New ACT Essay

After poring through the sample essays and grading guidelines for the new ACT essay, here are my conclusions on what will help you get your best score:

  • Make sure your introductory paragraph introduces the perspectives provided in the prompt and ends with a thesis statement that states your own perspective and why you believe it.

For example, based on the released ACT example prompt on Intelligent Machines here, this could potentially be your introduction:

Although intelligent machines might cause us to question what makes us human, it is too extreme to say that they cause us to either to lose our humanity or push us to become super-human. Humans and machines can work in concert: machines can be employed to take on tasks that are menial, tedious, and time-consuming, leaving humans free to work on tasks that require a human mind and spirit.

Notice that the first sentence summarizes the first and third perspectives in the prompt and the thesis statement agrees with the second. This sets up a structure for your essay in which you will evaluate the three perspectives and explain why you agree with one of them.

  • Choose one of the given three perspectives to agree with (at least mostly) and avoid the option to present your own.

With three different perspectives to evaluate and a limited amount of time to write, you are going to be able to cover more ground if you choose to agree with one of provided perspectives. Three viewpoints is already a lot to evaluate. If you choose to present your own viewpoint, this means you now have to elaborate on FOUR perspectives. You can get a perfect score by agreeing with one of the given perspectives. Don’t make your life harder.

  • Know your essay structure in advance. Here’s one organization strategy that should work well if you follow my advice to agree with one of the perspectives.

    • Brief intro paragraph (2-3 sentences)

    • Evaluation of the first perspective you did not choose with specific examples

    • Evaluation of other perspective you did not choose with specific examples

    • Evaluation of the perspective you agree with and further development on why you agree with it using specific examples (this should be a longer paragraph than the first two, or it could be split into two paragraphs)

    • Brief conclusion (approx 2 sentences): make a final case for your argument

This structure ensures that you answer all three parts of the question: evaluating the three perspectives, developing your own, and explaining the relationship between your perspective and the others.

  • Give VERY specific examples

This has always been the case on the ACT essay. For each of the three perspectives, make sure you give specific examples. And the more specific they are, the better. You don’t need a lot–two or three good ones do the trick. Examples from historical and contemporary events and circumstances tend to go over best. Personal examples can also work, but graders seem to be biased towards outside examples–they seem to carry more weight.

  • Leave time to proofread at the end

Since “Language Use” is its own separate grading category now, it is worth your time to catch any errors you may have inadvertently made while while writing quickly.