The New Act Essay

Did you know that the ACT Writing Test changed dramatically in Fall 2015? You might not, because people haven't talked about it much, but it changed the ACT and possibly standardized testing in general. It's scored based on all of the old ACT's criteria, but also on a number of new concepts.

We've written the most comprehensive guide available on the new ACT Writing section. Keep reading to find out how you can prepare for and ace this new test.

 

Because there's a lot to cover, we've divided this article into 3 sections, each exploring a major change in the new ACT Writing assignment:

Part 1: Expanded Prompts

Part 2: More Open-Ended Assignment

Part 3: Redesigned Scoring Criteria

Before we dive into this, it's useful to understand why they're changing the ACT Essay section, because this will help you write a better essay.

 

Why Is the Writing Section Changing?

One of colleges' biggest complaints about high school graduates is that their writing isn't academic or complex enough. Because the ACT is trying to position itself not only as a college entrance exam but also as a state-mandated graduation benchmark, it's always trying to stay relevant to the modern education system, and the Enhanced ACT Writing Test is a big part of that.

ACT, Inc. gives a number of reasons for the changes to the essay assignment.

The simplest explanation they give is that it "will allow students to more fully demonstrate their analytical writing ability." Edward R. Colby, a spokesman for ACT, has also commented on the increased complexity of the Enhanced ACT Writing assignment: “It won’t be ‘this side or that side,’” Mr. Colby said. “The question will ask students for multiple perspectives and support. It will be a more-complex prompt than what we’re delivering now.”

But the real motivations behind the redesigned ACT Writing test are related to broader changes in education. Until recently, each state decided what to teach its students, and many students were graduating from high school totally unprepared for college.

So in 2010, the National Governors Association released the Common Core standards in English and math. Forty-four of the fifty U.S. states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The Grades 11-12 Common Core Writing Standardsinclude references to three very specific types of writing:

  1. "Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence."
  2. "Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content."
  3. "Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences."

As you'll be able to see in the scoring criteria later in the article, these three modes of writing correlate directly to the newly-added columns of writing modes in the ACT's new Writing Competencies Model.

 

Will the Enhanced ACT Writing Test Matter More to Colleges?

We don't yet know whether these changes will make the writing test more relevant to colleges, most of which don't require applicants to submit writing scores. But some of those colleges are big, and over 50 percent of high-school seniors are still writing essays when they take the ACT.

Ultimately, colleges won't change their policies until the 2015 new ACT Writing test has been administered a few times, to see what the scores end up reflecting. For example, the old ACT essay is generally considered to be a somewhat skewed measure of students' writing ability. It can't test, as the Enhanced ACT Essay claims to, "insight/deeper understanding through thoughtful consideration." The closest it comes to testing "insight" is whether the examples logically support the point being made. It appears, though, that the new version is trying to capture more of the depth and meaning of an essay than has been attempted by standardized tests so far.

 

PART I: Expanded Prompts

While ACT, Inc. has only released a few sample prompts for the Enhanced ACT Writing section, we can learn a lot from them. The prompts are longer, more complicated, and cover a broader range of topics than the old prompts did.

The topic of the old prompts mostly covered high school and education. They gave a paragraph on the topic and asked only that you "take a position" and support it.

 

Old Prompt Style and Topic

Here's the old style of prompt (this is all of it):

Rather than concentrating on doing one thing at a time, high school students often divide their attention among several activities, such as watching television and using the computer while doing homework. Some educators believe multitasking is a bad practice when doing homework because they think dividing attention between multiple tasks negatively affects the quality of students' work. Other educators do not believe multitasking is a bad practice when doing homework because they think students accomplish more during their limited free time as a result of multitasking. In your opinion, is it too distracting for high school students to divide their attention among several activities when they are doing homework?

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.

 

 

As we discuss in our blog post about current ACT Writing prompts, and as is reflected in the prompt above, the old ACT prompts were all about topics related to high schoolers and high school education. And as you'll read next, that is no longer true with the introduction of the Enhanced ACT Writing Test.

