issue. The argument’s thesis reflects some clarity in thought and purpose.”

The student’s thesis seems to be Extracurricular activities should be open to all students who want to do them because it is fair to everyone and it is unfair to keep students from doing it, no matter what your point of view is. This thesis acknowledges the presence of multiple perspectives and is clear, but it dismisses perspectives it does not share without providing a counterargument.

“The argument establishes a limited or tangential context for analysis of the issue and its perspectives. Analysis is simplistic or somewhat unclear.”

There are a few claims in the body of this essay without adequate support, such as If they couldn’t participate in extracurricular activities, school would become a terrible place for them. Why would school become a terrible place? The conclusion consists of clear solutions to this problem, without a clear explanation of the problem: Stop punishing students for misbehaving and doing bad in class. Give longer time between classes and for lunch so that they can relax and get energized for class. And continue offering extracurricular activities…

The student doesn’t engage with perspectives other than their own past the thesis, and the essay doesn’t present nor refute the reason students may be barred from extracurriculars based on academic or behavioral status.

Development and Support

“Development of ideas and support for claims are mostly relevant but are overly general or simplistic. Reasoning and illustration largely clarify the argument but may be somewhat repetitious or imprecise.”

Throughout the essay, the student gives many examples to illustrate their point; though, they are somewhat repetitive: Think of all the times an athlete helped there school team win a game, or student musicians who finally learned to play that difficult note… For example someone may be interested in sports and try out for soccer. Next thing you know, they go to college on a soccer scholarship and get on a really good team after college!… And think about how much people like the schools that a bunch of famous athletes, successful writers, or CEOs came from.

The examples do illustrate their ideas well to the reader, but their repetitiveness and simplicity weakens the argument. For example, see the second sentence in paragraph 4: Schools can get a lot of money for really good sports teams or other clubs. And think about how much people like the schools that a bunch of famous athletes, successful writers, or CEOs came from. There is no explanation of how schools “get a lot of money” for this. Naturally, the student isn’t expected to understand the intricacies of something like this, but, since they plan on using it as a supporting idea in their argument, they should understand the basics to strengthen their argument.

Organization

“The response exhibits a basic organizational structure. The response largely coheres, with most ideas logically grouped.”

The student organized their essay into a traditional five-paragraph structure, with each paragraph having a generally clear purpose. However, each paragraph seems to stand alone.  They do not build upon each other to create a convincing argument, nor do they present counter arguments. 

“Transitions between and within paragraphs sometimes clarify the relationships among ideas.”

A few paragraphs are straightforward enough with their ideas that a clear transition isn’t integral to the flow of the essay. For example, the second paragraph’s end discusses the joys of extracurriculars that students may miss out on and the third paragraph begins with the clear benefits of extracurriculars, which are two overlapping ideas. A clearer transition, however, would have been beneficial between the third and fourth paragraphs, which jump from the idea of how limiting extracurriculars hurts students to the idea of how schools need extracurriculars to boost funding.

Language Use

“The use of language is basic and only somewhat clear. Word choice is general and occasionally imprecise. Sentence structures are usually clear but show little variety.”

The author uses a limited vocabulary, with language that could be more refined and precise. For example, Schools can get a lot of money could be made more precise into “Schools can receive more funding” or a similar phrase, conveying how/why schools can “get a lot of money” or who/where it is from.

Sentence structure is clear, but generally the same throughout. Many sentences start with “like”, “for example”, “plus”, or a coordinating conjunction before proceeding to list an argument or example. The lack of variation between sentences loses the reader’s attention and creates monotony in the writing.

“Stylistic and register choices, including voice and tone, are not always appropriate for the rhetorical purpose. Distracting errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics may be present.”

The author’s language choices are overly colloquial and should be presented more formally, with an academic tone. For example the sentence, “Next thing you know, they go to college on a soccer scholarship and get on a really good team after college!” would be more appropriate as: Participation on a school soccer team could open doors and create opportunities, from an academic scholarship to college to a career in athletics, personal training, coaching, and beyond.” 

Some of the more language choices come across as hyperbolic, as they are presented without sufficient evidence and may even be perceived by a reader as contrasting with the primarily casual tone. Limiting the number of students who can do extracurricular activities won’t only make the lives of students more miserable or Banning any students that don’t have the best conduct or grades from them would make school unbearable for them… are two places in which a very strong adjective is used to describe how school makes students feel without sufficient reasoning to warrant this word use.

There are spelling and grammar errors throughout, as well.

  • Think of all the times an athlete helped there school team win a game…
    • “There” in place of the correct “their”
  • These students don’t have bad grades or conduct on purpose so they are punished for things out of their control.
    • Missing comma after “purpose” before the coordinating conjunction “so”
  • They let kids try new things, and find what they like
    • Extra comma after “things” before the coordinating conjunction – “find what they like” is a dependent clause so no comma is required
  • For example someone may be interested in sports and try out for soccer.
    • Missing comma after the introductory phrase “For example”

Get More ACT Writing Practice Test Help with Piqosity! 

Need more ACT writing practice test help? For writing tips in particular, check out our ACT writing tips; for general tips, check out our ACT strategies guide and our overview of how to improve your ACT score. But keep in mind that one of the best ways to improve your ACT score is to practice! And one of the best ways to practice is to take practice tests. 

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