Sept. 12, 2018
If you're holding back on taking the optional essay on the ACT because you're not sure how to earn top marks, read on! I'll share some of my best secrets, and while they may seem obvious at first, they all revolve around a simple tip that easily slips students' minds come test day: Write for your audience!
In this case, your audience is the ACT grader who happens to read your essay. In comparison to the amount of time you're given to write your essay, the graders are given significantly less time to actually read them. (You'll have 40 minutes to write, but graders will only have about five minutes to read each essay!) This means your main goal should be to make the graders' job as easy as possible. Here are some ways to do that:
Sticking to the essay structure you've probably used throughout most of your years in school is a great choice here: An introductory paragraph to present a general overview of your essay, a few body paragraphs for support and a concluding paragraph to tie everything up with a recap.
Use the introduction to give the grader a preview of what's to come, and end the paragraph with a clear and concise statement of the point you wish to convey. From there, the body paragraphs should only contain one new idea each— overloading these paragraphs might confuse or overwhelm the grader, who likely won't have time to read through your essay a second time for clarification. When it's time to wrap things up, all of your points should be on the page; no new information should be presented in the conclusion as you won't have the time needed to expand on it properly.
Besides a logical structure for your thoughts, the visual layout of your writing on the page can also make a great impact. Technically, your grader should not consider the neatness of your essay when assigning your writing score. However, the more legible your pages are, the easier it will be for the grader to follow the actual ideas you are presenting. Keeping things neat can be done with a few easy tricks:
- Use your best handwriting to avoid being misread
- Indent new paragraphs to clearly separate new ideas
- Fully erase mistakes (avoid crossing out) to keep sentences clear
When writing an ACT essay, showing off your extensive vocabulary can be tempting. But sometimes words that sound impressive (and vaguely familiar) may not be used in their best light when you're on a time crunch. It's better to save these terms or phrases for situations in which you'll have the chance to verify their usage (and spelling!) rather than potentially using a word incorrectly and making the wrong impression on your ACT grader.
ACT graders do tend to reward students who submit lengthier essays, that's no secret. (Two to three pages made up of at least four paragraphs is a great goal.) However, avoiding repetition is also important, and that comes with recognizing when your point has been made and when you should move on. Obviously, every argument needs a few supporting examples, but make sure that those you choose to use are varied enough that they each offer support in different ways — an essay grader doesn't want to read three paragraphs that could have been condensed to one. So, yes, length is crucial in this area of the test, but so is variation. Make your point and move along.
Along with other forms of ACT prep, keeping these tips in mind when writing your essay will almost certainly yield positive results for your score. Demonstrating to your grader that you are able to organize your thoughts logically with valid support in a clear and concise way is exactly what they want to see. So go into the ACT with confidence and get the score you want!
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