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Language Analysis Essay Tips For Act

Whether you've never thought about ACT Writing strategies or have worked hard on the ACT essay, you can benefit from knowing more: about the essay itself, and what really matters when the graders are reading your essay. In this article, we offer a number of ACT Writing tips as well as a foolproof template for putting them into practice.

 

ACT Essay Tips

The ACT essay is a very short assignment - you only get 40 minutes to write a full-fledged essay - and it can pass in a flash if you don't have a method for attacking it. It requires a very specific approach that's unlike the essays you've been writing for English class.

The goal of this strategy is to cram in as many as possible of the desired components in the 40 minutes you've got. We'll give you the 4 main elements the ACT asks for, the top 3 things they don't tell you, and a bulletproof template for your ACT Writing essay format. Here we go!

 

What ACT, Inc. Does Tell You: 4 Elements to Remember

ACT, Inc. explains the main components of the successful ACT Essay in its scoring criteria. Here they are, condensed and explained:


1) Ideas & Analysis: A 12-scoring essay includes "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 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."

In other words, answer the question that's in the prompt, make it very, very clear what YOUR perspective is and analyze how your perspective relates to at least one of the three given perspectives. This domain is the hardest to master; it's tough to do everything you need to do well at all, much less in 40 minutes. The main point is that you want to show that you understand as many sides of the issue as possible. You do this by discussing those sides of the issue, why people might have those opinions, and whether those opinions are logical or not.

It's fine to copy the exact words from the prompt into your thesis statement—in fact, this guarantees that the graders will see that your thesis is there and on topic. You must, however, make it obvious which side you are arguing for. If you can, it's great to put the argument in terms of a larger debate—we'll discuss that later.

 

2) Development & Support: In a 12-scoring essay, "[d]evelopment 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."

This is another area that can be hard for students to grasp. The bottom line is that you need to fully explain every point you make. If you don't have time to explain it in 2-4 sentences, leave it out (unless it's the only way you can get in a comparison of your perspective with one of the three perspectives). You can do this by explaining your thinking and reasoning or using specific examples to illustrate your points.

 

3) Organization: A 12-scoring essay "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. Transitions between and within paragraphs strengthen the relationships among ideas."

In short, you need to give each idea 1-2 paragraphs. If a logical organization for your points occurs to you (for example, if Point 1 depends on Point 2, you'd put Point 2 first), use it. If not, just list your points, allotting a paragraph for each one. A transition that reflects your logic just means tying one point to another somehow, and this is ideal. The ACT essay scoring system won't penalize you too heavily for a "First, Second, Third" type of organization, so if you just say "My first reason…," "Secondly…," that's better than no transitions. The intro and conclusion should make the same general points, and if you have a larger context mentioned in the intro, mention it again in the conclusion. Simple as that.

 

4) Language Use: A 12-scoring essay uses language in a way that "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. While a few minor errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics may be present, they do not impede understanding."

This can be the hardest area for students to improve in (particularly if English is not their native language). "Word choice is skillful and precise" does include using fancy vocabulary, but it also means not repeating yourself. Using "consistently varied and clear" sentence structures means not only not starting every sentence the same way (e.g. "Machines are helpful to humans. Machines can also cause problems. Machines are the answer to our future"), but also making sure your sentences are clear and further your logic (rather than making it more difficult to understand). It's better to be clear than to be fancy.

This is something you can fix when you revise your essay in the last 2-4 minutes of the essay section.

 

What ACT, Inc. Doesn't Tell You: 3 Secrets

Even though the ACT essay has some clear published guidelines, there are a few secrets that most students don't know and that can give you a major advantage on the test.

These are facts that ACT, Inc. doesn't want to be too well-known because it helps us develop ACT Writing strategies that may give us an edge over people who haven't prepared.

 

1) You Don't Need to Know the Facts

You can make up whatever information you need to support your point. Really. As with the tip above, if you know the real facts, that's great (since the grader will probably know them too), but it's not required.

This might sound crazy. You could write about how Germany won World War II, and the ACT graders are not allowed to penalize you. Why is this?

ACT, Inc. doesn't have the resources to do fact-checking on every single essay. With over a million students taking the test every year, graders only have a few minutes to put a score of 1-6 to each of the 4 essay scoring domains. They can't check whether Martin Luther King was born in 1929 or 1925.

