ACT Writing: Strategy

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  • 0:00 The ACT Essay
  • 1:02 Before You Write
  • 2:32 An Example
  • 4:13 The Formula
  • 5:08 Essay Tips
  • 6:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

In this lesson, you'll get some tips and tricks for tackling the ACT essay, whether you're a literary superstar or a science whiz just trying to get by. Learn what the prompt is asking for and how to structure your essay in response.

The ACT Essay

Meet Albert. Albert built his first working robot when he was ten, and he's already being scouted by NASA to work on a manned mission to Pluto. But first, Albert has to take the ACT and get into college.

Unfortunately for Albert, even if you're interested in math or science, most colleges require the ACT writing test, a 40-minute written response to a prompt on some topic of general interest.

So, Albert calls his friend Emily for help. Emily published her first book of poems in middle school, and she's a great writer, so Albert figures that she's his best bet for learning how to pass this test. But there's bad news for Emily too; amazing literary talent won't help you much on the ACT essay. The ACT essay isn't really about great writing; it's about following directions under time pressure. In other words, both Albert and Emily have some studying to do!

In this lesson, we'll go through a complete game plan.

Before You Write

The first step to writing a great ACT essay isn't actually about the writing. It's about how you handle the prompt. You have very limited time to write, so it's important to have a plan for dealing with the prompt that lets you jump in and start working right away.

On the essay, you'll get a prompt about some contemporary topic of general interest. You won't need any outside knowledge to understand it. Then you'll read three different perspectives on the issue in the prompt. In your essay, you have to do two things: one, evaluate the three perspectives, and two, take a clear position on the issue and support it with facts and reasoning. You can agree with one of the given positions or you can pick something totally different. That's a little tricky, so here's a pre-writing game plan:

  • Evaluate all three perspectives given
  • Decide if you're going to agree with one of them or not. If not, pick your own position.
  • Jot down 1 or 2 arguments AGAINST each perspective you disagree with
  • Jot down 1 or 2 facts, experiences, or arguments SUPPORTING your own position

You can use evidence from literature, history, current events, or your own life. You won't have access to any books or the Internet though, so it has to be something you remember. If you have no relevant experiences, just make one up, nobody's going to know. Also, there's no right position to take. Just pick whatever position you can argue easily because you don't have a lot of time.

Let's walk through an example of this!

An Example

Albert gets this for his prompt: it seems strange to spend millions of dollars funding NASA when there are hungry people right here on Earth. The three perspectives are:

  1. NASA shouldn't get any more money until we've solved problems like world hunger. People are dying of starvation; it's indefensible to spend money flying to Mars before we save them from dying.
  2. We would have enough money to fund NASA and solve problems like hunger if we stopped spending so much money on the military.
  3. NASA is our only hope left for avoiding mass extinction caused by global climate change. It's worth taking money from some hungry people to make sure humans don't all die.

We'll go over Albert's tasks on the pre-essay to-do list. First, he'll evaluate the three perspectives. Albert disagrees with perspective three; he recently read a news article explaining how we can still fix the climate. He wants a way to have both NASA and food, so he disagrees with perspective one. He agrees a little bit with prospective two but he's also not happy about completely defunding the military. He'd rather cut the military budget a little and also close tax loopholes for big corporations.

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