ACT and the Persuasive Essay

By Alex Grant,2014-04-02 19:09
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ACT and the Persuasive Essay


    ACT and the Persuasive Essay

    The Fast Food Essay

One of the best things about fast food is not just that it‘s quick, it‘s consistent. Walk into a

    McDonald‘s in Tosserdorf, Germany, and a Big Mac is still a robust, comforting Big Mac, just like at home. What makes fast food so consistent? Restaurants like McDonald‘s use the same ingredients and

    preparation methods at every location.

    You can to apply the concept behind fast food to the process of writing the ACT essay. That way you‘ll be able to write a top-notch ACT essay every time. To make it happen, you need to know three key things that all the fast food chains know:

     ;Your Customers

     ;Your Ingredients

     ;How to Put the Ingredients Together






    Know Your Customers

    After you finish taking the ACT, two ―raters‖ will score your essay. These raters are trained and certified specifically for grading the ACT essay. Each rater is instructed to give every essay a score on a scale of 16. The two grades are then added together to make up your entire essay sub score, which will range from 212. If the two raters come to wildly different scores for an essay, like a 2 and a 5, a third rater will be brought in. The essay-graders are your customers, and you want to give them an

    essay that tastes just like what they‘re expecting. How are you supposed to know what they’re

    expecting? You can learn exactly what ACT essay-raters expect by looking at the actual ACT essay directions.

The ACT Essay Directions

    Read the directions now and make sure you understand them:


    In your essay, take a position on this question. You may write about either one of the two points

    of view given, or you may present a different point of view on this question. Use specific reasons

    and examples to support your position.

    We‘ve expanded upon these directions and created a list of Dos and Don‘ts in order to make the rules of great ACT writing easy to grasp:


    Write only on the given topic. Write on a topic that relates vaguely to the one


    Take a clear position on the topic. Take a wishy-washy position or try to argue

    two sides.

    Do respond to the counter-arguments and Only write about your position.

    address other perspectives.

    Write persuasively to convince the rater. Write creatively or ornately just to show off.

    Include reasons and examples that support your Include examples not directly related to your

    position. position.

    Write with correct grammar and spelling. Forget to proof your work for spelling and

    grammar mistakes.

    Write as clearly as possible. Use too many fancy vocabulary words or

    overly long sentences.

    Write specifically and concretely. Be vague or use generalizations.

    Write about five paragraphs. Put more importance on length than on


    Write only on the given lined paper. Make your handwriting too large (or you‘ll

    sacrifice space).

    Write as neatly as possible in print. Write in cursive. Print is much easier to read.


The Rater’s Instructions

    The raters must refer to a set-in-stone list of criteria when evaluating each essay and deciding what grade (1 through 6) it deserves. We thought you might appreciate having the scoring criteria spelled out and explained by the ACT right before your very eyes.

They address a student‘s ability:

    ; To take and articulate a perspective on an issue

    ; To maintain a clear focus on the perspective throughout the essay

    ; To explain a position by using supportive evidence and logical reasoning

    ; To organize ideas logically

    ; To communicate clearly in writing

And here‘s how they separate the good from the bad:


    Writers will show a clear understanding of the purpose of the essay by articulating 46

    their perspective and developing their ideas.

    Writers will show complexity by evaluating the implications of the issues and

    recognize the counter-argument.

    Most generalizations will be developed with specific examples to support the writer‘s


    A clear focus will be maintained throughout the paper.

    The paper will show competent use of language.

    Although there may be some errors, these will only occasionally distract the rater and

    will not interfere with the rater‘s ability to understand the writer‘s meaning.

    Writers will not clearly articulate a perspective on the issue. 13

    The writing will usually demonstrate some development of ideas, but the development

    may be very general or repetitious.

    Most papers will maintain focus on the general topic identified in the prompt, but they

    may not maintain focus on the specific issue.

    Except for the weakest papers, the essay will use a clear but simple organizational


    The language will be understandable for the most part, but errors will distract the rater

    and possibly interfere with understanding.

Now you know your customers, and you know what they want.