Thus, ACT essay scoring uses a simpler rule--all statements are taken as truth. The important point is that the evidence needs to support your thesis.

(Of course, ACT, Inc. doesn't want people to know about this - that would make the ACT essay sound silly.)

If you're short on examples to prove a point, make up something realistic-sounding (you can even pretend a newspaper or politician said something they didn't), and slap it in there. It's much better than trying to write a vague paragraph without concrete evidence.

 

2) You Should Write More Than a Page

This is one of the most important ACT Writing tips. There is a strong relationship between essay length and score - the longer your essay, the better your score. In a short essay, it's difficult for you to develop your points well enough to earn a decent score.

Really, you should write a page and a half if at all possible. Although ACT, Inc. never explicitly mentions that length matters in ACT essay scoring, it does. And if you can write more than a page and a half without repeating yourself or digressing from your point, you'll be in really good shape.

 

3) Your First Paragraph and Conclusion Matter More Than the Middle

The introduction and conclusion are the "bookends" of the essay: they hold it together and are guaranteed to be read more closely than the rest of the essay.

 

ACT graders have to read a lot of essays very quickly, and they give most of them a 3 or a 4 in each domain. The fastest way for them to score an essay is to find the thesis (to make sure that it's there, that it answers the prompt, and that the rest of the essay supports it) and then skim the first and last paragraphs.

Here's why: if a student's introduction and conclusion paragraphs are well-written and logical, it's likely the rest of the essay will be too. By reading these parts, the grader can usually tell with confidence what the score will be. They'll scan the middle to make sure it makes sense, but they probably won't read every word as closely.

On the other hand, if you don't have time to write an introduction or conclusion, you will be heavily penalized. It'll be hard to score above an 8 without an introduction and conclusion, particularly if you don't make your thesis, or point of view, clear in the first paragraph. This might be the most important ACT essay tip we can give you.

A strong ACT writing strategy includes preparing enough time to write and revise your introduction and conclusion paragraphs, as we explain below.

 

Key Strategy: How to Write A Successful ACT Essay in 40 Minutes

Because you only have 40 minutes to write the ACT essay, you need to have a game plan before you start the test. Here's a step by step guide on how to write an effective ACT essay.

 

Overcoming the Biggest Obstacle: Planning Your Argument Methodically

One of the things that students often find hardest about the essay is quickly thinking of support for the thesis. But it can be done in a simple, methodical way, which we explain below. Let's start with a sample prompt.

 

Intelligent Machines

Many of the goods and services we depend on daily are now supplied by intelligent, automated machines rather than human beings. Robots build cars and other goods on assembly lines, where once there were human workers. Many of our phone conversations are now conducted not with people but with sophisticated technologies. We can now buy goods at a variety of stores without the help of a human cashier. Automation is generally seen as a sign of progress, but what is lost when we replace humans with machines? Given the accelerating variety and prevalence of intelligent machines, it is worth examining the implications and meaning of their presence in our lives.

Read and carefully consider these perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the increasing presence of intelligent machines.

 

Perspective One: What we lose with the replacement of people by machines is some part of our own humanity. Even our mundane daily encounters no longer require from us basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for other people.

Perspective Two: Machines are good at low-skill, repetitive jobs, and at high-speed, extremely precise jobs. In both cases they work better than humans.  This efficiency leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone.

Perspective Three: Intelligent machines challenge our long-standing ideas about what humans are or can be. This is good because it pushes both humans and machines toward new, unimagined possibilities.

 

Essay Task

Write a unified, coherent essay about the increasing presence of intelligent machines. In your essay, be sure to:

  • 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 ideas with reasoning and examples
  • organize your ideas clearly and logically
  • communicate your ideas effectively in standard written English

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial agreement, or wholly different.

 

Wall-e & Eve (Perler) by Morgan, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

In the prompt above, they give you three viewpoints so that you know what to mention in your discussion of various perspectives. But you'll need to elaborate on these as well. Let's look at the viewpoints this prompt gives us.

  • Conservative: "Intelligent machines lead to problems, which is bad."
  • Utilitarian: "Intelligent machines allow us to be more efficient, which is good."
  • Progressive: "Intelligent machines lead to progress, which is good."

