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Kristin Fracchia

TuesdACT: How to Write a Top Scoring Essay on the NEW ACT Essay

Update: In June 2016, the ACT announced that it was returning to a 2-12 ACT Essay scoring scale. But the essay remains the same, so even though I may talk about a 1-36 scoring scale in the video, the advice for a top scoring essay still stands!

Have you already checked out our videos on Top Tips for the New ACT Essay and Frequent Questions About the New ACT Essay and are thinking to yourself, “Yeah, yeah, I got that, but I want a 11 or a 12? Well, if that sounds like you then you’ll want to check out this video for ADVANCED students who want to achieve the highest score possible on the ACT essay.

In this video, I give you with my top two tips for an essay that is going to knock the socks off the graders.

And in order to do that, you need to remember that your graders are human beings. They are reading lots and lots of essays. And a lot of them start to sound alike. So if you are shooting for a good score on the essay, all you really need to do is to write a clear, argumentative thesis, address all three of the perspectives, include good examples, and have a coherent structure. But if you want a GREAT score, you need to stand out from the crowd.

Here’s how you can do it:

1. Use Less Obvious Examples on your ACT Essay

On the first new essay on the September ACT this year, a whole lot of students wrote about the Civil Rights movement. It really just was an obvious example that a lot of students had studied, and it was certainly the first thing that jumped to my mind as well. Now, technically, graders are not supposed to be punishing you for an unoriginal example as long as you do it well. But remember the golden rule: they are only human! If a grader reads 50 essays about the Civil Rights movement in a row, and then they get to yours, and you are writing about something totally different, they are going to sit up and pay attention. Not only that, but it will be more difficult to compare your essay to others. If you write about the same topic as everyone else, it is likely that some people won’t do it as well as you, but that others will do it better. So try not to open yourself to these comparisons. Be original.

Again this doesn’t mean that you can’t write about a common topic, but if you are going to do it, make sure you pick very specific examples within that topic to demonstrate your knowledge. But if you can think of something that would be less obvious–well, I would go that route.

2. Choose the option to provide your own perspective on the ACT essay, but only switch it up slightly.

Now, this is tricky. You can get a perfect score simply by completely agreeing with one of the three presented perspectives, and for the vast majority of students, this is the best course of action to make sure you don’t go completely off track and end up hurting your score. However, if you consider yourself to be a very strong writer, you might be able to truly impress by adding your own twist on the prompt. In most cases, the easiest way to do this is to narrow the scope of one of the perspectives. For example, if you look at sample essay #5 on actstudent.org, you’ll see that the graders applauded the student for evaluating the perspectives through the “lens of a particular ideology”: capitalism:

new act essay

The prompt is about a larger issue–the positive or negative impact of “intelligent machines” in our society–but this student has narrowed the scope, and in doing so, was able to provide a specific compelling argument that didn’t try to address all of life in a five-paragraph essay.

So for you ACT Writing superstars out there who are looking for a score in the 11 to 12 range, take these key tips to heart and get practicing with ACT Writing prompts. The new ACT essay prompt is tough, but practicing with sample prompts and coming up with arguments on the fly will help!

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About Kristin Fracchia

Kristin makes sure Magoosh's sites are full of awesome, free resources that can be found by students prepping for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agony and bliss of trail running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.

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