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How To Ace Your ACT Essay

If you’re planning on taking the ACT soon, you may be wondering how to best approach the essay portion of the test.
 
 
Well, first we’ll talk about general tips – such as what actually is an ACT essay! Then we’ll discuss what do you need to do and the the top three mistakes people make on their ACT essays so you know what you can do to avoid them. 
 
 
What does an ACT Essay look like? It is very different than the kind of essays you’d write in English class or history, where you are reading a full-text and then responding to that text with your own analysis. Instead, the ACT prompt poses a broad question, generally about a societal issue, and then offers three differing perspectives on this issue.
 
 
 
Here’s a shortened sample prompt for context:
 
From the ACT Essay “Intelligent Machines”: Many of the goods and services we depend on daily are now supplied by intelligent, automated machines rather than human beings. Automation is generally seen as a sign of progress, but what is lost when we replace humans with machines
 
 
All ACT Essays will give you a broad overview of a particular social issue. Then it’s going to break it down into three different perspectives, and it is your job to respond to at least two of these perspectives in your essays. 
 
– Perspective One: Replacing humans with machines takes away our humanity and shared experience
 
– Perspective Two: Machines are good at low-skill, repetitive jobs, and at high-speed, extremely precise jobs. This leads to a more progressive world for everyone. 
 
– Perspective Three: Intelligent machines challenge our long-standing ideas about what humans are or what humans can be. This is good because it pushes both humans and machines toward new, unimagined possibilities.
 
 
So what are the top three mistakes I see students making on an ACT essay? 
 

– First and foremost, being afraid to have a point of view or choose a perspective! To have a strong thesis, you need to be arguing in favor or against (or a combination of both) for one of these perspectives. The best essays come with clear, firm perspectives supported by facts. 

– Lack of nuance or thoughtfulness – Only pointing out the positives of a perspective, like saying ‘machines are always good for everyone under all circumstances’ is a poor argument. Good essays aren’t just black and white, but also explore the grey areas of a side. Rather than weakening, pointing potential counterarguments shows that you’ve really considered both the good and the bad before developing your viewpoint/thesis. Here’s an example regarding intelligent machines: “While self-driving cars could greatly increase accessibility for seniors and people who are unable to drive due to disabilities, their adoption has countless potential negatives for full-time hired drivers, traditional automakers, and the parking lot industry.” See? I’m still in favor of intelligent machines, but now I’m acknowledging the complexity of this issue.

– Failing to give specific examples! These include anecdotes, statistics, or even knowledge of events from history or current events. The interesting thing about the ACT is that your stories and facts don’t even have to be real – you can make up this information, within reason, to support your point. 

 

One of my favorite pieces of advice for prepping for ACT essays is to actually come up with an example list of topics you know well that could be applied to ANY essay. For example, say you’re an expert in the revolutionary war, spider-man movies, harry potter, the industrial revolution, current political events, etc. 
 
 
For this prompt, you could talk about how the steam engine/trains revolutionized the economy and the positive and negative effects of this. You could discuss how in a current event that drones have been used in warfare, which has potentially saved soldiers from having to be in harm’s way. With ACT essays, the only limit for examples is your imagination.
 
 
Now, how can you take your essays from good, to great? How do you start scoring +10?
 
 
Most importantly, you need to do multiple diagnostic or practice essays to get specific feedback for improvement. Another good tip is that if you’re already scoring +8, spend extra time revising the first and last paragraphs, as they really impact your in readers’ impression. Make sure you have clear transitions in your paragraphs. I also like to read sample ACT essays, guess their scores, observe what surprises me and learn techniques I hadn’t thought of. 
 
 
I hope these techniques help and you’re feeling motivated to practice your ACT essays – now you can go sign up for that ACT diagnostic test to get started!
 
 
 
All the best,
 
Team Insight 
 

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