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ACT Essay Tips

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.

We've talked a lot in the last episodes about knowing what to expect with the ACT writing prompt. Now we're going to talk about the corner stone to it all, pre-writing so if you remember from the introductory episode, you've got limited time, only 30 minutes but I really encourage you not to skip over this first essential step. We talked about taking about one to two minutes to read and dissect the prompt and then three to five minutes to pre-write. So in this episode we're going to talk about what exactly to do with that four to seven minutes.
Step number one to getting your pre-writing down is to attack the prompt. So if you remember back to the first episode, we talked about the prompt relating directly to high school students, it requiring a specific position to be taken, providing two distinct perspectives and then presenting the option to develop a view point of your own. So the best way to attack the prompt like we talked about in the episode about the Rubric is to really mark it up, look for those important qualities in there. So if we take a look at sample prompt number four which you can find in the bonus materials, let's go through and try to mark those important things; the two sides of the issue, the actual issue alright. So for the last decade one of the largest problems facing the American education system is the stagnant high school graduation rate. So what we need to mark here is that stagnant high school graduation rate because that's the issue that's at hand and they're going to expect us to be able to talk about it with some understanding and some complexity. As of 2006 approximately 71% of American students were graduating high school; so I'm going to mark here by 71% because that's a nice statistic that I might return to. In an effort to buoy this statistic, many high schools have considered implementing programs to help their students make it through graduation. Some districts; and here we have a transition word, some that's going to clue us in that we're going to get our first view point. Some districts believe that offering students a wide variety of classes from which to choose will increase their engagement in school and keep them there for all for years. So that's point number one; I'm just going to put a one over here and underline offering students a wide variety of classes because that's the first view point that they're talking to me about. Other districts believe that the solution is to offer free tutoring to students who need help with school work, so we've got another transition word, other which tells me this is my second view point and that is free tutoring students. Alright so there's the important, there's those two sides of the issue and the issue itself; it says they believe that if students are assisted academically they'll experience more success in their classes thus they will be more likely to stay in school. In your opinion which of these options would be more likely to increase the graduation rate in American high schools? So I'm going to again here circle increase the graduation, alright so which would increase so that's really what I'm looking to prove and then finally that last part, the prompt that you're going to see in any prompt is; In your essay, take a position on this question. You may write about either of the two points of view given, or present a different view point on this question. Alright so now you've got a really marked up prompt, you've attacked it, let's move on to step two.
Step two is to brainstorm the details, so you've looked at the prompt, you know the right issues, what you're going to do is start filling out the important information and by now you guys probably have figured out that I'm a very visual person, I love charts so if you go to the bonus materials you can print this out in chart form and fill this out. Though you can't take the actual form to the ACT, you can kind of internalize it and then reproduce it on your scrap paper before you start to write. Alright so the first thing you want to mention is kind of figure out the topic, we underlined that when we attacked the prompt and it's the low graduation rate in America so we've got low graduation rate then you've got to quickly decide what's your position? Remember it's really important not to straddle the fence here so come up with one solid stand and this one is a wide variety of classes will increase the graduation rate, so this person decided to stick with one of the two choices given. After you get those two things you're going to come up with your examples or your support for development. So example number one is I am more successful in my choice classes and the type of example because we know that for support we want to have variety, that's a personal example that supports it. Example number two; CPS has instituted free tutoring and it hasn't helped, there's a current event, CPS stands for Chicago Public School so it's a local kind of event happening. Finally the next example I might want to use is basic psychology 101 choice equals engagement and that's kind of a text book research type of example so we've got variety and we've got focus. Now what we want to make sure we do is move on and develop our counter argument.
So remember the counter argument is essential so that's why we want to spend some time brainstorming to make sure we work that into the essay so the idea I'm coming up with here is that mandatory tutoring is the antithesis to the choice of classes so we've got one thing being mandatory and one thing offering choice. So if choice equals engagement, then mandatory tutoring won't help people stay in school and that seems pretty basic and that's a good argument that I can work into the paper.
Alright so the bottom line is when you sit down to pre-write, you've got four to seven minutes to really knock it out so know what you're doing. First attack the prompt by marking it up and finding those two sides of the issue and the actual issue that you're going to discuss. Then move on to brainstorm the details, get out the important stuff, know your issue, know your position and then brainstorm those examples and make sure you have variety and then get that counter argument in there and you will be set to write the paper.