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Act Essay View

Whether you've never thought about ACT Writing strategies or have worked hard on the ACT essay, you can benefit from knowing more: about the essay itself, and what really matters when the graders are reading your essay. In this article, we offer a number of ACT Writing tips as well as a foolproof template for putting them into practice.

 

ACT Essay Tips

The ACT essay is a very short assignment - you only get 40 minutes to write a full-fledged essay - and it can pass in a flash if you don't have a method for attacking it. It requires a very specific approach that's unlike the essays you've been writing for English class.

The goal of this strategy is to cram in as many as possible of the desired components in the 40 minutes you've got. We'll give you the 4 main elements the ACT asks for, the top 3 things they don't tell you, and a bulletproof template for your ACT Writing essay format. Here we go!

 

What ACT, Inc. Does Tell You: 4 Elements to Remember

ACT, Inc. explains the main components of the successful ACT Essay in its scoring criteria. Here they are, condensed and explained:


1) Ideas & Analysis: A 12-scoring essay includes "an argument that critically engages with multiple perspectives on the given issue. The argument’s thesis reflects nuance and precision in thought and purpose. The argument establishes and employs an insightful context for analysis of the issue and its perspectives. The analysis examines implications, complexities and tensions, and/or underlying values and assumptions."

In other words, answer the question that's in the prompt, make it very, very clear what YOUR perspective is and analyze how your perspective relates to at least one of the three given perspectives. This domain is the hardest to master; it's tough to do everything you need to do well at all, much less in 40 minutes. The main point is that you want to show that you understand as many sides of the issue as possible. You do this by discussing those sides of the issue, why people might have those opinions, and whether those opinions are logical or not.

It's fine to copy the exact words from the prompt into your thesis statement—in fact, this guarantees that the graders will see that your thesis is there and on topic. You must, however, make it obvious which side you are arguing for. If you can, it's great to put the argument in terms of a larger debate—we'll discuss that later.

 

2) Development & Support: In a 12-scoring essay, "[d]evelopment of ideas and support for claims deepen insight and broaden context. An integrated line of skillful reasoning and illustration effectively conveys the significance of the argument. Qualifications and complications enrich and bolster ideas and analysis."

This is another area that can be hard for students to grasp. The bottom line is that you need to fully explain every point you make. If you don't have time to explain it in 2-4 sentences, leave it out (unless it's the only way you can get in a comparison of your perspective with one of the three perspectives). You can do this by explaining your thinking and reasoning or using specific examples to illustrate your points.

 

3) Organization: A 12-scoring essay "exhibits a skillful organizational strategy. The response is unified by a controlling idea or purpose, and a logical progression of ideas increases the effectiveness of the writer’s argument. Transitions between and within paragraphs strengthen the relationships among ideas."

In short, you need to give each idea 1-2 paragraphs. If a logical organization for your points occurs to you (for example, if Point 1 depends on Point 2, you'd put Point 2 first), use it. If not, just list your points, allotting a paragraph for each one. A transition that reflects your logic just means tying one point to another somehow, and this is ideal. The ACT essay scoring system won't penalize you too heavily for a "First, Second, Third" type of organization, so if you just say "My first reason…," "Secondly…," that's better than no transitions. The intro and conclusion should make the same general points, and if you have a larger context mentioned in the intro, mention it again in the conclusion. Simple as that.

 

4) Language Use: A 12-scoring essay uses language in a way that "enhances the argument. Word choice is skillful and precise. Sentence structures are consistently varied and clear. Stylistic and register choices, including voice and tone, are strategic and effective. While a few minor errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics may be present, they do not impede understanding."

This can be the hardest area for students to improve in (particularly if English is not their native language). "Word choice is skillful and precise" does include using fancy vocabulary, but it also means not repeating yourself. Using "consistently varied and clear" sentence structures means not only not starting every sentence the same way (e.g. "Machines are helpful to humans. Machines can also cause problems. Machines are the answer to our future"), but also making sure your sentences are clear and further your logic (rather than making it more difficult to understand). It's better to be clear than to be fancy.

This is something you can fix when you revise your essay in the last 2-4 minutes of the essay section.

 

What ACT, Inc. Doesn't Tell You: 3 Secrets

Even though the ACT essay has some clear published guidelines, there are a few secrets that most students don't know and that can give you a major advantage on the test.