    Know Your Ingredients

To write a tasty ACT essay, you‘ve got to know the necessary ingredients. The different grades of 1–6

    are based on the quality of your essay in four fundamental categories:

    1. Positioning: The strength and clarity of your stance on the given topic

    2. Examples: The relevance and development of the examples you use to support your argument

    3. Organization: The organization of each of your paragraphs and of your essay overall

    4. Command of Language: Sentence construction, grammar, and word choice

    1. Positioning

    ACT essay topics will address issues that pertain to high school students. A typical ACT topic will give you a statement that addresses ideas like dress codes, block scheduling, justice, the definition of

    success, or the importance of learning from mistakes. Though this list may sound overwhelming at

    first, the broadness of the topics means that with a little thought you can come up with plenty of examples to support your position on the topic.

Philosophers take years to write volumes on the topics of justice or success. On the ACT, you get 30

    minutes. Given these time constraints, the key to writing a great ACT essay is taking a strong position on an extremely broad topic. A solid position requires you to employ two strategies:

    ; Rephrase the Prompt

    ; Choose Your Position

Here‘s a sample prompt with the directions you will find on the test:

    Many successful adults recall a time in their life when they were considered a failure at one

    pursuit or another. Some of these people feel strongly that their previous failures taught

    them valuable lessons and led to their later successes. Others maintain that they went on to

    achieve success for entirely different reasons. In your opinion, can failure lead to success?

    Or is failure simply its own experience?


    In your essay, take a position on this question. You may write about either one of the two points

    of view given, or you may present a different point of view on this question. Use specific reasons

    and examples to support your position.

Rephrase the Prompt

    Rephrase the prompt in your own words and make it more specific. If you rephrase the question:

    ―In your opinion, can failure lead to success?‖

You might come up with a sentence like:

    ―Failure can lead to success by teaching important lessons that help us avoid repeating mistakes in

    the future.‖

    Putting the ACT essay question in your own words makes it easier for you to take a position confidently since you‘ll be proving your own statement, rather than the more obscure version put forth by the ACT.


Choose Your Position

    Agree or disagree. When you choose an argument for a paper in school, you often have to strain yourself to look for something original, something subtle. Not here. Not on the 30-minute, fast food essay. Once you‘ve rephrased the topic, agree or disagree with it. It‘s that simple. At this point, you

    may be thinking, ―I could argue the ‗agree‘ side pretty well, but I‘m not sure that I totally believe in the agree side because . . .‖ Drop those thoughts. Remember, you‘re not going to have a week to write this essay. You need to keep it simple. Agree or disagree, then come up with the examples that support your simple stand. And don‘t take a position that straddles both sides of the issue. Remember,

    you should acknowledge the counter-argument and point of view; however, you should illustrate through examples why your position is the correct one.

2. Examples

To make an ACT essay really shine, you‘ve got to include excellent examples. There are two things

    that make excellent ACT examples stand out from the crowd:

    ; Specific Examples

    ; Variety of Examples

Specific Examples

    Strong examples discuss specific events, dates, or measurable changes over time. You must write about things that have happened in detail.

    Let‘s say you‘re trying to come up with examples in support of the position that ―Learning the lessons taught by failure is a sure route to success.‖ Perhaps you come up with the example of the American army during the Revolutionary War, which learned from its failures in the early years of the war how it needed to fight the British. Awesome! That‘s a potentially great example. To make it actually great,

    though, you have to be able to say more than just, ―The American army learned from its mistakes and

    then defeated the British Redcoats.‖ You need to be specific: Give dates, mention people, battles, and

    tactics. If you use the experience of the American Army in the Revolutionary War as an example, you might mention the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, which officially granted the Americans independence and gave the United States all lands east of the Mississippi river.

Don‘t be intimidated if you can‘t instantly recall the dates of pivotal historical events. Any descriptive

    details that you can provide will strengthen your argument, whether they are personal examples or historical facts. Just make sure to choose examples that you know a lot about in order to be specific. Knowing that the Americans defeated the British is the start of a great example, but you need to show specifically how the American victory answers the question, ―In your opinion, can failure lead to success?‖ What failures on the part of the British government and army led to the Americans‘ success? (Morale issues, leadership differences, inadequate soldiers and supplies, the Battle of Yorktown, and so on.) The one-two punch of a solid example and details that use the example to prove your argument make the difference between a good ACT example and a great one.

