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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.
In the introductory episode we took a look at how you're going to be scored on the ACT writing portion. In this episode, we're going to talk about what that actual scoring guide looks like. So if you go to the ACT website and look under scoring guidelines for the writing test, you're going to see something that looks like this and there's a lot of language here, you'll see a nice description paragraph long of what it takes to get a six which we discussed was the highest score all the way down here to a one. Alright so this is a lot of text, it's a little bit difficult for me to read so what I did was go through these and boil the scoring down to seven main indicators. If we take a look at those, then we'll make it a little bit easier to understand how you're going to be scored. If you want to see these indicators broken down into the scoring guide go to the bonus materials and print out the ACT writing broken down chart.
In this episode we're going to talk about each of these so we're going to talk about how you'll be scored on; understanding the task, your position, the complexity of your argument, how you develop it, how you organize what you're going to say and then finally the sentence and word choice in the grammar.
The first thing that the scorers of your ACT writing test are going to be looking for is to see that you understand the prompt, that means that you have addressed the entire prompt, that you've shown an understanding of the issue at hand and that you've discussed the issue in a proper context or in other words picked up on all the crucial details of the actual prompt. So what I want you guys to do now is go to the bonus materials and print out sample prompt number one. Alright, if you read through sample prompt number one, you'll see the issue that it's dealing with is cutting arts and music programs in a time of budget cuts in a school district so when you address this prompt, what the scorers are going to be looking to see is that you've addressed the entire prompt, that you've talked about the budget cuts, that you've talked about the fact that the crunch has come in because of scores on standardized tests, that you've talked about the benefits and the disadvantages of cutting music and arts programs.
So you've got to make sure that you attack every single part of that and that you mention it so that they see that you've really closely read the prompt. The next thing that you want to make sure that you do is acknowledge two sides of the issue so show an understanding of it. Really show sympathy for both sides, show an understanding of why one group of people would want to cut arts programs and why one group would want to keep them and then finally the big thing that you want to make sure you include is the proper context and the big context for this prompt is that it's a time of budget cuts so obviously nobody wants to cut arts and music programs, they don't have to so it's really important when you address this prompt that you would talk about the context of it being a tough economy and there being budget cuts there.
So once you've shown an understanding of the prompt, what you're going to want to make sure you want to do is take that position and we've talked about that so the big things here are to agree or disagree with what they've been presenting and also to provide reasoning; so yes I agree and I agree because, or I disagree because. Let's take a look at some position statements that you might see and talk about why some are good and why some are bad. Let's look at the bottom, this one earned a two, let's see if you can decide why. 'I think that some arts and music programs help students so depending on the school, maybe they should be kept.' Alright so the first thing I'm noticing is a lot of ambiguous language right? Maybe, depending on, some.
Basically the reason that this one scored so low is it doesn't take a position and in a position statement the big thing is take a position so you've got to come down on one side of the fence or the other. The mid rate range one, the one that earned a four is 'Music and arts programs are beneficial. All schools should keep them.' Well here we've got a strong position right? They're beneficial, we should keep them but we're lacking that second component of a good position statement which is reasoning okay? Why are they beneficial? Give some beefed up reasoning like they do in the six which says 'Even though music and arts programs are not part of the core curriculum, in the face of budget constraints, every effort should be made by schools to preserve these programs as they are crucial to helping students become not only learners, but also productive citizen.'
Alright so this has a lot of great things about it, we see that it obviously takes a position, it says here 'every effort should be made by schools to preserve these programs,' it also gives us reason, why should we preserve them? 'They're crucial to helping students become not only learners but also productive citizens' alright. In addition, this position statement is able to work in that proper context that talks about being in the face of budget constraints and additionally it introduces a counter argument. The counter argument here is, 'even though they're not a part of the core curriculum' which was a point that was mentioned in that prompt. So here we see this six doing a lot of great things at the solid position statement.
Once you've got your position established, now what you want to make sure you do is focus on the complexity of your argument and what your scorers are going to be looking for is to make sure that you consider this argument or this issue from all perspectives so for instance for the sample prompt, you're going to want to make sure that you introduce the perspectives of teachers, of administrators, of students, of community members to show that you are able to look at this issue of cutting arts and music programs from a global point of view. The final thing that they're going to want to look for in complexity is that you have introduced a counter argument and this is essential to your essay.
In fact if you look at the scoring guide, you cannot earn anything higher than a three out of six on this essay if you don't introduce a counter argument. So since complexity is such a big part of the essay, I found one of the easiest ways to make sure that you're addressing all of the things that you need to address is to mark up the prompt. So let's take a look at this prompt, alright so if you start to read through this prompt, what I like to do is I like to go through and actually just mark the important things that I want to make sure that I address so let's start at the beginning.
'Many high school schools are facing limited budgets and added pressures to perform on standardized tests.' Alright so I know right away, limited budgets and the pressure to perform on standardized tests, those are both some big parts of the context that I want to make sure that I address. 'In response to this, some are cutting their arts and music programs in order to save money and focus more efforts on the core curriculum that is tested and upon which school funding is dependent.' Alright so I know because of this word some, here's the introduction of my first point so I like to mark a one with a circle and then kind of underline their stance which is cutting arts and music programs and the fact that it will save money alright, so that's one of the things I want to make sure that I address in the essay.
