The ACT Essay (officially known as the “ACT Writing” section) is, for many students, one of the most bothersome parts of the test. Sure, the format is a pretty standard argumentative essay, but answering a question about a current issue and addressing the three perspectives that go along with it can be quite a task--and it all must be done within 40 minutes. Yikes!
Thankfully, we at B2A have come up with a way to brainstorm efficiently and format the ACT Essay so that there is little room for error. Obviously we can’t write the essay for you (wouldn’t that be nice), but hopefully these pointers will help.
Let’s start with brainstorming. Many students struggle the most with this first and crucial part of the Essay. The problem arises when ACT throws your way a contemporary issue to which you have little exposure. What, you’ve never thought about public policy and healthcare? You haven’t given serious thought on how automation can hurt or help society? That’s okay.
Here’s what you need to do, and this should work for any prompt: categorize your ideas.
Say, for example, you are responding to the automation in society prompt and want to argue that automation in society is a problem. You need to come up with two support points and one counterpoint.
… for the people in the back ...
TWO SUPPORT POINTS
Your points can fit into these categories:
1) Health & Public Safety
2) Education & Happiness
3) Economy & Innovation
4) Personal Responsibility
How might this play out in an essay that argues that automation in society is a problem? For our support points, let’s use the categories “education & happiness” and “personal responsibility.” For our counterpoint, let’s use the category “economy & innovation.”
TWO SUPPORT POINTS (for why automation in society is a problem):
Education & Happiness: More machines in society means that more people are disconnected from each other.
Personal Responsibility: Automation makes people more reliant on machines, and therefore they do not know how to complete simple and complex tasks; thus machines infantilize people.
Economy & Innovation: By having more automation in society, people are free to think more creatively and not feel burdened to complete tedious tasks.
Now the categories are going to be pretty fluid at times; in other words, you may be able to place one of your points into two different categories. The goal here is to have a way to organize your thoughts and make brainstorming a lot less daunting. So don't get hung up on categories once you feel that you have solid, distinct points.
Another thing you want to keep in mind when you are brainstorming is how your points will address the three perspectives. In most cases, the perspectives break down so that two of them will agree with each other to varying degrees and the other one will disagree. Once you brainstorm your points, you can then plug in how they relate to the perspectives. In some cases, it may be easy to simply work backwards and develop points from what the perspectives talk about. You don’t necessarily want to rely on this method because sometimes the perspectives mention things that you aren’t as comfortable with writing about at length.
And that’s something you need to do to get a good score on the ACT Essay--write at length. You should aim for a five-paragraph essay, if that wasn’t already clear; each of your points gets its own paragraph. In the paragraphs themselves, you should use one example to provide the logical reasoning behind your point. Your examples, fortunately, don’t need to be too sophisticated. You can use hypotheticals, which often are best, and simply discuss why they would be a good or a bad thing.
Going back to the automation in society topic, let’s say that you argue that automation in society is bad because it makes people more disconnected from each other. Let’s then say you provide a hypothetical situation in which people consider humans and machines similar, so more automation can devalue human life and make people more distant to each other. You can’t just stop there. You need to keep explaining why, even if it is patently obvious, why this is a problem. Ideally this explanation is 2-3 sentences long.
How does that look in a paragraph? Check out the format for a supporting point:
a. Topic Sentence (State your first supporting point and connect it to the thesis.)
b. Elaboration (Explain the topic sentence – explain why or how?)
c. Example (Provide a concrete example with specific details [can be hypothetical].)
d. Analysis (Explain how your example supports your argument and how it agrees or disagrees with one of the perspectives. [Consider the positive or negative implications of your example.])
e. Concluding Sentence (Summarize your main point of the paragraph.)
At the very least, your body paragraph should include six sentences. Try for eight or nine, especially if you find yourself writing short sentences.
Here’s what the format looks like for the counterpoint:
a. Topic Sentence (State the counter-argument.)
b. Reasoning (Provide an example of why the counter-argument seems plausible.)
c. Analysis (Explain how the plausibility of the counter-argument example is ultimately flawed.)
d. Concluding Sentence (Summarize your main point of the paragraph.)
How, overall, should these paragraphs be structured? In this way:
Support Point #1
Support Point #2
It's much easier to transition from the counterpoint into your points than the other way around. Most writing is done so that the author can show how the opposing view is somewhat reasonable and then launch into why it’s ultimately flawed and how their point of view is correct.
And that’s it! Pretty straightforward, right? Of course there is actually writing the essay, as I've said, but hopefully this gives you a good roadmap to follow for your September ACT.
If you need more help on the ACT for later dates, or if your September test doesn’t go according to plan, then consider letting B2A work with you 1-1 to help craft stronger essays and brainstorm more efficiently. We are always happy to help students organize their thoughts and execute strong writing!