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Earlier this week, I wrote about the changes to the ACT Writing test. This week, I’ll advise you how best to prepare for—and excel on—the ACT Writing test. Many of the same things are important: a clear argument, a logical structure, descriptive examples, and thoughtful analysis. However, because you’ll be responding to three competing viewpoints on a single issue, your approach will naturally be a bit different than it would be if you were simply making an argument of your own.
How to Write the New ACT Essay
First, introduce the reader to the issue and articulate a clear thesis. “Low-cost items often come from cheap outsourced labor,” you might write, “but the American economy benefits most by keeping jobs at home. Such benefits are worth the marginally increased cost of American-made goods.” Your introductory paragraph should be short and to-the-point.
Then, turn to one of the three viewpoints. You can either provide an example that supports your argument and explain why this example aligns with one of the viewpoints or—as I prefer to do—dismantle the arguments of viewpoints that oppose your own before forcefully advancing your own argument. There’s no right or wrong answer. You can address one viewpoint per paragraph, then describe your own viewpoint and place it in dialogue with the other three. Or you can refer to multiple viewpoints per paragraph. I prefer to be systematic and methodical, so I would address one viewpoint at a time before lending supporting evidence to my own viewpoint and placing it in context with the others.
Specific examples still matter a great deal! Perhaps you talk about the cheap price of Levi’s jeans made by workers in developing countries, or the terrible working conditions in some Chinese factories. Don’t rely on generalizations or abstractions: draw upon specific examples—from history, science, current events, literature, or (if done deftly) your own life—to support your argument. You can also use specific examples to dismantle and disprove opposing viewpoints.
Remember that specific descriptive material should always be matched with thoughtful analysis. Your commentary on the three viewpoints is what the essay graders are looking for. Make sure that it’s well-articulated and insightful.
Conclude swiftly and confidently, reminding the reader of the logical underpinning and expected consequences of your argument.
Sample Essay Structure
A sample essay structure might look like this:
Paragraph 1: Intro to issue and thesis.
Paragraph 2: Critique Perspective One (keeping your thesis in mind) using specific example and thoughtful commentary. What are the implications and complications inherent in Perspective One?
Paragraph 3: Critique Perspective Two (keeping your thesis in mind) using specific example and thoughtful commentary. What are the implications and complications inherent in Perspective Two?
Paragraph 4: Critique Perspective Three (keeping your thesis in mind) using specific example and thoughtful commentary. This should be the Perspective most in line with your own. Why is it the most convincing Perspective?
Paragraph 5: Advance your thesis and place it in context with the other Perspectives. Is it similar or identical to one of them? Where does it diverge from them? Use a specific example and thoughtful commentary to prove your point.
Paragraph 6: Conclude confidently and forcefully.
(Note: It’s fine to combine Paragraphs 2 and 3 or Paragraphs 4 and 5.)
So far, I’ve covered how ideas, analysis, development, support, and organization matter in the ACT essay. Language use is also important. Be certain to employ an appropriate (formal) register and mature (academic) diction, and vary your sentence structure to avoid monotony. Choose language that conveys the superiority of your argument and weakens the arguments of the Perspectives you critique. Make good use of transition words such as “however,” “indeed,” furthermore,” “moreover,” “despite,” “although,” and so on. These, when used properly, telegraph an organized deployment of rhetorical force.
Remember, there’s no need to stick to a template in order to succeed on the ACT Writing test. All that matters is that you’re able to clearly, thoughtfully, and descriptively address three perspectives and advance your own in conversation with them. So long as your argument’s clear, your examples are specific, your analysis is thoughtful, your organization is sensible, and your language is appropriate, you’ll do just fine!
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