These are facts that ACT, Inc. doesn't want to be too well-known because it helps us develop ACT Writing strategies that may give us an edge over people who haven't prepared.

 

1) You Don't Need to Know the Facts

You can make up whatever information you need to support your point. Really. As with the tip above, if you know the real facts, that's great (since the grader will probably know them too), but it's not required.

This might sound crazy. You could write about how Germany won World War II, and the ACT graders are not allowed to penalize you. Why is this?

ACT, Inc. doesn't have the resources to do fact-checking on every single essay. With over a million students taking the test every year, graders only have a few minutes to put a score of 1-6 to each of the 4 essay scoring domains. They can't check whether Martin Luther King was born in 1929 or 1925.

Thus, ACT essay scoring uses a simpler rule--all statements are taken as truth. The important point is that the evidence needs to support your thesis.

(Of course, ACT, Inc. doesn't want people to know about this - that would make the ACT essay sound silly.)

If you're short on examples to prove a point, make up something realistic-sounding (you can even pretend a newspaper or politician said something they didn't), and slap it in there. It's much better than trying to write a vague paragraph without concrete evidence.

 

2) You Should Write More Than a Page

This is one of the most important ACT Writing tips. There is a strong relationship between essay length and score - the longer your essay, the better your score. In a short essay, it's difficult for you to develop your points well enough to earn a decent score.

Really, you should write a page and a half if at all possible. Although ACT, Inc. never explicitly mentions that length matters in ACT essay scoring, it does. And if you can write more than a page and a half without repeating yourself or digressing from your point, you'll be in really good shape.

 

3) Your First Paragraph and Conclusion Matter More Than the Middle

The introduction and conclusion are the "bookends" of the essay: they hold it together and are guaranteed to be read more closely than the rest of the essay.

 

ACT graders have to read a lot of essays very quickly, and they give most of them a 3 or a 4 in each domain. The fastest way for them to score an essay is to find the thesis (to make sure that it's there, that it answers the prompt, and that the rest of the essay supports it) and then skim the first and last paragraphs.

Here's why: if a student's introduction and conclusion paragraphs are well-written and logical, it's likely the rest of the essay will be too. By reading these parts, the grader can usually tell with confidence what the score will be. They'll scan the middle to make sure it makes sense, but they probably won't read every word as closely.

On the other hand, if you don't have time to write an introduction or conclusion, you will be heavily penalized. It'll be hard to score above an 8 without an introduction and conclusion, particularly if you don't make your thesis, or point of view, clear in the first paragraph. This might be the most important ACT essay tip we can give you.

A strong ACT writing strategy includes preparing enough time to write and revise your introduction and conclusion paragraphs, as we explain below.

 

Key Strategy: How to Write A Successful ACT Essay in 40 Minutes

Because you only have 40 minutes to write the ACT essay, you need to have a game plan before you start the test. Here's a step by step guide on how to write an effective ACT essay.

 

Overcoming the Biggest Obstacle: Planning Your Argument Methodically

One of the things that students often find hardest about the essay is quickly thinking of support for the thesis. But it can be done in a simple, methodical way, which we explain below. Let's start with a sample prompt.

 

Intelligent Machines

Many of the goods and services we depend on daily are now supplied by intelligent, automated machines rather than human beings. Robots build cars and other goods on assembly lines, where once there were human workers. Many of our phone conversations are now conducted not with people but with sophisticated technologies. We can now buy goods at a variety of stores without the help of a human cashier. Automation is generally seen as a sign of progress, but what is lost when we replace humans with machines? Given the accelerating variety and prevalence of intelligent machines, it is worth examining the implications and meaning of their presence in our lives.

Read and carefully consider these perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the increasing presence of intelligent machines.

 

Perspective One: What we lose with the replacement of people by machines is some part of our own humanity. Even our mundane daily encounters no longer require from us basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for other people.

Perspective Two: Machines are good at low-skill, repetitive jobs, and at high-speed, extremely precise jobs. In both cases they work better than humans.  This efficiency leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone.

Perspective Three: Intelligent machines challenge our long-standing ideas about what humans are or can be. This is good because it pushes both humans and machines toward new, unimagined possibilities.

 

Essay Task

Write a unified, coherent essay about the increasing presence of intelligent machines. In your essay, be sure to:

  • clearly state your own perspective on the issue and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective
  • develop and support your ideas with reasoning and examples
  • organize your ideas clearly and logically
  • communicate your ideas effectively in standard written English

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial agreement, or wholly different.

