Tips for Writing the ACT Essay

Here is a sample ACT essay prompt:

Attending School Year Round

Ten public school districts around the country have lengthened both the school year and the school day to try to improve student performance. Many proponents believe this is not enough, however. They would like to extend the academic calendar throughout the year, utilizing shorter, more frequent breaks instead of one large break during the summer. The advocates for year-round school cite the well-known problem of learning loss over summer months; their theory is that students would retain more knowledge and fare better year over year with the consistency of year-round school.

But what sorts of problems could come from a system like this? With the debate rising, it is worth examining the implications of year-round school’s effect on students’ academic achievement.

Read and carefully consider these perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about this type of school year.

Perspective One

A major problem with year-round school is the added cost. Teachers, bus drivers, and school staff would have to be paid; the schools would have to be heated and cooled; free and reduced lunches would have to continue.

There just isn’t enough money in the budget to accommodate such changes.

Perspective Two

If students from the U.S. want to compete with other powerful countries, we are going to have to do what it takes. Our current system is obviously failing; student achievement is terribly low. It’s worth trying something different to attempt to turn our educational system around.

Perspective Three

Extending the school year would be great if hours could be spent via distance learning. Students and teachers could login via tablet, computer or phone and complete the required hours. Otherwise, a system like this risks breaking up family time even more than it already does.

Essay Task

Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on year-round school. 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.

Writing the ACT Essay:  Step by Step

Your job with this prompt is to write an essay with your position on the prompt, while assessing the three perspectives  provided with the essay.  Finding a way to anchor your essay with a unique perspective of your very own that can be debated and defended will put you up in the upper percentage of scorers.

Step 1:  Work the Prompt:

What in the prompt asks you to weigh in?  Why is this issue still the subject of debate and not a done deal?

Step 2:  Planning Your Essay

Your work on these prewriting pages will not be scored.

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?

Step 3:  Come up with your own perspective

How do you go about coming up with your own perspective?  You should be careful not to just restate one of the three given perspectives as you won’t get a high score.  You can draw from each perspective and/or side with one of them but your perspective should have something unique about it.

Step 4:  Put It All Together

Your ideas are in order and it’s time to organize the ACT essay.  This guide will work no matter what your prompt is:

INTRODUCTION:  1)  Start with the topic sentence which restates the central issue.  2)  Clearly state your position on the issue.

BODY #1 PARAGRAPH:  1)   Start with a transition/topic sentence that discusses the opposing side of your argument.  2)  Discuss the given perspective(s) that would support the opposing argument.  3)  Give a specific example that could be used to support the opposing perspective.  4)  Explain why you disagree with the opposing perspective.

BODY #2 PARAGRAPH:  1)  Start with a transition/topic sentence that discusses YOUR POSITION on the central issue.  2)  Explain your position including any of the given perspectives that support your position.  3)  Give an example that supports your position.  4)  End the paragraph by restating your position.

CONCLUSION:  1)  Recap your discussion.   2) Restate your perspective and arguments.  3)  Provide a final conclusive thought on the topic.

Step 5: Proofread

Try to save a couple minutes at the end to proofread your essay.  Look first for big, glaring errors.  If you do find one, erase completely or cross out neatly.  Though neatness doesn’t necessary affect the grade, it makes it appear more professional and thoughtful.

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