our everyday life

How to Write a Good Essay for the Compass Testing

by Soheila Battaglia, studioD

The ACT Compass is a computer-based test that evaluates your skill levels in various subjects. Students' exam scores are used to determine the appropriate college courses into which they will be placed. The essay portion of the exam -- also called the e-Write -- allows students 60 minutes to plan and write an essay in response to a specific prompt. Students' scores convey whether they possess sufficient writing skills to succeed in an entry-level composition course. To write a strong essay, plan before you write and include plenty of support in the essay.


The first step to writing a good ACT Compass essay is to read the prompt carefully before you write. This exam's essay prompt generally presents a community or school problem about which students must take a position, often in the form of a letter to an authority figure. For example a prompt may ask you to choose whether it is more beneficial for a school board to lengthen school days or to offer elective courses in the summer. Since the actual prompt tends to be a paragraph long, underline key words as you read to make certain you thoroughly understand what the prompt is asking.


Part of your essay score is based on the structure and organization of the essay. Therefore, once you have understood the prompt, decide what specific position you will be taking. This main idea should be summed up in a single sentence that clearly communicates your argument to the reader. Then you should create an outline, or basic plan, for the body paragraphs of the essay. This will save you time in the long-run and will help to avoid repetition and off-topic ideas. The outline should include the main argument, as well as the reasons and specific examples that support the main idea.


The ACT Compass essay is essentially an argumentative essay. This means that you must take a clear position on an issue and provide thoughtful analysis, explanation and evidence for your claim. The ACT website advises students that your score will be lowered if your essay is "not supporting that position with reasons and evidence, not developing the argument, or not expressing those ideas using clear, effective language." Develop your analysis by showing multiple ways that your claim is the best one, including both short-term and long-term benefits of your proposal.


Careless mistakes can be avoided with proper time management. Give yourself time at the end of writing the essay to read over the material and correct mistakes in grammar, spelling and punctuation. This will clarify your writing and help communicate your ideas more effectively. In addition to proofreading for grammar, the review stage is a good place to revise the text by improving the organization and content of the essay. Make certain your essay provides explanation and at least one specific example for each body paragraph. Also, make certain that every body paragraph directly supports the overall point of the essay.

About the Author

Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.

Photo Credits

  • Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images