Supporting each viewpoint is a slew of possible reasons, and these are what you want to lay out clearly in your essay. You can, of course, choose any side of the argument, but one is usually easier to argue than the other (because it is opposite the other two perspectives).

For this prompt, it's easier to argue against intelligent machines than to argue for their efficiency or progress, so we'll look at potential support for the "conservative" argument, which is that "Intelligent machines lead to problems."

To argue against any change, we can point out its assumptions and how they are false, or its consequences and how they are bad:

Assumptions:
  • it assumes that machines lead to progress [assumption made by perspective 3]
  • it assumes that machines allow us to be more efficient [assumption made by perspective 2]
  • it assumes that the benefits machines give to us outweigh the negatives
Consequences:
  • it could lead to progress in some areas, but also to new problems caused by that progress
  • it could let us be more efficient in some ways, but end up creating more
  • it would hurt us more than it would help because people would end up becoming less courteous and respectful to and tolerant of other people [perspective 1]

This method works for any argument. If you find yourself supporting the proposal in the prompt, say (to use a real ACT example) that a right to avoid health risks is a more important freedom than the right to do whatever you want, then you just need to think of ways it would be positive. That can be much simpler. But you can still use the assumptions-and-consequences method above for the paragraph in which you address at least one other perspective.

 

The Golden Essay Template

This is a tried and true structure for earning a great score on the ACT essay. Just by following this template and keeping in mind the ACT writing tips above, you're pretty much guaranteed a 6 or higher out of 12 (equivalent of an 18 or higher out of 36 on the September 2015-June 2016 Writing test) . Do a decent job and you'll easily get an 8 or higher. Here are a few real ACT prompts to keep in mind as we go through the steps:

  • Intelligent machines: they're not good, they're good and practical, or they're good and lead to progress.
  • Public health and individual freedom: freedom is more important than physical health, society should strive for the greatest good for the most people, or the right to avoid health risks is more important than individual freedom.

 

 

Planning

Time: 8-10 minutes

  1. Decide on your thesis, choosing one of the three sides. You can try to form your own, fourth perspective, but since you have to compare your perspective with at least one of the perspectives given you might as well argue for one of them and save some time for writing.   
  2. Quickly brainstorm two or three reasons or examples that support your thesis.
  3. Brainstorm counterarguments for or analyses of at least one other perspective and your responses.
  4. Organize your essay. Make sure you order your points in a way that makes sense.
  5. Check your time. Try to have 30 minutes left at this point so you have enough time to write. If you don't, just keep in mind that you might have to cut out one of your supporting points.

 

Writing

Time: 25-28 minutes

1. Paragraph 1: Introduction & Thesis

A) Write your introduction. If you can think of an interesting first sentence that brings your thesis into a larger discussion (say, of how intelligent machines have changed the way people interact with each other), start with that.

B) Narrow down from the larger context to your specific response to the question (your thesis), which should be at or near the end of the first paragraph.

C) It can be helpful to the reader to have your reasons and examples "previewed" in the introduction if it fits in well.

 

2. Paragraph 2: Transitions & Opposing Perspective.

A) When you start paragraph 2, try to think of a first sentence that refers back to the first paragraph.

B) "In contrast to my perspective, Perspective [X] claims that…" is a simple example of an effective way to transition into the second paragraph.

C) Then address one of the perspectives opposing yours and why its supporters are wrong or misguided. In the example about intelligent machines above (where we've chosen to argue Perspective 1), you could argue against perspective 2 OR 3 in this paragraph.

 

3. Body Paragraphs (those remaining before the conclusion):

A) Introduce your first reason or example in support of the perspective you'll be discussing.

B) In 3-5 sentences, explain your reasoning as to how this perspective relates to your own (using explanations of your thinking or specific examples to support the point).

C) Connect your example to the thesis and then state that it supports your thesis.

D) Check your time. Try to have 7 minutes left by this point.

 

4. Conclusion

AA)    (Optional) Relate your two or three examples back to your thesis. Add one or two sentences if you want.

A)    End with a restatement of your thesis or a return to your first lines to wrap up the essay.

