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ACT Essay Counter Arguments

Teacher/Instructor Katie Aquino
Katie Aquino

Writing, Grammar, Literature, ACT Prep
Education: M.Ed.,Stanford University

Katie is an enthusiastic teacher who strives to make connections between literature and student’s every day lives.

When I was younger one of my favorite games to play was an Atari game. Now you guys might not even know what Atari is but it was called pitfall and you had to navigate the sky over rolling logs that were coming at him, gators and ponds, disappearing swamps things like that and I know sometimes when you go into a test, you can feel just as tensed as probably that guy did and when you're jumping over all those things. So one way to really attack in a good way is to talk about the pitfalls that you might face so in this episode, we're going to talk about how to make sure that you support your argument, how to nail down some basic organization, how to avoid logical fallacies, how to avoid wordiness and finally how to master your word choice.
Pitfall number one is including support or examples that aren't quite specific or detailed enough. Let's take a look at some examples. First go to the bonus materials and print out sample prompt number three, you'll see that sample prompt number three discusses high school journalism and whether or not they should be censored by their administration. So if we come up with this position statement, 'no, high school students should not be censored under any circumstances by their administration because it will deter their growth as both human beings and writers', we've got to come up with some support. So let's take a look at an example of some weak support, this is one of the pitfalls, this is what I see a lot, 'I've known many high school students who don't even want to participate in the newspaper because the principal tells them what they can and cannot say'. So while this talks about the general idea of censorship, it really doesn't quite relate directly to the actual prompt, additionally it's not specific at all. It doesn't talk about which students, it doesn't talk about what articles or anything like that. So you want to make sure that you really work on getting specific supports, specific examples. A much better example that would be specific and supportive is 'At my school, the administration censored a story that the newspaper was trying to run about the sexual practices of the school students. Even though the writer had done accurate research and spent hours constructing his story, the administration's censorship discouraged his natural curiosity and right to voice it to the public.' So here we've got a specific situation, we know it's a personal example because it says 'at my school', we know what the administration was trying to do, we know what the story was about. So this is a really great example of good support that's very specific.
Pitfall number two is basic organisation, and I know this sounds pretty familiar to you but you wouldn't believe the number of students that just sit down, start writing and all of a sudden they finish their thirty minutes of writing with one huge paragraph. So you want to make sure you obviously have an introduction, a body and a conclusion, those are the three basics to any good essay. Alright, so just a reminder about the introductions, you always want to start with an attention grabber or a hook. This is one of the things that is most often left out of essays here and can really help you score major points. Then you follow it up with some background information, remember close reading of the prompt will actually provide you with some good information to stick here, and then finally your strong position statement in other words, your thesis. Now in your body paragraphs, you want to make sure that you include multiple paragraphs. Obviously if they're looking for complexity, you want to show them that you're able to think about this in some different ways, and since each body paragraph should be devoted to just one singular idea, you're going to end up with multiple ones. Finally, you want to make sure that you always include support so each body paragraph, no matter how many you have, needs to include a piece of support in order to kind of boost you up in that development aspect of your writing.
Lastly in your conclusion, and this is one of the things that whether it's an ACT writing test or just an essay in general in my classroom that my students really struggle with, the conclusion, I tell them the best way to attack it, three Rs; Return to your hook, so go back to that idea in your attention-grabber, Restate that position or restate your thesis and then finally reach a higher conclusion. Give the audience kind of a reason, a feeling of knowing why they read the essay, how does this apply to the real world. You can do these in any order that you would like, but make sure you include them all so that wraps together nicely.
Pitfall number three is including logical fallacies, and logical fallacies are simply just errors in logic or errors in thinking. The three most common logical fallacies that I see in essay writing are circular arguments, false dichotomies and hasty generalization. So let's talk about each of those quickly; circular arguments. These are simply arguments where you start with one idea and you wrap up with the same idea. So you haven't really moved the argument forward, you've just said the same thing. For example, 'high school journalists should not be censored because it will stifle their growth as writers, because they're not being allowed to say what they want to say'. Well essentially this sounds like a descent statement but if you look at the beginning and the end, you've got the same thing, they shouldn't be censored because they're not being allowed to say what they want to say, so it's just the same as saying, they shouldn't be censored because they're being censored. So that doesn't make much sense you really want to avoid those circular arguments. Next is false dichotomies and this is a really, it troops students up for the ACT writing because you're provided with two view points in the prompt, but a false dichotomy is when you mistakenly present those as the only two view points. As saying the situation has only two answers when there's probably infinite solutions there. So for instance it would be looking at the sample prompts saying, 'we should always censor high school journalists' or 'we should never censor them' and presenting those as the only two choices when really there's a lot of area between those.