 

Wall-e & Eve (Perler) by Morgan, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

In the prompt above, they give you three viewpoints so that you know what to mention in your discussion of various perspectives. But you'll need to elaborate on these as well. Let's look at the viewpoints this prompt gives us.

  • Conservative: "Intelligent machines lead to problems, which is bad."
  • Utilitarian: "Intelligent machines allow us to be more efficient, which is good."
  • Progressive: "Intelligent machines lead to progress, which is good."

Supporting each viewpoint is a slew of possible reasons, and these are what you want to lay out clearly in your essay. You can, of course, choose any side of the argument, but one is usually easier to argue than the other (because it is opposite the other two perspectives).

For this prompt, it's easier to argue against intelligent machines than to argue for their efficiency or progress, so we'll look at potential support for the "conservative" argument, which is that "Intelligent machines lead to problems."

To argue against any change, we can point out its assumptions and how they are false, or its consequences and how they are bad:

Assumptions:
  • it assumes that machines lead to progress [assumption made by perspective 3]
  • it assumes that machines allow us to be more efficient [assumption made by perspective 2]
  • it assumes that the benefits machines give to us outweigh the negatives
Consequences:
  • it could lead to progress in some areas, but also to new problems caused by that progress
  • it could let us be more efficient in some ways, but end up creating more
  • it would hurt us more than it would help because people would end up becoming less courteous and respectful to and tolerant of other people [perspective 1]

This method works for any argument. If you find yourself supporting the proposal in the prompt, say (to use a real ACT example) that a right to avoid health risks is a more important freedom than the right to do whatever you want, then you just need to think of ways it would be positive. That can be much simpler. But you can still use the assumptions-and-consequences method above for the paragraph in which you address at least one other perspective.

 

The Golden Essay Template

This is a tried and true structure for earning a great score on the ACT essay. Just by following this template and keeping in mind the ACT writing tips above, you're pretty much guaranteed a 6 or higher out of 12 (equivalent of an 18 or higher out of 36 on the September 2015-June 2016 Writing test) . Do a decent job and you'll easily get an 8 or higher. Here are a few real ACT prompts to keep in mind as we go through the steps:

  • Intelligent machines: they're not good, they're good and practical, or they're good and lead to progress.
  • Public health and individual freedom: freedom is more important than physical health, society should strive for the greatest good for the most people, or the right to avoid health risks is more important than individual freedom.

 

 

Planning

Time: 8-10 minutes

  1. Decide on your thesis, choosing one of the three sides. You can try to form your own, fourth perspective, but since you have to compare your perspective with at least one of the perspectives given you might as well argue for one of them and save some time for writing.   
  2. Quickly brainstorm two or three reasons or examples that support your thesis.
  3. Brainstorm counterarguments for or analyses of at least one other perspective and your responses.
  4. Organize your essay. Make sure you order your points in a way that makes sense.
  5. Check your time. Try to have 30 minutes left at this point so you have enough time to write. If you don't, just keep in mind that you might have to cut out one of your supporting points.

 

Writing

Time: 25-28 minutes

1. Paragraph 1: Introduction & Thesis

A) Write your introduction. If you can think of an interesting first sentence that brings your thesis into a larger discussion (say, of how intelligent machines have changed the way people interact with each other), start with that.

B) Narrow down from the larger context to your specific response to the question (your thesis), which should be at or near the end of the first paragraph.

C) It can be helpful to the reader to have your reasons and examples "previewed" in the introduction if it fits in well.

 

2. Paragraph 2: Transitions & Opposing Perspective.

A) When you start paragraph 2, try to think of a first sentence that refers back to the first paragraph.

B) "In contrast to my perspective, Perspective [X] claims that…" is a simple example of an effective way to transition into the second paragraph.

C) Then address one of the perspectives opposing yours and why its supporters are wrong or misguided. In the example about intelligent machines above (where we've chosen to argue Perspective 1), you could argue against perspective 2 OR 3 in this paragraph.

 

3. Body Paragraphs (those remaining before the conclusion):

A) Introduce your first reason or example in support of the perspective you'll be discussing.

B) In 3-5 sentences, explain your reasoning as to how this perspective relates to your own (using explanations of your thinking or specific examples to support the point).

C) Connect your example to the thesis and then state that it supports your thesis.

D) Check your time. Try to have 7 minutes left by this point.