 

Revising

Time: 2-4 minutes

Hopefully, you still have 2-4 minutes to read over your essay. In this time, you can do several things.

A) You can, of course, correct mistakes.

B) You can replace dull words with fancier words.

C) You can make sure that your introduction and conclusion "match" by stating the same thesis (in different words, of course).

 

Notice the two bolded time-checking steps. It's very easy to get caught in the planning stage and run out of time on your actual essay, which is easy to avoid if you practice checking your time.

If you have to make a choice between explaining a perspective or writing a conclusion paragraph, always choose the explanation. You can get by with a short sentence for a conclusion, and you can make a strong essay with a clear thesis in your introduction, but if you leave out the analysis of the relationship between your perspective and one of the ACT's perspectives in your essay, you'll lose a lot of points.

 

Now What?

Now you practice. Print out the template above, consult our ACT Essay Prompts Article (or think of any controversial issue in the world today), and get to work. You may find that many issues can be argued using the same reasoning or examples.

For instance, the argument that the benefits of the changes happening in the world don't necessarily outweigh the problems they create can apply to many of the new ACT prompts. You can research concrete information to support this kind of useful argument, like a newspaper article about how the Industrial Revolution led to increased environmental destruction.

 

Downtown by .shyam., used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Cropped from original.

More like Industrial Re-POLL-ution, am I right?

 

Remember: the more you practice, the easier it gets, as you learn how to reuse information to suit different purposes and your brain becomes used to thinking in this way.

 

What's Next?

Read more about the new ACT Writing Test and how to score a perfect score on your ACT essay.

Want more in-depth guides? Check out my step-by-step guide to writing top-scoring ACT essay as well as a complete breakdown of the new ACT Writing Scoring Rubric.

Hungry for more practice ACT Writing prompts? Look no further than our article containing links to all the freely available official ACT Writing prompts that have been released so far, as well as bonus prompts I constructed.

 

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Check out our best-in-class online ACT prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your ACT score by 4 points or more.

Our program is entirely online, and it customizes your prep program to your strengths and weaknesses. We also have expert instructors who can grade every one of your practice ACT essays, giving feedback on how to improve your score.

Check out our 5-day free trial:

 

There is no part of the ACT more mysterious to students than the essay, and very few people seem to know what exactly the ACT is looking for in a "perfect" essay (particularly since September 2015 was the new ACT Writing test's debut). Luckily, we've got the expertise to give you some insight into how the essay works and what you can do to push your score those extra few points up the scale.

Whether you're trying to impress your dream school or just want to boost your ACT score, the essay is a great thing to work on. Some of the tips below stand alone, while others are part of larger categories that have been assembled based our ACT expertise.

Important: If you haven't read our other ACT Writing guides before, take a minute and read them now:

The ACT Writing Rubric: Analysis, Explanation, and Strategies

How to Write an ACT Essay, Step by Step

This will make the rest of the article make more sense.

 

Part I: What a 12 on the ACT Essay Means

If you're already scoring an 8 or above in every domain on practice (or real) ACT essays, you have a shot at completely nailing what the graders want, represented by a score of 12, with a little practice. But there's something important to remember in your quest for perfection: on the ACT essay, a 12 is not always achievable. We've got good news and bad news for those of you who are determined to know how to get a 12 on the ACT essay.

NOTE: For students who took the ACT Writing test from September 2015 - June 2016, ACT essays were scored on a scale of 1-36 (calculated by adding all your domain scores together and then scaling them). Starting September 2016, however, the ACT essay is now scored by averaging all four domain scores, on a scale of 2-12.

 

 

The Big Secret

You'll have to practice this. The perfect ACT essay is like a puzzle that happens to be in writing form—it can be mastered, but to do it well and completely every time requires a few month's practice. Knowing how to write other kinds of essays will only help you a limited amount.

 

The Bad News

Because the whole essay must be written in 40 minutes, getting a 12 requires some luck. You have to pick a thesis and think of relevant and convincing evidence to support it before you can even start writing, so a lot depends on how quickly you can decided on a point of view and relevant support for whatever the prompt happens to be. And because perfect-scoring essays are almost always at least two pages long, you don't have any time to spare.

