The essay topics on the new ACT are very specific, and with the new format, they are sometimes things that you don’t have much experience with. In my opinion, this change is deliberate, and the test makers are trying to gauge how you observe an analyze the world around you – in other words, whether you notice everyday events and actually think about them.
A key change in the new essay is that it hinges on good examples. There is a whole category for this in the marking rubric – it’s called ‘Development & Support’. If you have good examples that prove your point, and you build your argument around them, you should score highly in this category, and you will also know what to write!
When I teach the essay section to my students, I tell them to think of examples that relate to the topic, then construct the essay around them. Just as a side note, I’m mostly focusing on content of the essay here – if you want to know about structure and format, look here.
Here’s how I think you can find your examples:
- Imagine opening a newspaper and reading an article about the given topic. Consider what the headlines would be? I came up with a good one with my student Tim the other day. Our topic was about whether both arts and sciences courses should be mandatory in high school. My article headline was ‘American students behind Asian students in mathematics’, which is a headline I have actually seen! His headline was ‘students lack creativity due to poor arts funding’. The fact that we both came up with opposing stories just illustrates the different points of view on this topic! These could form your examples, illustrating how both are valued and a balance is needed.
- Think of an example from your own experience. If the topic is ‘Internet Privacy’ – do you think that the government should be able to access our browsing history, or not? Think about how you’d feel if it were your school? Would you change your behaviour – and do you think you should have to? What if you were researching a controversial topic for an essay, but got called in to speak with the principal over it? This is an important question, because it could happen on a government level. For example, some journalists are in regular contact with known terrorists for their reporting – what if the government started reading their communications because of that? The second situation, which you might not actually know about, is just an extension of the one that you thought of based on your experience! Showing that you can draw parallels between different situations like this is a good way to use your analytical skills.
- If you can think of a historical example, this is often a good idea. It shows that you can appreciate how this issue might have been dealt with in the past, and you can see past the specifics of the modern situation and relate it to something similar. For example, if your topic is technology, think of things that were considered very advanced, but that we now take for granted. Think about the changes they brought in the world and what that meant to everyday people then. Good examples here would be radio, the printing press, weaving machines etc. This is exactly what the “perfect” essay on the ACT website does.
When you’re practicing for the essay, brainstorm some topics just to think of potential issues. For example, your issue could be healthcare. Potential essay topics here include who should be responsible for paying for healthcare, public health issues such as obesity or laws governing alternative health. You can then search a news site for the category to see what the issues actually are. Do this a few times, and you’ll be finding some great examples to use!
Remember to use your examples logically, and be clear about what your point actually is. Plan first, and think about which perspective you agree with. If you don’t make a clear argument out of your examples you won’t score highly. Use your examples to decide what your opinion is, and make sure that you develop your point based on your examples, rather than just fitting them in your paragraph whenever you get stuck on what to write next. Also remember to spend 2 minutes proofreading your essay at the end!