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Prepare for the ACT

Prepping for the ACT and determined to achieve the highest score possible? With a little help from useful tools and resources like an ACT study guide, you can. But are you interested in raising your ACT essay score in particular? Well, you're in luck, because in this post we review the top two tips for an essay that is going to knock the socks off the graders.

To do that, you need to remember that your graders are human beings. They are reading lots and lots of essays. And a lot of them start to sound alike. So if you are shooting for a good score on the essay, all you really need to do is write a clear, argumentative thesis, address all three of the required perspectives, include good examples, and have a coherent structure.

But if you want a GREAT score, you need to stand out from the crowd. Here's how you can do it:

1. Use less obvious examples in your ACT essay.

On the first new essay, a lot of students wrote about the civil rights movement. It was an obvious example that a lot of students had studied, and it was certainly the first thing that jumped to my mind as well. Now, technically, graders are not supposed to be punishing you for an unoriginal example as long as you do it well. But remember the golden rule: write for a human reader! If a grader reads 50 essays about the civil rights movement in a row and then gets to yours and you are writing about something totally different, the grader is going to sit up and pay attention. Not only that, but it will also be more difficult to compare your essay to others. If you write about the same topic as everyone else, it is likely that some people won't do it as well as you, but others will do it better. So try not to open yourself to these comparisons. Be original.

Again, this doesn't mean that you can't write about a common topic, but if you are going to do it, make sure you pick very specific examples within that topic to demonstrate your knowledge. But if you can think of something that would be less obvious, go that route.

2. Choose the option to provide your own perspective on the ACT essay, but only switch it up slightly.

Now, this is tricky. You can get a perfect score simply by completely agreeing with one of the three presented perspectives, and for the vast majority of students, this is the best course of action to make sure you don't go completely off track and end up hurting your score. However, if you consider yourself to be a very strong writer, you might be able to truly impress by adding your own twist on the prompt. In most cases, the easiest way to do this is to narrow the scope of one of the perspectives. For example, if you look at sample essay #5 on, you'll see that the graders applauded the student for evaluating the perspectives through the "lens of a particular ideology": capitalism. Here's an excerpt of the score explanation:


The prompt is about a larger issue—the positive or negative impact of "intelligent machines" in our society—but this student has narrowed the scope and, in doing so, was able to provide a specific compelling argument that didn't try to address all areas of life in a five-paragraph essay.

So for you ACT-writing superstars out there who are looking for a score in the 11–12 range, take these key tips to heart, and get practicing with ACT writing prompts. The new ACT essay prompt is tough, but practicing with sample prompts and coming up with arguments on the fly will help! Practice the essay on its own, and then graduate to an ACT Practice Test to simulate the test-day experience.

About the Author

Kristin makes sure Magoosh's sites are full of awesome, free resources that can be found by students prepping for standardized tests. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she's been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007. She enjoys the agony and bliss of trail running, backpacking, hot yoga, and esoteric knowledge.

Image source: tookapic/


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