 

4. Conclusion

AA)    (Optional) Relate your two or three examples back to your thesis. Add one or two sentences if you want.

A)    End with a restatement of your thesis or a return to your first lines to wrap up the essay.

 

Revising

Time: 2-4 minutes

Hopefully, you still have 2-4 minutes to read over your essay. In this time, you can do several things.

A) You can, of course, correct mistakes.

B) You can replace dull words with fancier words.

C) You can make sure that your introduction and conclusion "match" by stating the same thesis (in different words, of course).

 

Notice the two bolded time-checking steps. It's very easy to get caught in the planning stage and run out of time on your actual essay, which is easy to avoid if you practice checking your time.

If you have to make a choice between explaining a perspective or writing a conclusion paragraph, always choose the explanation. You can get by with a short sentence for a conclusion, and you can make a strong essay with a clear thesis in your introduction, but if you leave out the analysis of the relationship between your perspective and one of the ACT's perspectives in your essay, you'll lose a lot of points.

 

Now What?

Now you practice. Print out the template above, consult our ACT Essay Prompts Article (or think of any controversial issue in the world today), and get to work. You may find that many issues can be argued using the same reasoning or examples.

For instance, the argument that the benefits of the changes happening in the world don't necessarily outweigh the problems they create can apply to many of the new ACT prompts. You can research concrete information to support this kind of useful argument, like a newspaper article about how the Industrial Revolution led to increased environmental destruction.

 

Downtown by .shyam., used under CC BY-SA 2.0/Cropped from original.

More like Industrial Re-POLL-ution, am I right?

 

Remember: the more you practice, the easier it gets, as you learn how to reuse information to suit different purposes and your brain becomes used to thinking in this way.

 

What's Next?

Read more about the new ACT Writing Test and how to score a perfect score on your ACT essay.

Want more in-depth guides? Check out my step-by-step guide to writing top-scoring ACT essay as well as a complete breakdown of the new ACT Writing Scoring Rubric.

Hungry for more practice ACT Writing prompts? Look no further than our article containing links to all the freely available official ACT Writing prompts that have been released so far, as well as bonus prompts I constructed.

 

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Check out our best-in-class online ACT prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your ACT score by 4 points or more.

Our program is entirely online, and it customizes your prep program to your strengths and weaknesses. We also have expert instructors who can grade every one of your practice ACT essays, giving feedback on how to improve your score.

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Most of the ACT is entirely multiple choice. All you have to worry about when answering the questions is that you’re filling in the correct answer bubble!

But then there’s that (optional) Writing section, which requires you to give your answer in words. How are you supposed to write a persuasive essay in 40 minutes? What format should your essay have? Is there an ACT essay template that can guarantee you a high score? We'll answer these questions in this article.

feature image credit: homework ritual by woodleywonderworks, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

What Does Your ACT Essay Need? 5 Key Elements

In order to do well on ACT Writing, your essay will need to have the following five elements (not necessarily in this order):

 

1. An Introduction

The first thing the grader will see is your opening paragraph, so you should make a good impression. Don't just jump right into the meat of your essay - introduce your perspective (your thesis statement) and how it relates to the other perspectives given by the essay prompt. You don't necessarily have to start out by writing your introduction (you can always leave a few lines blank at the top of your essay and come back to it after you've written your example paragraphs), but you MUST include it.

 

2. Your Thesis Statement (should be in your introduction)

You must take a perspective on the issue presented in the prompt paragraph and state it clearly. I advise using one of the three perspectives the ACT gives you as your position/perspective; you can come up with your own perspective, but then you have more work to do in the essay (which is not ideal with a time constraint). Your thesis statement (the statement of your perspective) should go in the introduction of your essay.

 

3. A Discussion of All Three Perspectives

In your essay, you must discuss all three perspectives the ACT gives you. Make sure to discuss pros as well as cons for the perspectives you don’t agree with to show you understand the complexities of the issue.

 

4.  Examples or Reasoning to Support Each Point

To support your arguments for and against each perspective, you need to draw on reasoning or specific examples. This reasoning should be in the same paragraph as the arguments. For instance, if your argument is about how globalization leads to greater efficiency, you should include your support for this argument in the same paragraph.

And it's not enough to just say “Because freedom” or “Because Stalin” or something like that as your support and leave it at that. You need to actually explain how your reasoning or examples support your point.