 

The Good News

Because the essay is so formulaic, it's always possible to get at least a 10 in each domain. And, on top of this, no college worth its salt is going to base your college admission on getting those last two points on an essay you had to write in 40 minutes. The goal, really, is to show that you can write a decent essay in that time, and a 10 in each domain shows that just as well as a 12 does. 

 

Part II: The Difference between a 10 and a 12

If we asked the ACT what the difference is between a 10 and a 12 ACT essay, they would direct us to their scoring criteria below that describes the difference between the 5 and 6 essay scores in each domain. As you may already know, a total domain score of 12 comes from two readers separately giving your essay a 6; the four domain scores are then averaged to calculate your total essay score of 12. We've marked the differences between the 5 and 6 criteria in bold. Later, we'll look at these differences in the context of a sample essay.

 Score of 5 (10)Score of 6 (12)Major Differences
 Responses at this scorepoint demonstrate well-developed skill in writing an argumentative essay.Responses at this scorepoint demonstrate effective skill in writing an argumentative essay. 
Ideas and Analysis
The writer generates an argument that productively engages with multiple perspectives on the given issue. The argument’s thesis reflects precision in thought and purpose. The argument establishes and employs a thoughtful context for analysis of the issue and its perspectives. The analysis addresses implications, complexities and tensions, and/or underlying values and assumptions.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 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 6 essay gives a more specific and logically precise context. The thesis and argument show a deep understanding of the issue, while the analysis not only mentions, but also inspects the complexities and implications of the issue.

 

Development and SupportDevelopment of ideas and support for claims deepen understanding. A mostly integrated line of purposeful reasoning and illustration capably conveys the significance of the argument. Qualifications and complications enrich ideas and analysis.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.The 6 essays develops its ideas and support for those ideas more thoroughly and examines the implications of the ideas and support in a larger context. In addition, the complexity of the discussion for each examples strengthens the essay's argument and the analysis of the issue at hand.
OrganizationThe response exhibits a productive organizational strategy. The response is mostly unified by a controlling idea or purpose, and a logical sequencing of ideas contributes to the effectiveness of the argument. Transitions between and within paragraphs consistently clarify the relationships among ideas.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. Transitions between and within paragraphs strengthen the relationships among ideas.The 6 essay is organized to enhance the logic and strength of the writer's argument, whereas the 5 essay is only organized clearly.
Language Use
The use of language works in service of the argument. Word choice is precise. Sentence structures are clear and varied often. Stylistic and register choices, including voice and tone, are purposeful and productive. While minor errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics may be present, they do not impede understanding.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. While a few minor errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics may be present, they do not impede understanding.The 6 essay is written extremely well, whereas the 5 essay is written pretty well. This means getting creative and using advanced vocabulary appropriately if you want a 6.

 

 

Part III: Applying the Criteria in a Real ACT Essay Example

Now we'll look at a sample essay and how it demonstrates the characteristics of the 6 essay above. First, let's look at the prompt: 

Intelligent Machines

Many of the goods and services we depend on daily are now supplied by intelligent, automated machines rather than human beings. Robots build cars and other goods on assembly lines, where once there were human workers. Many of our phone conversations are now conducted not with people but with sophisticated technologies. We can now buy goods at a variety of stores without the help of a human cashier. Automation is generally seen as a sign of progress, but what is lost when we replace humans with machines? Given the accelerating variety and prevalence of intelligent machines, it is worth examining the implications and meaning of their presence in our lives.

Perspective One: What we lose with the replacement of people by machines is some part of our own humanity. Even our mundane daily encounters no longer require from us basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for other people.

Perspective Two: Machines are good at low-skill, repetitive jobs, and at high-speed, extremely precise jobs. In both cases they work better than humans. This efficiency leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone.

Perspective Three: Intelligent machines challenge our long-standing ideas about what humans are or can be. This is good because it pushes both humans and machines toward new, unimagined possibilities.

Write a unified, coherent essay about the increasing presence of intelligent machines.


 

Now, read the ACT essay example below, and try to notice how it meets the criteria in the table above.