Variety of Examples

    The other crucial thing about ACT essay examples is how much ground they cover. Sure, you could come up with three examples from your personal life about how you learned from failure. But you‘re much more likely to impress the raters and write a better essay if you use a broad range of examples from different areas: history, art, politics, literature, and science, as well as your own life. That means


    when you‘re thinking up examples, you should consider as wide a variety as possible, as long as all of

    your examples work to prove your argument.

    To answer the question, ―In your opinion, can failure lead to success?‖ you might choose one example from history, literature, and business or current events. Here are three examples that you might choose from those three areas:

    ; History: The Americans‘ victory over the British in the Revolutionary War.

    ; Literature: In spite of David Copperfield‘s difficult childhood, he eventually found personal

    and professional happiness.

    ; Business or Current Events: The JetBlue airline succeeding by learning from the mistakes of

    its competitors.

    A broad array of examples like those will provide a more solid and defensible position than three examples drawn from just one or two areas.

3. Organization

    No matter what topic you end up writing about, the organization of your essay should be the same. Whether you‘re asked to answer, ―Can failure lead to success?‖ or ―Does progress always come at a cost?‖ the structure of your essay should be almost identical. The ACT is looking for those standard ingredients, and the structure we‘re about to explain will make sure those ingredients stand out in your essay.

    So what‘s this magical essay structure? Well, it‘s back to the trusty fast food analogy: A good ACT

    essay is a lot like a triple-decker burger.

    No matter what the topic is, how you feel about it, or which examples you choose, you should always follow this five-paragraph structure on your ACT essay. The first and last paragraphs are your essay‘s introduction and conclusion; each of the middle three paragraphs discusses an example that supports and illustrates your argument. That‘s it.

    Just as important as the organization of your entire essay is the organization within each of the five paragraphs. Let‘s take a closer look at each paragraph next.

The Top Bun: Introduction (Paragraph #1)

    The introduction to an ACT essay has to do three things:

    ; Grab the rater‘s attention

    ; Explain your position on the topic clearly and concisely

    ; Acknowledge the counter-argument to the writer‘s position

    ; Transition the rater smoothly into your three examples


    To accomplish these three goals, you need three to four sentences in your introduction. These three to four sentences will convey your thesis statement and the overall map of your essay to the raters.

The Thesis Statement:

    The first sentence should be the hook (attention grabber). The thesis statement is generally the last sentence of the introductory paragraph. It identifies where you stand on the topic and should pull the raters into the essay. A good thesis statement is strong, clear, and definitive. A good thesis statement for the essay prompt, ―In your opinion, can failure lead to success?‖ is:

    Learning from the lessons taught by failure is a sure route to success. Even though some people believe that it is better to forget the past and look only to the future, what they fail to realize is the

    value that can come from learning from one’s mistakes.

This thesis statement conveys the writer‘s position on the topic boldly and clearly. In addition, it

    briefly acknowledges the counter argument. In only a few words, it carves out the position that the essay will take on the very broad, vague topic: learning from failure yields success.

The Essay Summary:

    After the thesis statement, the rest of the first paragraph should serve as a kind of summary of the examples you will use to support your position on the topic. Explain and describe your three examples to make it clear how they fit into your argument. It‘s usually best to give each example its own sentence.

    Here‘s an example:

    The United States of America can be seen as a success that emerged from failure: by learning from

    the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, the founding fathers were able to create the Constitution, the document on which America is built. Google Inc., the popular Internet search engine, is another example of a success that arose from learning from failure, though in this case Google learned from the failures of its competitors. Another example that shows how success can arise from

    failure is the story of Rod Johnson, who started a recruiting firm that rose out of the ashes of

    Johnson’s personal experience of being laid off.

    Three sentences, three examples. The rater knows exactly what to expect from your essay now and is ready to dive in.

The Meat: 3 Example Paragraphs (Paragraphs #2-4)

    Each of your 3 example paragraphs should follow this basic format:

    ; 45 sentences long

    ; The first sentence should be the topic sentence, which serves as the thesis statement of the

    paragraph. It explains what your example is and places it within the context of your argument.

    ; The next 34 sentences are for developing your example. In these sentences you show

    through specific, concrete discussion of facts and situations just how your example supports

    your essay thesis statement.

