What’s the new format like?

The ACT changed the essay format this fall, beginning with the September 12 exam.  The old 30 minute essay format was purely a persuasive essay typically about a ‘teenager relevant’ topic such as should schools adopt a school uniform policy or whether the drinking age be lowered.

The new 40 minute essay format demands persuasion and analysis.  Students are provided with 3 perspectives on a topic and asked to “evaluate and analyze” the perspectives, “state and develop” your own perspective, and to then “explain the relationship” between the 3 perspectives and their own.  (The topics of the essay tend to be more sophisticated than those of the previous format.)

What’s the best way to prepare for the essay?

 The initial step in preparing is to examine the sample essays posted by ACT. There’s a prompt on the site that provides 6 sample essays from the lowest scoring to the highest. Reading these will give you a good understanding of what qualifies as  poor – superior essay. There is also an additional essay prompt for you to practice with.

Here are some easy to follow tips to help you structure your essay:

1. Begin your essay with an opening that alludes to the 3 perspectives and also includes your take on the issue. For instance, in the provided ACT sample essay, “Intelligent Machines”, a good opening might be:

 Some may say that machines  will cause us to lose our humanity, but it is too narrow an assumption to say that we will ‘forget’ what being human is. Machines and humans can work in concert to enhance each others strengths and weaknesses.

This opener mentions the focus of 2 of the perspectives and agrees with the other. HINT: Don’t make it complicated. It’s much easier to agree with one of the perspectives rather present your own.

2. Use this basic format:

Paragraph #1: Intro, 2-4 sentences.

Paragraph #2: Evaluate the first perspective you are not supporting with SPECIFIC examples.

Paragraph #3: Evaluate the other perspective not chosen with SPECIFIC examples.

Paragraph #4 (and 5): This is the paragraph that discusses the perspective you agree with so this will be the largest one, maybe even 2 paragraphs. Again, examples must be SPECIFIC, not a mere listing!

Last paragraph: Your conclusion that states the final assessment of your argument.

This format ensures that you will address everything demanded in the assignment.

What is the best way to express and support your point?

Please note that I said SPECIFIC examples each time in all caps. This is because I have noticed when I read most essays, examples are merely listed not elaborated on! The more specific the better. The graders are looking for signs that you know history, current events. literature, science, etc.  – that you have learned something in high school!

Also, don’t quote facts unless you absolutely know they are true and be careful of absolute statements that are subjective: “Everyone knows that George W. Bush was the worst president.” Instead, “There are some who believe that George Bush was . . .”

Use qualifying adverbs liberally: seemingly, merely, essentially, primarily, typically, etc.

Make sure you allow at least 2-3 minutes to proofread your essay to catch any “Language Use” mistakes: (grammar, mechanics, syntax, and word choice) since that is one of the (new) criteria used for scoring.

How will the essay be scored?

 Formerly the essay was scored on a 2-12 point scale based on 2 graders’ assessments, of 1-6. The essay will now be scored similarly to the multiple choice, 1-36. The scores will be drilled down into 4 categories: Language Use, (mentioned above), Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, and Organization. Two graders will give scores in each, 1-6 which will be combined for a raw score and then converted to the scaled score out of 36. (If there is more than a 1 point discrepancy between the 2 graders, the essay will be assigned to another grader.) Students will also receive an ELA score – a combination of the essay and the multiple choice English scores.

Is the essay mandatory?

 As with the previous essay, this one is also optional and will be the final section on the ACT. Many colleges require the essay, so if you are unsure where you are applying, it’s best to take the the test with the essay.



Is your teen planning on taking the ACT in December or January?

Does your student:

  • want more personalized tips for writing his ACT essay?
  • need some additional strategies on how to get through the reading passages and/or the 60 math problems without running out of time?
  • get cross-eyed from reading the charts and graphs in the Science section?
  • become overwhelmed on the English section when asked if a sentence should be placed elsewhere within a paragraph?

Call or schedule now to find out more about our unique take on how to improve your teen’s ACT scores!



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