The ACT essay follows the same structure and theme in each exam. What you must do on each essay is evaluate multiple – usually three – perspectives surrounding a single issue that is normally involved with affecting many people, the country, or the world as a whole (e.g. how machines affect the human work force, the argument between individual freedoms and public health, etc.). After evaluation, you must take your own stance on the issue and relate it to one of the given perspectives while backing up your claim with evidence from the prompt. This requires the writer to outline the essay in a clear format beforehand and then put that plan into action with adept writing and organization skills. ACT, Inc. provides directions as to how they will grade your essay in the form of four categories: “clearly state your own perspective on the issue and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective, develop and support your ides with reasoning and examples, organize your ideas clearly and logically, and communicate your ideas effectively in standard written English.”
Ideas and Analysis
This is the main body of what your work will be on the ACT essay in which you choose a perspective on the given issue and stick with it. Your stance will be the backbone of your essay, the meat that the graders will bite into, and the thesis when you want to get to the point. None of this is possible if you don’t clearly state your perspective and add your own ideas, thoughts, and focus to it. Simply picking one of the prompt opinions is perfectly fine, but if you want to pretty much ensure you will make the grade you will need to stand out. On top of that, just defending your side isn’t enough. A proper argument requires showing the pros and cons to all sides of an issue and evaluating how true or false each viewpoint is. You have to really analyze the meaning behind each perspective, breaking them down to their core concepts. Much of this can be done by comparing and contrasting the opposing perspectives with your own, weighing the good parts of each and the bad parts of each against one another. However, you must make it obvious which side you are arguing for. Muddying the waters by being too harsh on your side or being too favorable to another side will only confuse the reader.
Development and Support
No idea is credible without evidence or explanation. The same is certainly true for your essay. Never neglect developing your argument organically with evidence and examples. These can only help to illustrate your point! Logical comparisons help a whole bunch, too. By this, I mean that you should take multiple arguments and critically compare their merits and faults. Solely relying on feelings, opinions, and empathetic factors will get you somewhere, but will not hold up to scrutiny. If you can’t explain an argument with some form of logic – whether it be evidence, precedent, or reasonable cause and effect – then you should not include said argument. Bringing up something that cannot be supported by fact or reason just makes your point hazier.
Without organizing your essay, it will be a messy heap of thoughts and words. Before you even think of starting, brainstorm your argument in relation to the other perspectives and outline the progression of your viewpoint and explanations. This can be done by making a quick chart or list on some scratch paper. A good format, as stated earlier, is an introduction, three body paragraphs (typically with each one focusing on one of the three perspectives, comparing them with your own), and a conclusion. This seems pretty basic and obvious, and it is, but that is because this is a tried and true method of logically and naturally developing an essay. The introduction will, obviously, introduce the essay and contain your thesis that states your point of view clearly and concisely, setting up that it is the most correct stance, in your opinion. From there, you should start laying out the good and bad parts of each of the other perspectives in successive paragraphs while using your own perspective to dismantle them. These paragraphs don’t need to be in any particular order – save for the one closest to your own, which will be last – but must follow a consistent style, flow, and viewpoint. Transitions that properly and swiftly cause a nice flow between sentences and paragraphs is icing on the cake and helps immensely. Being able to follow someone’s thought process works wonders when analyzing an argument and just makes for easier reading.
Adept use of language, grammar, and punctuation will also make things much easier and more fun for the reader. In addition, using skillful and precise word choices, proper use of advanced and varied vocabulary, having a non-repetitive and clear sentence structure, and stylizing your voice and tone will enhance your argument exponentially. Nothing makes someone want to agree with your perspective quite like making them enjoy what you’re saying. That’s what charisma is, after all. However, you can be as charismatic as you want and still ruin what you’re working so hard for by using incorrect grammar and punctuation. Make sure to go over what you’ve written down! You don’t have an editor, so you’ll have to make do with your own skills, meaning that practice will always help with writing an essay. You can also weaken your essay by being too fancy. Fanciful wording and sentence structure might sound very appealing – in fact, I argued for them not but a few sentences ago! – but it is much better to be clear than flowery. Unless you’re an expert writer, you’ll want to stick with more straight forward prose because what might sound nice and fun to you will only be perplexing to someone else.
While the essay portion of the ACT might be widely utilized or sought after by most schools, it can still be an important and impressive factor when applying for college. In order to do well on the essay, you have to know what to expect: the structure, the types of arguments, the grading rubric, and keeping a strong and consistent stance. The only thing you cannot anticipate is the topic that will be presented. Nevertheless, if you have taken these tips to heart – and perhaps even sought out a tutor – you will have no trouble putting thought to pencil to paper and striking awe in the minds of readers.
Some Useful Tools
Now that you know how the ACT essay should be written, you can take action and prepare for it! Here is a good resource for practicing grammar and punctuation at Khan Academy. The ACT website has some example essays written for a single prompt, each having different scores. This is great as you can see what constitutes a bad essay, an alright essay, and a great essay. Go ahead, compare these samples and internalize the scoring rubric!