Next, I'm cued by this word other, here's my next view point 'cause I know they're going to present me with two based on what I know about the prompt. 'Other schools insist on retaining their arts and music programs' alright so here's the second position 'so as to not deprive their students of meaningful and engaging learning experiences' okay, so there's another reason for why they should keep them, engaging in meaningful learning experiences 'because they believe that art and music help with the fundamental development of a child.' Alright, so there's some more reasoning that I really want to make sure that I bring up okay and 'suggest looking to other resources and programs to cut back. In your opinion when faced with necessary budget cuts' and again I'm going to put a star here 'cause there's that context that they want me to make sure I come back to, 'should schools cut their art and music programs or should other programs and or resources be put on the chopping block?'
So you can see here once you've gone through this prompt, marked it up, you've got a really good idea of what you need to bring up in your actual essay in order to present some strong complexity.
After you've marked up your prompt to make sure that you're presenting your scorers with a complex argument, you're going to want to think about your development and what development is, is simply just a way of saying support or evidence or examples so what your scorers are going to be looking at when they evaluate your development is how well you can support the argument that you're making. So the three things you need to focus on for development are making sure your examples are specific, so that means whenever possible, using dates, places, names, times that kind of thing. You want to make sure additionally that they're varied so you don't want to rely solely on personal experience for your examples because you're going to want to use one in every body paragraph that you present, you're going to want to make sure they come from across the board.
So you could use examples from the media, from your history class, a literally example and then from your personal life as well. So you want to make sure you're kind of presenting examples from across the board and finally you want to make sure that your examples or your support and development is focused and mainly what that means is that the actual examples that you've chosen for support actually support and prove your argument alright. So let's take a look at some examples, alright lets start at the top. 'It would be really good for lots of people if arts and music programs were kept because they would take the classes.' So we're going back to that sample prompt, now if we were to use this as development or support for that argument, we've got a really weak piece of support here. It's general, it doesn't really talk about specific programs or specific students or schools, really good we're going to talk about in the pitfalls episode, is the use of an intensifier and then kind of a vague adjective there.
So in order to make that a little bit better you could add in; 'At my school over 50% of the students are involved in an art or music class of those, at least five people I know have gotten college scholarships for their artistic and musical talents.' Alright so we're a little bit more specific, I like to see the use of statistics so 50%, five specific people and kind of what it's resulted in those scholarships but again I think we could be more specific, we could use names, we could use the titles of the actual classes, we could focus in on one particular student and how that's helped them. So let's look at the third one which is by far the strongest example of development.
'Art and music programs have created many of the world's greatest talents including Wynton Marsalis and Kevin Spacey, who both attended Juilliard. If these programs were cut we would be depriving the world of future talents such as these.' Alright so here we've got a specific place, Juilliard which is known for being an arts and music school, we've got specific people, Wynton Marsalis and Kevin Spacey so this really is beefed up, it's specific, just keep in mind if you were to choose this to use now you've got kind of your pop culture example, you're going to want to make sure you vary it up and follow it with maybe a personal example or maybe a literally example.
Next what you want to make sure you focus on is the organization of your paper and this is really basic. However it tends to be a kind of big concern in the ACT writing so in the pitfalls episode, we're going to talk more specifically about the structure that you want to make sure that you use and what you want to make sure you avoid and then finally when you organize you want to think about your transitions and here's where I caution you against using some of those [IB] transitions. Words like first or last or now, on to the other, things that are just really kind of thrown in there to move in a very generic way so be more natural when you're thinking about transitions by linking your thoughts and your phrases. For instance if you finish one paragraph talking about a specific phrase or a specific thought, repeat that thought in a different manner in the first sentence of the next paragraph, that will help your transition seem much more natural.
The final two things that the scorers are going to be looking for are your sentence structure and word choice and also the grammar that you use so let's focus in on sentence structure and word choice. The first thing they're going to be looking at with sentence structure is variety and you're in luck because I've got a great tool in the bonus materials, a nice little chart that'll help you chart the sentences in your paragraphs, so that you can look to make sure that there are a variety of lengths of different types and of different structures, so you really want to make sure you do that in order to avoid your paragraphs falling into kind of a rhythmic pattern.
Next they're going to look at the precision of your word choice, now notice it doesn't say that they're going to look for this high vocabulary or a certain level, they just want to make sure that you're being precise so that when you select a word to use, it's clear that you have command of it, you know what it means and you're using it accurately. So keep that in mind, this is not the time to go out on a limb and practice all this fancy ACT SAT words you were tested on, use words that you're comfortable with and that you have a command over.
Finally, even though you have 30 minutes they are going to look at your grammar so make sure like I said, I can't stress enough, it's really important to spend the last three to five minutes of your time proof reading. Go through it, make sure you check for those common errors, make sure you're looking for spelling errors and you have those glaring mistakes will really help kind of boost you in this category.
In this episode we boil down the ACT scoring guide that we found on their website to kind of talk about the seven main indicators that the scorers will be looking at. We talked about how you show your understanding of the task, how you make a strong position, how you develop some complexity then support it with strong development, finally how to organize what you're saying and how to zero in on your sentence and word choice and then also your grammar. The best part I think about studying or prepping for the ACT writing section is that not only is this going to help you do well on the test, it's going to make you a better writer in general.
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