 

5. Clear Organization

Avoid discussing multiple points in one paragraph. Instead, our recommended strategy is to discuss one perspective per paragraph. This organization will not only make it easier for you to stay on track, but will also make it easier for your essay's scorers to follow your reasoning (always a good thing).

 

Ketty by Elena Gurzhiy, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

Pro tip: To gain motivation to make your essay easier to follow, imagine your essay graders with sad puppy eyes.

 

ACT Essay Outline

The 5-paragraph structure might seem boring, but it is a good way to keep your points organized when writing an essay. For the ACT essay, you'll need an introduction, three body paragraphs (one paragraph for each perspective), and a conclusion. You should state your thesis in your introduction and conclusion (using different words in your conclusion so that you're not repeating yourself exactly).

So how do you write in this five paragraph structure on the ACT? I'll show you how to put the plan into action with an essay template that can be used for any ACT essay question. First, here's the prompt I'll be using:

 

Public Health and Individual Freedom

Most people want to be healthy, and most people want as much freedom as possible to do the things they want. Unfortunately, these two desires sometimes conflict. For example, smoking is prohibited from most public places, which restricts the freedom of some individuals for the sake of the health of others. Likewise, car emissions are regulated in many areas in order to reduce pollution and its health risks to others, which in turn restricts some people’s freedom to drive the vehicles they want. In a society that values both health and freedom, how do we best balance the two? How should we think about conflicts between public health and individual freedom?

 

Read and carefully consider these perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the conflict between public health and individual freedom.

 

Perspective One

Perspective Two

Perspective Three

Our society should strive to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. When the freedom of the individual interferes with that principle, freedom must be restricted.

Nothing in society is more valuable than freedom. Perhaps physical health is sometimes improved by restricting freedom, but the cost to the health of our free society is far too great to justify it.

The right to avoid health risks is a freedom, too. When we allow individual behavior to endanger others, we’ve damaged both freedom and health.

 

Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on the conflict between public health and individual freedom. 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.

 

Next, I'll break down the ACT essay into its individual parts (introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion) and give examples for what each should look like. Because I'm writing in response to a specific prompt, some of the information may not translate exactly from essay to essay; instead, focus on the structure of the paragraphs. I've bolded key structural words and phrases for you to focus on. 

 

Introduction (2-3 sentences)

Begin your introduction with a general statement about the topic that draws the reader in; should provide some context for what you’ll be discussing in the essay. Can be omitted if you’re short on time (1-2 sentences).

As society progresses into the 21st century, there are some pundits who create a false two-sided fight between individual liberty and complete dependence on the government.

 

Next comes your thesis statement that includes a clear position on the issue. For highest score, you should also mention the other perspectives in contrast to the position you’ve chosen (1 sentence).

While individual freedom is essential to society, I believe that the freedom to avoid health risks supersedes freedom of the individual when individual behavior endangers others.

 

Sample ACT essay introduction:

As society progresses into the 21st century, there are some pundits who create a false two-sided fight between individual liberty and complete dependence on the government. While individual freedom is essential to society, I believe that the freedom to avoid health risks supersedes freedom of the individual when individual behavior endangers others.

 

Body paragraph 1 (Opposing perspective) (5-7 sentences)

Open with a transition to one of the other two perspectives (1 sentence).

Perspective Two espouses the view that “[t]hose who give up freedom in order to gain security deserve neither.”

 

Provide an example of how this perspective is somewhat true and explain why (2-3 sentences).

This perspective is true to some extent. For instance, in the Civil Rights movement, schools were integrated at the cost of both the mental well-being of racists, who had to deal with the blow to their world view, and the physical and emotional well-being of those being integrated, who had to deal with the abuse flung upon them by said racists. The freedom to attend any public school was deemed more important to society than the temporary mental, emotional, and in some cases physical health risks caused by that freedom. 

 

Provide an example of how this perspective is mostly false when compared to the perspective you agree with and explain why (2-3 sentences).

I do not believe, however, the Perspective Two is always a useful way to think about the world, particularly when life and death is at stake. During the Civil Rights movement, parents who were afraid their children might incur physical or even fatal harm from being forced to integrate still had the freedom to homeschool; the same goes for parents who were racist and did not wish their children to interact with children of “lesser” races. While the government pushed the issue of freedom of all people to attend all public schools, it could not make it mandatory for every child to attend a public school (rather than being homeschooled, or attending private or church school) and risk physical injury or worse.

