Last-Minute ACT Tips
Are you taking the ACT on Saturday, September 12, 2015? Then please read my previous blog entries regarding what you should know for the ACT. For example you should know, the math formulas contained in the SAT’s “Math Facts” printed at the beginning of each section , since the ACT does not give you those math facts, although it will give you more complex formulas (e.g., the volume and surface area of a sphere, the compound interest formula).
However, memorizing math formulas isn’t the main thing with which you should concern yourself at this point if you’re taking the writing (essay) part of the ACT. Saturday’s ACT will be the first ACT essay that involves reading three different viewpoints, reacting to them, and presenting your point of view. Here’s a link to the first sample essay prompt, concerning “intelligent machines:”
Let’s look at the instructions, quoted here:
In your essay, be sure to:
• analyze and evaluate the perspectives given
• state and develop your own perspective on the issue
• explain the relationship between your perspective and those given
Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial
agreement, or wholly different. Whatever the case, support your ideas with logical reasoning and detailed, persuasive examples.
Use the space below and on the back cover to generate ideas and plan your essay. You may wish to consider the following as you think critically about the task:
§ Strengths and weaknesses of the three given perspectives
• What insights do they offer, and what do they fail to consider?
• Why might they be persuasive to others, or why might they fail to persuade?
§ Your own knowledge, experience, and values
• What is your perspective on this issue, and what are its strengths and weaknesses?
• How will you support your perspective in your essay?
Here’s a link to the 6th sample essay response to the “intelligent machines” prompt, which got a score of 6 (get it? The ACT people put the samples in order from a score of one to a score of six – very clever. ;-) ) : http://www.actstudent.org/writing/sample/six.html
Do you see why that’s a high-scoring essay? It’s effective, insightful, and it addresses the viewpoints in such a way that it shows the writer understands them, and uses them to help develop and express the writer’s own viewpoint. So how can you write an essay like that?
It’s simple; follow the directions. Not to be flippant, but if you give the ACT people what they want - a thoughtful answer, they’ll give you what you want – a high score. One effective way to write an essay is just a variation on the essay writing method I’ve already detailed in an earlier blog post.
First, have an introductory paragraph where you address the prompt, the three perspectives, and your perspective. Then address each perspective, using examples to show why you are, or are not, convinced by their arguments. Pretend you’re reading something on an Internet forum or a newspaper’s opinion-editorial page, and read each perspective like something posted online by a friend, a relative, an enemy, or even a “troll.” Why do you agree with the statement? If you agree, you’re probably thinking “It’s just like when I saw/I read/I did….” Whatever completes that thought is your supporting example.
Alternately, why do you DISAGREE with the perspective? If you saw something posted online that you really didn’t like, you’d think “That’s really stupid because everybody knows/I experienced/I read/I’ve been told [facts and principles that contradict the statement in the post].” Whatever you ‘d put in the brackets is your example supporting your argument against that perspective.
You can even argue that one perspective is right in some cases, and the others are right in different cases, as long as you explain when each principle applies, and when it doesn’t. In fact, it’s likely you will feel the need to do so, since the issues addressed in these topics are chosen because they allow for MANY different viewpoints and perspectives.
The writing test wouldn’t be much of a test if it just asked you an obvious question with only one correct answer, such as “Should you wash your hands after using the toilet?” So it’s going to ask questions about the balance between individual liberty and laws enacted to preserve security or save lives and public money, or the benefits and drawbacks of technology, and so on.
While in one sense, it’s harder to write an essay that requires nuance and sensitivity, since you do have to develop your own viewpoint and think of examples and counter-examples, it’s actually easier in the sense that you have great freedom to develop any idea that relates to the essay prompt and the perspectives into you own perspective. In other words, as long as you can express ANY idea that responds to the prompt and the perspectives in a reasonably coherent and grammatical manner, you can get a good score on this essay.
If you have problems with essay structure, spelling, punctuation, and grammar, please review those sections in your SAT review books and online (there are MANY free resources). A little review will help a lot.
For this essay, your best bet is to address the pros and cons of each perspective in one paragraph each, then state your perspective on the same topic, and how it relates to those perspectives, with your own examples. Again, this isn’t any different from a post on Facebook or someone’s blog, except your grammar, punctuation, and spelling count for more on the ACT than when you’re posting as “wizkid1234” on trollblog.com (no idea if that’s a real site, but it should be, right?).
[Note: Actually, your spelling, punctuation, and grammar also matter online, since most people will dismiss or just stop reading posts with tons of spelling and grammatical errors in them, thinking “Uh huh, some jerk who can’t spell ‘nuclear’ wants to criticize the Iran nuclear deal. No one has time for that. Bye-bye, El Trollio!”]
Remember, there are more ACT dates coming if you’re not happy with your score on this test – that’s an advantage of taking the September ACT! You’re not stuck with this score if you get “caught out” on too many questions you can’t answer. I hope this helps!
For another sample ACT and writing sample, try http://www.act.org/aap/pdf/Preparing-for-the-ACT.pdf , at pages 54 to 55.
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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.