     From the simplest system of pulleys and ropes to the most complex supercomputer in the world today, machines have had (and continue to have) a profound influence on the development of humanity. Whether it is taking over monotonous, low-skill tasks or removing that messy “human” element from our day-to-day interactions, machines have answered the call to duty. The increasing prevalence of intelligent machines challenges us to change long held beliefs about our limitations and to continue forward to new and even more advanced possibilities.
    One common argument against the increased presence of machines in our day to day lives is that machines leach from us our basic humanity. Indeed, certain people whose only social interactions are anonymous text-based conversations with other anonymous Internet forum dwellers over computers may begin to lose basic human courtesy and empathy. This is crystal clear with a glance at the comments section of any popular news article. Yet machines are also capable of enhancing people’s abilities to communicate. An example of this can be found in Tod Machover’s lab at MIT, where breakthroughs in neurotechnology have made it possible for quadripalegics to manipulate text on computers with their minds. Such interactions would be impossible without the existence of intelligent machines. Therefore, I must disagree with Perspective one. Rather than losing part of our own humanity to machines, we instead make that most-essential-to-humanity of acts, communication, possible.
    Another school of thought (Perspective Two) argues that machines are good at how and high skill repetitive jobs, which leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone. This can be seen in the human work hours that are saved daily with automated phone menus. Before intelligent machines made automatic telephone menus possible, every customer service call ate up valuable employee time. Now, menus allow callers to choose the number that best suits their needs, routing calls to appropriate destinations without the need for human employees to waste time explaining for the hundredth time that “our business hours are 10am-6pm.” On the other hand, no mechanized system of this kind is perfect, because it can’t predict all future outcomes. In terms of automated telephone menus, this means that sometimes, no menu options are correct. While automated systems may take the burden off of human workers, it is a mistake to think that they can replace humans entirely. Why else would the last line of resort for most automated phone menus be “Dial “0” to speak to an operator/customer service representative?” Perspective Two is true, but it only goes so far.
    A final example will demonstrate how intelligent machines challenge longstanding ideas and push us towards new, unimagined possibilities (perspective three). At my high school, all students had to take diagnostic tests in every main subject to figure out our strengths and weaknesses, and we were then sorted into class by skill level. A truly remarkable pattern emerged as a result of this sorting: it turned out that every kid in my medium-level physics class was also a talented musician. The system that sorted us allowed us to find this underlying pattern, which changed the way our teachers taught us; we learned about mechanics through examples that were more relevant to our lives (answering questions like “how many pulleys are needed to lift a piano?”), which in turn made our classes both more enjoyable and also more effective. When before I had struggled with physics and simply assumed it was a subject I “wasn’t good at,” the intelligent, automated sorting system allowed me to discover that I could in fact understand mechanics if taught in the right way. This discovery pushed me toward previously unimagined academic possibilities.
    In conclusion, intelligent machines help us to move forward as a species to greater heights. While machines can cause problems and may in some cases need human input to function optimally, it is how we react and adapt to the machines that is the real takeaway.

 

This was a real essay written by me within the time limit. What do you think?

Now let's look at an annotated version of this ACT essay example that points out the essay's features.

 

 

 

 

What Makes This ACT Essay a 12, Rather Than an 8 or 10? 

 Major Differences between a 5 and a 6 Essay (from table above)Sample Essay
Ideas and Analysis
The 6 essay gives a more specific and logically precise context. The thesis and argument show a deep understanding of the issue, while the analysis not only mentions, but also inspects the complexities and implications of the issue.

> The author clearly states her perspective and compares it to two other given perspectives, presenting both positive and negative aspects of the two perspectives she does not entirely agree with: "One common argument against the increased presence of machines in our day to day lives is that machines leach from us our basic humanity...Yet machines are also capable of enhancing people’s abilities to communicate."

Development and SupportThe 6 essays develops its ideas and support for those ideas more thoroughly and examines the implications of the ideas and support in a larger context. In addition, the complexity of the discussion for each examples strengthens the essay's argument and the analysis of the issue at hand.

> The author gives both general statements... "Rather than losing part of our own humanity to machines, we instead make that most-essential-to-humanity of acts, communication, possible."

> ...and specific examples that discuss both sides of the perspectives: "...certain people whose only social interactions are anonymous text-based conversations with other anonymous Internet forum dwellers over computers may begin to lose basic human courtesy and empathy...[on the other hand,] breakthroughs in neurotechnology have made it possible for quadripalegics to manipulate text on computers with their minds."

