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New ACT Essay: Tips

Starting with the September 2015 exam, the ACT essay has changed to a new format. I have written about these changes in a previous blog post. Today I will expand on some tips you can use to make writing the essay as easy as possible.

As a reminder, the ACT essay now focuses on contemporary issues, not student-centered ones. That does not mean these two things cannot overlap--because sometimes they do--but ACT wants to broaden the scope of the essay. For example, you may see prompts about regulating businesses, stopping cheating in professional sports, or the necessity of renewable energy sources. And with each of these topics comes three perspectives, all of which you must address in the essay.

So, then, what exactly is the best way to write a good ACT essay?

1) Recognize the standard format for the perspectives.

Since you get three perspectives for every essay prompt, it may seem difficult to organize and respond to each of the perspectives in the essay. Including three body paragraphs--one devoted to each specific perspective--is not the strongest way to organize your response, and might actually make for a clunky essay. Instead you should look at the perspectives in terms of pro and con. When viewing them this way, there will be either two pros or two cons, and one on the opposite side. Expect this format each time and it will reduce the confusion and anxiety over organizing your essay.

2) Write a four-paragraph essay.

Your essay doesn’t need any fancy structure to get the point across. You just need to write an introduction, two body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Can you guess which two paragraphs hold the most weight? Yep, the bodies. Your first body paragraph should be the “counter-argument” and your second body paragraph should be your “main point.” It is always nice to start with the counter-argument to show how you’ve considered the other position. Doing this builds your credibility and makes you more persuasive, a key quality for a high-scoring ACT essay. Within your “counter-argument” paragraph you can describe the opposing side’s viewpoint and then explain how this viewpoint relates to 1 or 2 of the perspectives. The “main support” paragraph has the same structure, but now you are actually arguing your position.

Next in the order of importance is the introduction. The least crucial part of the essay is the conclusion, which should exist but doesn’t need to say all that much. If your essay “gets good” in the conclusion, then you have failed your mission. Make the previous paragraphs better! (Of course, a well-considered conclusion is not necessarily a bad thing, but don’t make one to the detriment of more important parts of the essay.)

3) Come up with historical examples.

When brainstorming during the first 10 minutes (of the ACT essay’s allotted 40 minutes), you should try to come up with 1-2 historical examples to use in your body paragraphs. It may be hard to pre-plan these examples, but if you keep some historical eras in mind, it can cut down time and anxiety. Some recommendations? The Cold War, WWII, WWI, the Gilded Age, or the Civil War...just to name a few. What you pull from these eras will entirely depend upon your knowledge and comfort. If the essay wants to know your thoughts on government regulation, then you could probably use something from the Gilded Age, maybe even the Civil War. Remember: Even though the historical examples are not necessary for both body paragraphs (you should probably diversify your examples to include more than history), they will help add to the sophistication of the essay.

The new ACT essay, overall, is not much different from the old version. Even though there is a shift from student-related topics to more contemporary ones, the goal remains the same: you need to craft the best persuasive essay you can within 40 minutes. Planning and practicing will always remain the best strategy, but let these tips guide you even more. Also, Berkeley2 Academy has ACT classes during Winter Break and the Spring Semester to help students who plan to take the February, April, or June test. Act now to attack the ACT!


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