Finally we've got hasty generalization and that's just making assumptions without enough information. For instance, 'There was a controversial article in the Chicago Sun-Times and later the writer had to issue a retraction', therefore all writers are unreliable, therefore if even professional writers are unreliable we should definitely censor high school journalists. You can see some really huge leaps being taken here, so this is definitely a generalization, just because one writer had to issue a retraction, does not mean we should censor all high school journalists. So there's your logical fallacies you want to make sure you avoid in your writing.
Pitfall number four on the ACT writing test is wordiness. In this essay especially because you only have thirty minutes to write, you want to know what you're going to say and just say it. There's no formula here in the scoring guide that says length equals a better score. In fact sometimes if you're too long, you're too lengthy and you're too wordy, it's not going to get as good of a score as a shorter more concise essay. So let's take a look at some ways to trim the fact out of your writing, some things to be aware of. First eliminate intensifiers. Intensifiers are simply adverbs that are used to describe other adverbs, things like 'really', 'very', 'extremely', 'truly', 'quite'. What you can usually do, is pair those, for instance, 'really pretty', a better way of saying that would be 'beautiful' or 'stunning' a more powerful adjective. So cut out those intensifiers and think of stronger adjectives to use, which leads me to the next; replace those vague adjectives. Words like 'good', 'nice', 'bad', 'okay', things that aren't really descriptive, be strong in your language and say exactly what you mean instead of having to list a bunch of adjectives. Next avoid wordy phrases. A lot of time students fall into things like 'in the event that this should happen' rather than just saying, 'if this happens' or 'in the viscinity of' instead of just 'near'. So remeber the number of words isn't going to get you a higher score. Be direct and be focussed and say what you mean there and then finally try to reduce your expletive constructions. And expletive constructions are simply just sentences that start with 'there is' followed by 'are' and 'that' verse or 'it was blank that'. For instance it was obvious that the students were cheating, alright? You could have said that much easier, 'obviously the studets are cheating', you've cut down words and you've been a lot more direct in your use of an adverb there. So those are some ways to kind of trim down what you're saying and get right to the point.
The final pitfall that we're going to talk about today is word choice and you'll remember if you think back to the episode on word breaks, word choice is one of the things that you're being evaluated on. So remember that you are writing for a formal audience, so you want to keep that in mind as you address your readers but also it's a personal essay. So they're asking you about an issue that has something to do with your life, so it's definitely okay to use first and second person; I, you, we, me, that kind of thing. Other things that you want to avoid, number one is slang and I see this all too often. Slang is just informal language that is changed its purpose or its structure has changed and it's usually understood only by a small group of people. So for high schoolers, I hear a lot, 24-7, or 'sick'. I was really confused when my students first started saying that like, "Miss Aquino your outfit is sick" thought I was doing something bad but evidently I'm not. 'Wicked' or 'awesome', things like that you don't want to confuse your readers and since it's a formal audience, make sure you keep it very open and very clear for them to see. Along the same lines we have jargon, and jargon again is specific language, it's still appropriate, mechanically and grammatically correct but it's very specialized. It would only be understood by a small group of people. So for instance, if you are really great at biology and you're talking about a myocardial infarction, much easy and more appropriate way of saying that that would be understood by a wider audience is heart attack, alright. Same thing with the 'dropped 3rd'. Now I was a catcher in high school softball so I understand when somebody's talking about a 'dropped 3rd' that that means the dropped 3rd strike rule and that a red batter can advance if they swing at a dropped 3rd strike. But a general audience that's not super familiar with baseball or softball, probably isn't going to know what you are referring to. So make sure that you avoid the jargon and make your language very apparent to your readers. Finally you want to avoid cliche. Cliche are just over used phrases or metaphors that are somewhat tripe and they seem a bit uncreative. So things like 'think outside the box' or 'back in the day', any phrases that are really repeated by a lot of people, they don't reveal originality. So think of your own original way to say it.
It's always easier to do well and to attack your pitfalls when you know when to anticipate them. I was finally able to beat the Atari game after about a year 'cause I think I could tell you when every single alligator would pop out and when each ball would roll at me and I'd have to jump over it. Now that we've gone through the basic pitfalls of the ACT writing test. It's ensuring that you have strong support, making sure you follow basic organization, avoiding logical fallacies, getting rid of your wordiness and then thinking about your word choice, you guys should be able to beat the ACT writing test.