OrganizationThe 6 essay is organized to enhance the logic and strength of the writer's argument, whereas the 5 essay is only organized clearly.

> The essay begins (after the introduction paragraph) by addressing opposing views and discussing their strengths and their limits.

> Then it goes on in paragraphs 4 to explain a final reason why intelligent machines challenge ideas about humanity and push us towards new possibilities.

Use of LanguageThe 6 essay is written extremely well, whereas the 5 essay is written pretty well. This means getting creative and using advanced vocabulary appropriately if you want a 6.

> The "advanced" vocabulary is highlighted in blue.

> Sentence structure is varied, like here: "On the other hand, no mechanized system of this kind is perfect, because it can’t predict all future outcomes. In terms of automated telephone menus, this means that sometimes, no menu options are correct. While automated systems may take the burden off of human workers, it is a mistake to think that they can replace humans entirely. Why else would the last line of resort for most automated phone menus be “Dial “0” to speak to an operator/customer service representative?”"

 

Considerations That Aren't Included in the ACT's Published Guidelines

Length

The essay is long enough to analyze and compare the author's perspective to other perspectives in a nuanced way (1 positive example for each perspective with an addition negative example comparing the 2 perspectives the author disagreed to her own perspective) and include an introductory paragraph and a conclusion. While ACT, Inc. doesn't acknowledge that length is a factor in scoring ACT essays, most experts agree that it is. But length means nothing if there isn't valuable information filling the space, so long ACT essays also need to be detailed—this author uses the space to give lots of analysis of and context for her examples.

 

Paragraph Breaks

You may have noticed that the essay is broken up into multiple paragraphs (into the standard 5-paragraph format, in fact). This makes the essay easier to read, especially for the ACT readers who have about 2-3 minutes to read (and score!) each essay. If your points can easily be split up into small parts, then it makes sense to split it up into even more paragraphs, as long as your essay's organization and logical progression remains clear.

 

Content and Examples

This essay uses a personal example, which may or may not be made up (spoiler alert: it is). But the point is that it could be made up, as can anything you use in your essay. Being able to think of examples (that are not TOO obviously made up) can give you a huge advantage on the ACT essay.

 

Do's and Don'ts for a 12 ACT Essay

The key to a perfect score on the ACT essay is to use every second of your time wisely. To this end, here are a few tips to avoid common time-wasters and put your energy where it will get you the most points.

 

DO spend time:

1. Writing as much as you can without including repetitive or irrelevant information
2. Revising the first and last paragraphs (they stand out in readers' minds)
3. Making sure you have transitions

 

DON'T spend time:

1. Thinking of 'smart' sounding evidence— examples from your own life (or made up about your own life) are just as viable as current events, as long as you keep your example focused and concise
2. Trying to correct every error—the grammar and spelling do not have to be perfect to score a 12 in the Language Use domain
3. Adding as many vocabulary words as you can—you only need enough to avoid repeating the same basic words or phrases multiple times; you'll max out fancy vocab's potential at 2 words per paragraph

 

How To Practice Your Writing To Get A Perfect 12 In Each Domain

  • Start with our list of ACT essay prompts.
  • Create a list of evidence examples—from literature, history, or personal experience—that you can use for many or most prompt arguments.
  • Practice first with extended time—50 minutes—so you can get an idea of what it takes to get a top-scoring essay.
  • Find a way to grade your essay, using the ACT Writing Rubric. If you can be objective about your writing, you can notice weak spots, especially if you ran out of time but know what to do. Otherwise, try to get help from an English teacher or a friend who's a better writer than you are.
  • Start narrowing the time down to 40 minutes to mirror the actual test.
  • Stay confident! The ACT essay is just like a puzzle—every time you do one, you get better at doing it.

 

What's Next?

Find out more about how to write an ACT essay with this step-by-step example.

Use our analysis of the ACT Writing Rubric to learn about how your essay will be scored - and discover strategies you can use to get the score you want.

Want to aim for perfection on the ACT with a 36?Read our guide on how to score a perfect ACT score, written by our resident 36 scorer.

Make sure your ACT score is high enough for the schools you want to apply to. Find out how to find your ACT target score.

 

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