 

Sample Body Paragraph (Opposing Perspective):

Perspective Two espouses the view that “[t]hose who give up freedom in order to gain security deserve neither.” This perspective is true to some extent. For instance, in the Civil Rights movement, schools were integrated at the cost of both the mental well-being of racists, who had to deal with the blow to their world view, and the physical and emotional well-being of those being integrated, who had to deal with the abuse flung upon them by said racists. The freedom to attend any public school was deemed more important to society than the temporary mental, emotional, and in some cases physical health risks caused by that freedom. I do not believe, however, that Perspective Two is always a useful way to think about the world, particularly when life and death is at stake. During the Civil Rights movement, parents who were afraid their children might incur physical or even fatal harm from being forced to integrate still had the freedom to homeschool; the same goes for parents who were racist and did not wish their children to interact with children of “lesser” races. While the government pushed the issue of freedom of all people to attend all public schools, it could not make it mandatory for every child to attend a public school (rather than being homeschooled, or attending private or church school) and risk physical injury or worse.

 

Body paragraph 2 (Opposing perspective) (5-7 sentences)

Same as above, except with the other perspective you disagree with/don't entirely agree with. Make sure to use transition words so that the change of topic (from the previous perspective) isn't abrupt or unexpected.

 

The Spanish Inquisition, Torture Chamber, Loket Castle, Czech Republic. by Jim Linwood, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped and resized from original.

To make your example of the Spanish Inquisition less unexpected, make sure to use transitions.

 

Body paragraph 3 (Your perspective) (5-7 sentences)

Acknowledge the value of the other two perspectives, but affirm that your perspective is the truest one (1-2 sentences).

As can be seen from the examples above,sometimes the greater good means individual freedom is more important than personal health. For the most part, however, allowing individual behavior to harm others damages both freedom and health.

 

Provide one final example of why this perspective is true (3-5 sentences).

Some parents worry that vaccines contain toxic chemicals and so have fought for the right to not vaccinate their children against once deadly diseases like measles. By being allowed this freedom, however, these parents are not only putting their children at risk of catching these virulent diseases, but are risking the life of anyone with a compromised immune system who comes into contact with a non-vaccinated child. The results of the anti-vaccination movement can be seen in cases like the recent measles outbreak at Disneyland and the mumps outbreak at a New York City daycare company; both of these outbreaks unfortunately led to fatalities. When the health risks caused by personal freedom reach life-and-death stakes, it is necessary to restrict individual freedom in favor of freedom to avoid preventable health risks.

 

Sample Body Paragraph (Your Perspective):

As can be seen from the examples above, sometimes the greater good means individual freedom is more important than personal health. For the most part, however, allowing individual behavior to harm others damages both freedom and health. Some parents worry that vaccines contain toxic chemicals and so have fought for the right to not vaccinate their children against once deadly diseases like measles. By being allowed this freedom, however, these parents are not only putting their children at risk of catching these virulent diseases, but are risking the life of anyone with a compromised immune system who comes into contact with a non-vaccinated child. The results of the anti-vaccination movement can be seen in cases like the recent measles outbreak at Disneyland and the mumps outbreak at a New York City daycare company; both of these outbreaks unfortunately led to fatalities. When the health risks caused by personal freedom reach life-and-death stakes, it is necessary to restrict individual freedom in favor of freedom to avoid preventable health risks.

 

Conclusion (1-2 sentences)

Transition into restating your thesis, using different words (1-2 sentences).

Sample ACT Essay conclusion:

America was built on the idea that there is a fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – in that order. When individual behavior puts others’ lives at risk, it must be curtailed.

 

Putting Your Essay Together

Here is my final ACT essay template (excluding the second body paragraph):

As society progresses into the 21st century, there are some pundits who create a false two-sided fight between individual liberty and complete dependence on the government. While individual freedom is essential to society, I believe that the freedom to avoid health risks supersedes freedom of the individual when individual behavior endangers others.

