Are you debating whether or not to take the optional ACT essay? Some schools require it, so we highly recommend that you take it (make sure to register for ACT with Writing).
But no need to stress! The essay follows a predictable format, which means you can practice and prepare beforehand. Take a look at a sample ACT writing prompt and learn five key steps to penning a high-scoring essay.
ACT Writing Prompt
This example writing prompt comes straight from our book Cracking the ACT:
Education and the Workplace
Many colleges and universities have cut their humanities departments, and high schools have started to shift their attention much more definitively toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and away from ELA (English, Language Arts). Representatives from both school boards and government organizations suggest that the move toward STEM is necessary in helping students to participate in a meaningful way in the American workplace. Given the urgency of this debate for the future of education and society as a whole, it is worth examining the potential consequences of this shift in how students are educated in the United States.
Read and carefully consider these perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the shift in American education.
|Perspective 1||Perspective 2||Perspective 3|
|ELA programs should be emphasized over STEM programs. Education is not merely a means to employment: ELA education helps students to live more meaningful lives. In addition, an exclusively STEM-based program cannot help but limit students’ creativity and lead them to overemphasize the importance of money and other tangible gains.||ELA programs should be eradicated entirely, except to establish the basic literacy necessary to engage in the hard sciences, mathematics, and business. Reading and writing are activities that are best saved for the leisure of students who enjoy them.||ELA and STEM programs should always be in equal balance with one another. Both are necessary to providing a student with a well-rounded education. Moreover, equal emphasis will allow the fullest possible exposure to many subjects before students choose their majors and careers|
Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on the issue of how schools should balance STEM and ELA subjects. 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.
How to Write the ACT Essay
Your job is to write an essay in which you take some sort of position on the prompt, all while assessing the three perspectives provided in the boxes. Find a way to anchor your essay with a unique perspective of your own that can be defended and debated, and you are already in the upper echelon of scorers.
Step 1: Work the Prompt
What in the prompt requires you to weigh in? Why is this issue still the subject of debate and not a done deal?
Step 2: Work the Perspectives
Typically, the three perspectives will be split: one for, one against, and one in the middle. Your goal in Step 2 is to figure out where each perspective stands and then identify at least one shortcoming of each perspective. For the example above, ask yourself:
- What does each perspective consider?
- What does each perspective overlook?
Step 3: Generate Your Own Perspective
Now it's time to come up with your own perspective! If you merely restate one of the three given perspectives, you won’t be able to get into the highest scoring ranges. You’ll draw from each of the perspectives, and you may side with one of them, but your perspective should have something unique about it.
Step 4: Put It All Together
Now that you have your ideas in order, here's a blueprint for how to organize the ACT essay. This blueprint works no matter what your prompt is.
Body Paragraph (1)
|Body Paragraph (2)|
Step 5: (If There's Time): Proofread
Spend one or two minutes on proofreading your essay if you have time. You’re looking for big, glaring errors. If you find one, erase it completely or cross it out neatly. Though neatness doesn’t necessarily affect your grade, it does make for a happy grader.
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I confess: I’m a huge fan of the computer game, The Sims. I’ve played it since the first iteration and have spent an embarrassing amount of money and time on the game. It used to be a guilty pleasure until I discovered that I could use it to further my writing. I could play and work at the same time! (Well, sort of.)
The Sims lets me quickly create characters and let them live through situations (well, most of the time they live, sometimes they die) that would take me weeks of outlining to accomplish. I can experiment with various personality traits. I can give them jobs (they can even be writers), let them run their own business, keep them unemployed, or get them fired or promoted at work. They can be criminals or good guys. I can make them rich, or keep them poor. I can make them happy or mad. I can put them in relationships with other Sims (both hetero or homosexual), leave them unattached, or I can make their relationships go bust. They can even have affairs. I can give them pets or kids. Heck, in the latest iteration of the game I can even experiment with zombies, vampires, and witches and even send my Sims into the future or off to college. All of this is fodder for my creativity and stories.
More than once I’ve created a character and let them go about their business with very little assistance from me, just to see what they’d do. I’ve taken notes and used their actions and reactions in my work. If things get completely out of control, I can just exit the game without saving and go back to a time when things were better. That’s hard to do after you’ve spent a hundred pages going down the wrong path in a novel. Even better, I can save a pristine version of my character and use him or her over and over again in new games to create new stories. I can then pick the story I like best and write about it. That’s a lot easier than working through four or five stories on paper.
The Sims is a great way to spark my creativity when it’s at a low ebb. Sure, I still sit down with paper and pencil and sketch out characters and novel ideas. There are some things a computer game can never address, after all. But it is fun and different and it goes beyond just superficial details like looks and jobs. For example, I can create characters that are “made for” another character, or I can create characters that I know are going to antagonize or even hurt other characters. (These can later become supporting characters in a novel.) I can reform bad characters, or make good characters go bad. And then I can sit back and see what happens without having to slog through pages and pages only to discover that it wasn’t such a great idea after all.
I’ve even taken some of my characters and their stories and posted them to the online Sims community and let other Simmers give their input as to what the character should do next. It’s amazing what other people think of and getting their input expands my work even further. I can also take characters that others have created and add them to my game, creating even more mayhem. In a way, it’s a form of fan fiction that spills over into “real” the novels and stories that I’m working on.
Even if you don’t use it for your “serious” writing, The Sims can be a big help during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) if you participate. When you get stuck, just boot up the game and play for a while (but not too long or you’ll waste too much time). You’ll quickly have lots of fodder for your story that will push you toward that 50,000-word goal.
If The Sims isn’t your thing, or if you need more of a fantasy element for your character creation, there are other options. There are plenty of MMORPG’s that allow you to create your own characters and situations, or you can try traditional paper and pencil role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder.
Okay, so The Sims is never going to qualify for a tax deduction as a “business related expense.” But it has helped my creativity and given me a chance to explore new characters and situations while having some fun in the process. I just have to be careful not to spend too much time with the game because then it just becomes a tool for procrastination.
(Photo courtesy of Eurritimia)