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More ACT Writing Tips

Amy C.

This week we’re going to provide some addition tips for the ACT Writing (essay) section. While we’ve covered ACT Writing in general before, this time around we’re going to take a more targeted approach. Each of the three strategies covered here deals with a specific aspect of the Writing exam that students consistently struggle with.


Don’t Get Hung up on Identifying the Perspectives

A major component of the Writing section is analyzing and critiquing the three “perspectives” presented in the prompt. Because this represents a sizable portion of your grade, your first instinct might be to state the number of each perspective and to quote the perspectives in their entirety. However, this is exactly what you do not want to do. Not only do topic sentences beginning with “Perspective one says…” or “Perspective two states…” sound clunky, quoting the perspectives verbatim risks making your essay look padded.


Instead, you should discard the perspective numbers and briefly summarize each perspective when you address it for the first time. Writing the “core” of a perspective in your own words is more concise and demonstrates to the essay graders that you truly understand the perspective.


Learn to Work around Topics You Don’t Know

Unlike older ACT Writing prompts, which mostly stuck to high school-related topics, contemporary Writing prompts cover a wide range of topics. While the prompts usually follow a “current events” theme, it is possible to get a topic that you know little or nothing about. If this happens to you, try not to stress over your lack of knowledge of the subject matter. The ACT graders are not expecting you to be an expert on the topic of the prompt. Furthermore, your examples are far less important than what you do with those examples.


Start by mining the prompt for ideas. As long as you build upon them, you are absolutely allowed to use any examples presented in the assignment. Next, consider any personal examples (real or made up) that could be even marginally relevant. It doesn’t matter if you think an example is petty or silly, the graders are not allowed to consider one type of example “better” than another. They are also not allowed to consider factual accuracy.


What really matters is that you thoroughly develop and analyze any examples that you do come up with. Tell the “story” of each example, taking the graders through it step by step as you build your case. Add as much realistic-sounding detail as possible. Are you discussing the relative cost of paying human workers versus purchasing a machine to do the same task? Make up dollar amounts for each. Are you weighing the benefits of individual freedom versus laws that take away some of that freedom but make us all safer? Present hypothetical injury or safety statistics. An essay with made up specifics will always get a higher score than one with truthful but vague statements.


Spell out How and Why Your Evidence Supports Your Thesis

So you’ve successfully paraphrased a perspective and built a solid case for why you agree or disagree with the perspective. Well, you’re not quite finished yet. Before you move on to the next perspective, you need to articulate how your reasoning/examples support both your take on the perspective and your overall thesis. You might think this is unnecessary, but remember that the graders can’t read your mind. They have no way to know whether you simply neglected to explain how your evidence supports your thesis or whether you don’t know really understand the evidence that you presented. Make no mistake: ACT Writing graders will decrease your score if you omit this final step. Don’t give them the opportunity. Spell out the conclusion that your evidence points to.


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