The ACT Essay is an optional, 40-minute section of the ACT, which tests your ability to craft an organized, well-articulated analytical essay on a given topic.
The prompt presents three distinct perspectives on a complex issue, in response to which you must write an essay, taking your own stance on the issue by analyzing the perspectives provided in the prompt.
Sounds a bit tough? Don’t worry–in this video, Magoosh’s ACT expert Kat will give you her top 10 tips to help you ace the ACT Essay!
Just click on the embedded video below to watch “Top 10 Tips for the ACT Essay”.
…Or scroll down for a full video transcript. 🙂
What Will I See in the “Top 10 Tips for the ACT Essay” Video?
In this free video, Kat goes over her top 10 strategies for the ACT Essay:
1. Read example essays!
2. Only discuss 1-2 perspectives!
3. Spend 1/3 of your time pre-writing!
4. No wishy-washy perspectives!
5. Avoid writing in the 2nd person!
6. Short intro and conclusion!
7. Nail the body paragraphs!
8. Vary your sentence structure!
9. Use signal words!
10. Link it back to your key argument!
If you like the video, don’t forget to hit Like, and subscribe to the channel for more study tips. And if you have any questions about how to prepare for the ACT Essay, write to us in the video comments section, and we’ll answer with advice! 🙂
“Top 10 Tips for the ACT Essay” Full Transcript
Hi, I’m Kat, the ACT expert at Magoosh.
I have over 15 years teaching and tutoring, and I love helping students ace the ACT.
In today’s video, we’re going to look at ten key tips for the ACT essay.
Tip number one, go to the ACT website and look at examples of perfect scoring essays.
Okay, so there’s a really helpful tool, act.org, I’ll also put a link down below below.
They show you examples of what is a perfect scoring essay, what is the next best, and you can really see the differences.
So I think a lot of students, they understand kind of what’s a really good essay and what’s a really bad essay?
But that difference between what’s excellent and what’s good enough, that’s a little hard to understand unless you see specific examples.
Tip number two, only choose one or maybe two different perspectives to discuss.
So the way this essay is set up, you will get some kind of a social issue, social topic.
And then you will read a really short paragraph about it, and you’ll also see three different perspectives that other potential authors have taken in relation to this topic.
Okay, so your job then is to defend your position, your perspective on the social issue.
Now, a lot of students mistakenly believe they have to discuss all three of the examples, as well as their own.
That’s four different examples, you absolutely do not.
Keep It Simple, Keep It Focused, just focus on your perspective, what you’re going to be defending.
And then discuss that in relation to one of the other perspectives that’s given to you on the essay prompt.
Tip number three is to spend a third of your pre-writing.
On the essay, you have 40 minutes, and this is from the time you see the prompt until you have to actually put down your pencil at the end, because you can’t write anymore, right?
So 40 minutes, 10 to 15 minutes should be devoted to pre-writing.
And when I say pre-writing, what I mean is primarily brainstorming, okay?
So you have a perspective you have to defend.
You have to put some thought into what perspective you’re going to choose to defend, and the best way to do that is to generate examples, okay?
So unlike some other papers you might write, like say for your high school teacher where you actually are defending a position you’re passionate about.
On this essay, that’s not the goal.
On this essay, the goal is to find the best examples you can come up with.
And based on those examples, then you choose your perspective, okay?
But that means you have to put some time into brainstorming potential examples that you can use.
And so I said 10 to 15 minutes pre-writing, 10 minutes of that should be just brainstorming.
And then 5 minutes outlining, and then that gives you about 25 to 30 minutes to actually do the writing itself.
Tip number four, no wishy-washy perspectives.
So let’s say the topic you’re given is federal taxation on soft drinks, all right?
And you have come up with the perspective.
You might say, it’s a good idea for the government to tax soft drinks or sodas.
You might say it’s a bad idea, you might say it’s a good idea to tax sodas at the local levels or the state levels and you could argue that as well.
What you don’t wanna do is have a statement perspective such as sometimes it’s a good idea and sometimes it’s not a good idea.
And the reason is, this essay isn’t long enough for you to be able to defend multiple positions, Shades of Grey positions.
If you had a really long essay to write, it would be super cool to do something that’s kind of halfway Shades of Grey.
But for a short essay like this, just have one clear perspective, nothing wishy-washy.
Tip number five is use the first person or the third person but do not use the second person when you’re writing this essay.
So just a reminder, first person is when you talk about I or me in your essay such as, I believe we should tax soda.
Third person is when you’re talking a little bit more of a detached academic formal tone such as, it is a good idea to tax soda.
What you don’t wanna do is second person, and this is when you’re referencing the reader themselves.
And the classic example of this, and this is why I don’t think it’s a good direction to go on ACT essay, is when students will begin their essay with a hook.