Perspective Two espouses the view that “[t]hose who give up freedom in order to gain security deserve neither.” This perspective is true to some extent. For instance, in the Civil Rights movement, schools were integrated at the cost of both the mental well-being of racists, who had to deal with the blow to their world view, and the physical and emotional well-being of those being integrated, who had to deal with the abuse flung upon them by said racists. The freedom to attend any public school was deemed more important to society than the temporary mental, emotional, and in some cases physical health risks caused by that freedom. I do not believe, however, that Perspective Two is always a useful way to think about the world, particularly when life and death is at stake. During the Civil Rights movement, parents who were afraid their children might incur physical or even fatal harm from being forced to integrate still had the freedom to homeschool; the same goes for parents who were racist and did not wish their children to interact with children of “lesser” races. While the government pushed the issue of freedom of all people to attend all public schools, it could not make it mandatory for every child to attend a public school (rather than being homeschooled, or attending private or church school) and risk physical injury or worse.

[Body paragraph two on the other opposing perspective would go here]

As can be seen from the examples above, sometimes the greater good means individual freedom is more important than personal health. For the most part, however, allowing individual behavior to harm others damages both freedom and health. Some parents worry that vaccines contain toxic chemicals and so have fought for the right to not vaccinate their children against once deadly diseases like measles. By being allowed this freedom, however, these parents are not only putting their children at risk of catching these virulent diseases, but are risking the life of anyone with a compromised immune system who comes into contact with a non-vaccinated child. The results of the anti-vaccination movement can be seen in cases like the recent measles outbreak at Disneyland and the mumps outbreak at a New York City daycare company; both of these outbreaks unfortunately led to fatalities. When the health risks caused by personal freedom reach life-and-death stakes, it is necessary to restrict individual freedom in favor of freedom to avoid preventable health risks.

America was built on the idea that there is a fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – in that order. When individual behavior puts others’ lives at risk, it must be curtailed.

 

Even though there are some minor grammatical issues in this essay, because they don't significantly affect the readability of my essay they don't matter. There are also some factual inaccuracies in this essay (as far as I know, there haven’t been any reports of a mumps outbreak in NYC daycare facilities), but that doesn’t matter for the ACT as long as the facts are persuasive and make sense in the context of the essay. Adding false information about a mumps outbreak added to the persuasive impact of the essay, so I put it in, whereas I couldn’t figure out a way to work dinosaurs into this essay, and so they were not included.

 

Velociraptor by Tomi Lattu, used under CC BY 2.0/Resized from original.

Next essay, my velociraptor friend. Next essay.

 

How Do You Write Essays In This Format?

Now that you have a structural template for your ACT essay, how and when do you use it?

An essay template is most helpful during the planning phase of your essay. Whether you're writing a practice essay or taking the test for real, it's important to take the time to plan out your essay before you start writing. I personally believe 8-10 minutes is a good amount of planning time to start out with, although you may get faster at planning as you practice, leaving more time for writing and revising.

It might be tempting to leave out this planning stage so that you have more time to read the prompt or write. Don't fall into this trap! If you don’t take the time to plan, you run the risk of writing a disorganized essay that doesn't really support your argument or omits one of the perspectives. If you’re struggling with decoding the prompts, be sure to read my article on how to attack ACT Writing prompts; it'll help you break down every ACT Writing prompt so that you can extract the information you need to write your essay.

In addition to using this essay template when you're planning out your essay, you also need to make sure you practice writing this kind of essay before you take the real ACT Plus Writing. Don't expect to just memorize this outline and be good to go on test day - you'll need to practice putting the template to good use. Practice with as many ACT Writing prompts as you can - our complete guide to ACT Writing prompts will get you started.

 

ACT Essay Format: A Quick Recap

Remember, your essay should be in the following format:

  • Introduction (with your thesis) - 2-3 sentences
    • Your point of view on the essay topic (should be the same as one of the three perspectives the ACT gives you).
  • Body paragraph 1 (Opposing perspective) - 5-7 sentences
    • Reason why it's true (with reasoning or examples for support)
    • Reason why it's not as true as your perspective (with reasoning or examples for support)
  • Body paragraph 2 (Other opposing perspective) - 5-7 sentences
    • Reason why it's true (with reasoning or examples for support)
    • Reason why it's not as true as your perspective (with reasoning or examples for support)
  • Body paragraph 3 (Your perspective) - 5-7 sentences
    • One last reason why your perspective is true (with reasoning or examples for support).
  • Conclusion (with your thesis restated) - 1-2 sentences

 

What’s Next?

Want to learn more about how to write a top-scoring ACT essay? Watch as I construct an ACT essay, step-by-step.

Looking to put the icing on your ACT essay cake? Check out our top 15 ACT Writing tips and strategies.

Wondering how much you have to write to do well on ACT Writing? Read this article on essay length and your ACT Writing score.

 

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