The ACT essay changed last fall. Unless you’re working from a brand-new edition of your review book (e.g., the latest Kaplan or Princeton Review book), your book's essay prompts are obsolete and useless.. The new essay will present you with three short statements of perspectives (viewpoints) on an issue, and ask you to analyze them and give your own viewpoint on the issue. You should be able to identify what you see as the weak and strong points of each perspective and state your own perspective. That is, you should explain the viewpoint with which you agree, or explain your own viewpoint, which may combine elements of more than one of the perspectives, or provide a perspective completely different from the three given perspectives.
So how do you prepare for the ACT essay? First of all, you should think about issues facing society. As I’ve stated in other posts, you should really look at the editorial page of various newspapers, either online or in print. The same goes for reading news magazines, especially the opinion essays. Watching YouTube videos on politics and philosophy will also help – take a look at the suggestions YouTube makes. You could start with the Young Turks, Thomas Hartmann, the Joe Rogan Podcast, Serial, and the like. Political magazines such The Nation, The Progressive, National Review, and other magazines (Time, Newsweek, etc.) may also give you opinions and ideas to consider.
However, if you’re taking the next ACT, which is coming up very soon, you should concentrate on a format you can use for any answer, so you don’t have to “re-invent the wheel” in order to answer the question. Here’s my suggested format:
First of all, leave enough space for your opening paragraph, but actually START with your second paragraph, in which you analyze the first perspective. Restate the first perspective “in your own words” I know, if they were really “your own words,” no one else would understand them, you wiseacre, you. ;-) I mean restate them in different words from the ones used in the prompt, so they know you actually understand the perspective. It’s a great idea to provide examples of what the perspective means, so the grader can really see that you have some insight into the perspective. Using reasonably accurate quotes from literary, historical, or current political figures is also a wonderful idea, as long as they’re accurate. What do I mean by “reasonably accurate?” I mean that no grader is likely to get that upset if you get a quote slightly wrong, as long as you preserve the quote’s meaning. However, attributing something that supports a viewpoint to a person who never said or wrote it just makes you look ignorant, desperate for examples, or both, so don’t do that!] Then state if you agree, disagree, or partially agree and partially disagree.
Then, in your third paragraph, explain why you agree, disagree, or partially agree or disagree, giving examples that support your case. You can also give possible counter-examples that go against your argument, and explain why you don’t find them convincing, if you have the time to do so. If you don’t have time, don’t bother with the counterexample.
In the fourth paragraph, paraphrase the second perspective, using your own words. Compare it with the first perspective if you like, and explain whether you agree, disagree, or partially agree and disagree. Then support your position with examples in the fifth paragraph.
In the sixth paragraph, restate the third perspective in different words, compare it to the first two perspectives if you wish, and whether you agree, disagree, etc. Then explain, in the seventh paragraph, why you agree, disagree, or partially agree or disagree, giving examples that support your case.
In the eighth paragraph, state and explain your position, synthesizing (i.e., putting together) your opinions from the previous paragraphs into something coherent (i.e., makes sense). Then write a quick conclusion, such as “For the reasons I have stated above, I believe that while each perspective has its strengths and weaknesses.” Then list each perspective and its major strength and major weakness. Then write something like “Having evaluated these perspectives, I believe,” then restate your position.
After you’re done with all that, FINALLY write your introduction in the space you’ve left for it, stating, very briefly, each perspective. Then state something such as “I believe” or “My position is” or “My point of view is,” then state your point of view, then add “for the reasons I state below.” Alternately, you can list the reasons in a very shortened form and say “as I will discuss further below [or “in this essay,” or whatever you think is appropriate].”
I can’t guarantee you a perfect score, but I can guarantee that if you practice this method a few times before taking the ACT, you’ll be better prepared, less likely to panic, and more likely to get a high score on the essay than if you don’t. If you’re not worrying about what format to use, or blanking out by trying to come up with a theme before you’ve thought of examples, or having to scramble to edit your thesis when your examples don’t really fit your perspective, you’ll do better. I promise.
Here’s one sample prompt from the ACT:
Here’s another (got to page 54 of this document):
Here’s a practice essay topic, brought to you by the nice people at Magoosh Test Prep, that I will answer in my next post:
See my next post, and compare your answer to mine. Yours might well be better than mine.
Which one do you like better, and why?
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.