And a lot of you learn this in middle schools, some teachers teach student to do things like beginning the essay with some sort of hypothetical question geared at the reader.
Such as have you ever wondered how to get kids to drink less soda?
That’s not the way to go.
It’s not sophisticated, it doesn’t sound like somebody who’s going into college, it’s not that level of writing.
And so one way to avoid that kind of somewhat less sophisticated style is to just not use the second person.
So first person or third person, but not second person.
Tip number six, is you want to write a very short introduction and then even shorter conclusion.
A lot of students think the intro and the conclusion are the most important parts of an essay.
And I think that’s partly because when you’re actually doing reading analysis, a lot of the big points come up in the intro, conclusion.
But as a writer, you really need to be focusing on the body of your essay.
And so when I say short intro, I’m talking two or three sentences.
And conclusion even shorter, you could write an effective conclusion here in one sentence if you needed to.
Two sentences might give you a little bit more time to kind of wrap things up and make things clear for the reader.
But the point is, don’t put your time into the intro conclusion, everything should be focused on the body paragraphs.
Tip number seven, write two or three very long strong body paragraphs.
So in the body paragraph is where you are defending your perspective, and you need to do this using very specific examples.
Say, for instance, that you happen to know that some local cities in the US have imposed taxation on soft drinks, and that it has led to less consumption of soft drinks, okay?
So that would be great, because you have a specific example, you can bring it into your body paragraph.
What you wanna sure you do is if you same something such as Berkeley and Philadelphia imposed a local tax on soft drinks and consumption went down.
You need to then add a couple more sentences on how that is relevant to your your overall argument, and you could have as many as two examples per body paragraph.
Really focus on your body paragraphs, get those really strong so that you can get the highest score possible.
Tip number eight is to vary your sentence structure.
So if you remember, I said that you’re going to be graded on four different things, ideas, organization, development of your argument, and language.
Now for language, a lot of students think this is just about vocabulary.
And that is nice, it’s good to bring in some words that are a little bit more on the high school or collegey level such as ideology, dilemmas, paradoxes, repercussions, those are all great words to bring in.
But I think even more important is to use varying sentence structure to show your readers that you are familiar with rhetoric, and that you can read and write.
So some of the sentences might be very, very short.
One mistake a lot of students make is they put in a lot of long, long sentences.
But it actually sounds better, more developed, more sophisticated to have short sentence, longer sentence, short sentence.
Some sentences with a lot of punctuation, maybe some dashes or colons, semi-colons, okay?
So vary the rhythm, vary the length of the sentences and structure overall.
Tip number nine is to use plenty of signal words.
And when I say signal words, I’m talking about the words at the beginning of sentences that give your reader some sort of indication about where you just came from and where you’re going.
Examples would be furthermore, in addition to that, in contrast.
So these are nice signal words that help your reader get in the right mindset for being able to accept the next point you make.
Remember that these graders are reading tons of these essays, they’re reading them very quickly.
And they don’t want to do that extra work of having to go back and forth between your paragraphs and between your sentences and try and figure out, wait, are you still arguing the same thing or did you just switch direction?
Therefore, use signal words so that they can easily tell whether you’re building off of a point you just made or whether you just switched directions on them.
And they should be on the lookout for this other point you’re not gonna make.
And last, tip number ten, make sure that you link every single example back to your overall argument.
And what I’ve noticed is a lot of students will come up with very good, very relevant examples, but not link it back directly to the argument they’re trying to make.
And so going back to our soda example once again, if you want to bring in the example that too much soda in childhood predisposes people to obesity and diabetes later in life.
Well, that’s a very relevant example, but you have to remember you’re still trying to argue the issue of taxation.
And so when you bring in these examples, always link it back to the core argument.
Don’t get too far away from the nuts and bolts of your perspective, which is taxation.
So I hope today’s video gave you a better sense of what you’re striving for on the ACT essay, clarity, precision, and focus.
If you like this video, follow the link in the description box below and go to Magoosh.com, where you can join thousands of students who are already using Magoosh to ace the ACT.
And if you’re looking for most last minute tips, check out the videos on your left.
And I’ll see you in the next one.
Looking for more ACT writing strategies?
Why not check out some of our other free ACT resources for more tips and tricks to help prepare you for the ACT Essay?
- Your Magical Guide to Getting a Perfect 12 on the ACT Essay
- What is a Good ACT Writing Score?
- TuesdACT Video: How to Write a Top Scoring ACT Essay
Good luck on the test! 🙂
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About Molly Kiefer
Molly completed her undergraduate degree in Philosophy at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. She has been tutoring the SAT, GRE, and LSAT since 2014, and loves supporting her students as they work towards their academic goals. When she’s not tutoring or blogging, Molly takes long walks, makes art, and studies ethics. Molly currently lives in Northern California with her cat, who is more popular on Instagram than she is.
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