    Below we‘ve given you an example of a strong meat paragraph:

    The United States, the first great democracy of the modern world, is also one of the best examples of a success achieved by studying and learning from earlier failures. After just five years of living under the Articles of Confederation, which established the United States of America as a single country for


    the first time, the states realized that they needed a new document and a stronger government. In 1786, the Annapolis convention was convened. The result, three years later, was the Constitution, which created a more powerful central government while also maintaining the integrity of the states. By learning from the failure of the Articles, the founding fathers created the pivotal document of a country that has become both the most powerful country in the world and a beacon of democracy.

    The best meat paragraphs on the ACT essay are specific. The ACT‘s essay directions say it loud and clear: ―Use specific reasons and examples to support your position.‖ In its topic sentence, this paragraph states that the United States is one of the great examples of ―a success achieved by studying and learning from earlier failures.‖ It then uses the specific example of the Articles of Confederation, the Annapolis convention, and the Constitution to prove its position. It‘s specific throughout and even

    includes a few dates.

Transitions between Meat Paragraphs:

    Your first meat paragraph dives right into its topic sentence, but the second and third meat paragraphs need transitions. The simplest way to build these transitions is to use words like another and finally.

    That means your second meat paragraph should start off with a transitional phrase such as, ―Another example . . .‖

    A slightly more sophisticated way to build transitions is to choose examples from different sources, such as history and business. If the first paragraph is about a political instance of learning from failure and the second is from business, make that fact your transition: ―As in politics, learning from failure is a means to gaining success in business as well. Take the case of . . .‖

The Bottom Bun: Conclusion (Paragraph #5)

    The conclusion of your essay should accomplish two main goals:

    ; Recap your argument, while broadening it a bit.

    ; Expand on your position and look to the future.

    To accomplish these two goals, your conclusion should contain three to four sentences.

The Recap:

    The recap is a one-sentence summary of what you‘ve already argued. As in the thesis statement, the recap should be straightforward, bold, and declarative. By ―broadening‖ your argument, we mean that

    you should attempt to link your specific examples to other fields, such as politics, business, and art. Here‘s a recap example:

    The examples of the Constitution, Google, and Rod Johnson make it clear that in the realms of politics and business, the greatest successes arise from careful considerations of the lessons of failure.

Expand on Your Position:

    The last two or three sentences of the essay should take the argument you just recapped and push it a little further. One of the best ways to push your argument further is to look to the future and think about what would happen if the position that you‘ve taken in your essay could be applied on a broader scale. Here‘s an example:

    Failure is often seen as embarrassing, something to be denied and hidden. But as the examples of the U.S. Constitution, Google, and Rod Johnson prove, if an individual, organization, or even a nation is strong enough to face and study its failure, then that failure can become a powerful teacher. As the examples of history and business demonstrate, if everyone had the courage and insight to view failure as a surefire way to learn from mistakes, success would be easier to achieve.


    The Bottom Bun wraps up the entire ACT essay. And there you have it! If you follow the template we have just provided, and break down the essay into its core ingredients, your ACT essay will be strong, clear, and easy to write.


    The Universal ACT Essay Template

    To make sure you really get the essay organization we‘re suggesting, we‘ll sum it all up. Here‘s the ACT essay outline you should use, no matter what topic you get or what

    position you take:

     Length Purpose

    The Introduction (The Top Bun)

    Thesis Statement 1 sentence Describe your position clearly and concisely.

     1 sentence Responds to the counter-argument

    The Essay 3 Lay out the three examples you will use to support your thesis Summary sentences statement.

    Example Paragraph #1 (The Meat)

    Topic Sentence 1 sentence Describe your example and fit it into the context of your overall

    thesis statement.

    Example 34 Show how your example supports your argument. Be as specific Development sentences as possible.

    Example Paragraph #2 (The Meat)

    Topic Sentence 1 sentence Describe your example and fit it into the context of your overall

    thesis. Provide a transition from the previous example


    Example 34 Show how your example supports your argument. Be as specific Development sentences as possible.

    Example Paragraph #3 (The Meat)

    Topic Sentence 1 sentence Describe your example and fit it into the context of your overall

    thesis. Provide a transition from the previous paragraph.

    Example 34 Use specific facts to show how your example supports your Development sentences argument. Be as specific as possible.

    The Conclusion (The Bottom Bun)

    Recap 1 sentence Summarize your argument and examples, and link the examples

    to broader things like politics, history, art, business, etc.

    Broaden Your 23 Expand your position by contemplating what would happen in Argument sentences the world if other groups followed the argument you make in

    your essay.

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