How to Build a List of Examples to Use on the ACT Essay

Students hate when they’re required to write the ACT Essay, but if they’re prepared to do so, it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate their skill at thinking critically, evaluating multiple points of view, and formulating a strong, logical argument. Lots of people in the world have opinions, but the people whose opinions are taken most seriously tend to have EVIDENCE to support their argument. When writing the ACT essay, it’s vital that you have evidence to support your argument as well. A surefire way to get a low score on the ACT Essay is to make claims that are too general and are unsupported by detailed evidentiary examples.

You Have to Earn Your Generalities

As human beings, we often fall into the trap of generalizing. When you write or utter a generality, you’re essentially making a broad statement. What are some examples of generalities? “Humans are selfish.” “Texas is big.” “Dogs are friendly.” Notice that generalities like these tend to invite questions and criticisms. Are all humans selfish? What do you mean by “selfish”? Is selfishness our nature, or do we learn it? And where’s the proof? Do we have examples of specific people being selfish? And so on. As a writer, how do you guard yourself against criticism for the generalities you make? You earn them by using detailed, persuasive examples to support your argument. Of course, people still might have objections to your argument. That’s a given. But if you earn your generalities when writing the ACT essay by pointing to detailed descriptive examples (and making intelligent, persuasive commentary on those examples), you’re sure to get a high score.

Persuasive Arguments Must Be Proven Right

If a person tells you that smoking causes cancer, you might believe him or her and avoid smoking. But if a person shows you that smoking causes cancer by pointing to scientific studies and introducing you to people who are suffering from lung cancer as a consequence of smoking, you’ll be much more likely to be convinced by the person’s argument. As humans, we accept many truths at face value without demanding evidence to back up the validity of those truths. If you want your claims to be taken seriously as a writer, however, and if you want to obtain a score of 10 or 12 on the ACT Essay, you’ll need to harness the persuasive power of specific examples.

What Kinds of Examples Can You Use on the ACT Essay?

The good news for students who want to get a perfect score on the ACT Essay test is that there isn’t any hard and fast rule as to what sorts of examples are valid. All that matters is that you HAVE examples. You can support your argument with examples taken from a broad range of disciplines: history, for example, or literature. Current events, if they’re relevant, or science. Examples drawn from your own life also work. Many students ask me whether or not examples drawn from their own lives will be as strong as examples taken from history, literature, science, and so on. My answer’s always the same: yes, if your examples are 1) relevant, 2) detailed and descriptive, and 3) analyzed properly.

Do the ACT Graders Fact-Check the ACT Essay?

The ACT graders do NOT care whether or not you have accurate facts and figures in your essay. All they care about is whether you can a) analyze perspectives, b) take a perspective, c) formulate an argument backed by specific examples and thoughtful commentary, and d) WRITE. As such, you can feel free to make up facts and figures or to invent real-world examples if need be. You won’t be penalized for doing so. In fact, you’ll end up with a higher score than you would have ended up with if you had not included any examples at all.

Build a List of Examples You Can Use for Many Different Prompts

A student who wants to be as prepared as possible to get a high score of 10 or 12 on the ACT Essay would do well to build a list of specific examples they can write about at will. You’d be surprised how the same example can be used for many different prompts, depending on the angle you take when writing about the example in question.

Set aside some time to build a list of 5 examples from each of the following areas: history, literature, science, current events, business, and your own life. When compiling your list of examples, be sure to include specific details that you’ll be able to incorporate into your ACT essay. Ask yourself what types of prompts each example you prepare might be used for. If you’ve built a list of examples to use on the ACT essay, you’ll be able to find a couple of good examples for the prompt you happen to get on test day with little effort. The more your writing process becomes second nature, the easier it will be for you to write the ACT essay. If you can save time during the planning phase by having a couple of relevant examples at your disposal, you’ll have much more time to actually WRITE the essay and focus on structure, style, and so on.

Some Good Examples You Might Use

Here’s a springboard to launch you into your task of building a list of specific examples you might use for a variety of ACT essay prompts.

HISTORY: The Roman Empire, the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, World War II, etc., etc.

LITERATURE: Shakespeare’s plays, The Great Gatsby, Biblical stories, 1984, Brave New World, Harry Potter, etc., etc.

CURRENT EVENTS: Tensions with North Korea, Russian interference in U.S. Elections, the Republican tax plan, Black Lives Matter, debates about freedom of speech on college campuses, Obamacare, etc., etc.

SCIENCE: New technologies, treatments for various diseases, exploration of the universe, climate change, physics, chemistry, geology, etc., etc.

BUSINESS: Facebook, Google, Apple, Tesla, Amazon, Microsoft, etc., etc.

NOTABLE PEOPLE: Martin Luther King, Jr., Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Abraham Lincoln, the Founding Fathers, the Kardashians, etc. etc.

Notice that the lists above could go on and on and on… When you compile your list of possible examples, include some bullet points about WHO or WHAT the example concerns, some relevant SPECIFIC details, and some prompts the examples might work for. It’s usually best to write about examples you KNOW a lot about, so start your list with the topics and people that are most interesting to you or that you have the most knowledge about. Then, as you begin to include examples you have less knowledge about, you can do some basic research (Google!) that will allow you to memorize a detail or two about each example and obtain an idea of that example’s significance and the situations in which the example might be cited.

Don’t Forget to Add Commentary on Your Examples

Examples filled with facts and figures and specific descriptive details are a MUST for the ACT Essay, but don’t forget that it’s your job as a persuasive writer to EXPLAIN to the reader how the examples you’ve chosen to include PROVE your argument. Since the ACT Essay task also involves considering three perspectives on an issue and placing your opinion in dialogue with the perspectives given, it’s also wise to explain how your examples and argument align with, contradict, or partially align with, the perspectives given.

Now go start building that list of examples! Let us know if you need any ACT essay advice or 1-on-1 workshopping with an experienced writer to help improve your ACT essay score. The perfect score you long for on the ACT essay IS possible. The good news is that with enough practice, you’ll become a skiller writer and thinker, and if you’re a skilled writer and thinker, you will enjoy all the POWER that comes with being able to articulate your opinions and convince people to agree with you.

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That’s it! For more SAT and ACT prep tips, check out the rest of our blog. Looking for 1-on-1 ACT or SAT prep tutoring? Want to join an SAT or ACT group class? Contact us today!




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