 

New Prompt Style and Topics

The redesigned ACT Writing prompts are much more complex. They start with a passage about the same length as the old one, shown below. Notice that the prompt does not ask a specific question about the information.

The prompt topic below, about the mechanization of the workforce, is a broad and often controversial issue in modern society. As you can see, it has nothing to do with high school or education.

Note: in the prompt below, released by the ACT, the emphasis (in italics) of certain key phrases has been added by the editor.

Intelligent Machines

Many of the goods and services we depend on daily are now supplied by intelligent, automated machines rather than human beings. Robots build cars and other goods on assembly lines, where once there were human workers. Many of our phone conversations are now conducted not with people but with sophisticated technologies. We can now buy goods at a variety of stores without the help of a human cashier. Automation is generally seen as a sign of progress, but what is lost when we replace humans with machines? Given the accelerating variety and prevalence of intelligent machines, it is worth examining the implications and meaning of their presence in our lives.

 

 

Since this is one of five prompts the ACT has released, we don't know anything about the range of topics they'll be covering. But we can draw some basic conclusions about their scope and structure.

 

The Anatomy of the New ACT Writing Prompt

Let's break down the new prompt, sentence by sentence.

Sentence 1: General statement about "intelligent, automated machines" providing "goods and services"

Sentences 2-4: Three specific examples of robots replacing human workers

Sentence 5: Core question, "what is lost when we replace humans with machines?"

Sentence 6: Instruction, "[Examine] the implications and meaning of [intelligent machines'] presence in our lives."

 

As you can see, the instruction in Sentence 6 is phrased somewhat abstractly—it just says the topic is "worth examining." But since this is an essay prompt, we know that that sentence is actually telling us what it wants us to do. But that's not all!

 

Added Perspectives, a.k.a. Points of View

In addition to the large text prompt above, the Enhanced ACT Writing test gives you three different perspectives on the issue in the passage:

Perspective One What we lose with the replacement of people by machines is some part of our own humanity. Even our mundane daily encounters no longer require from us basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for other people.Perspective Two Machines are good at low-skill, repetitive jobs, and at high-speed, extremely precise jobs. In both cases they work better than humans. This efficiency leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone.Perspective Three Intelligent machines challenge our long-standing ideas about what humans are or can be. This is good because it pushes both humans and machines toward new, unimagined possibilities.

Let's simplify the three perspectives:

1) Mechanization is related to and a symbol of perceived modern cultural disintegration (It's bad).

2) The efficiency of mechanization can only benefit humanity (It's good because it's efficient).

3) Mechanization is good because it tests our ideas about humanity (It's good because it challenges us).

There's no way to know what the perspectives will be on future redesigned ACT Writing prompts, but it's safe to say that at least one will be positive and at least one will be negative. We'll explain what you're supposed to do with these perspectives below.

 

PART II: More Open-Ended Assignment

After the ACT presents you with this heap of information, it finally gives some specific instructions on what it wants you to do.

 

Revised & Expanded Instructions and Hints

Here's the new 2015 ACT Writing Essay Task. It's safe to assume that this will be the same in every subsequent ACT Writing test.

Essay Task

Write a unified, coherent essay about the increasing presence of intelligent machines. In your essay, be sure to:

  • clearly state your own perspective on the issue and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective
  • develop and support your ideas with reasoning and examples
  • organize your ideas clearly and logically
  • communicate your ideas effectively in standard written English

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial agreement, or wholly different.

There are a few new important things to note here: you now must not only choose a perspective on the issue (which, to make your life easier, should be one of those given), but also must discuss the relationship between the perspective you choose and at least one of the others. This is significantly more challenging than the amount of analysis you were expected to do in the old ACT Writing test. We'll get more deeply into this in a moment.

 

New: Focus on Planning

But wait! There's more! On a second page, the Enhanced ACT Writing Test gives space for planning your essay, and reminders of some things to consider including:

Planning Your Essay

Your work on these prewriting pages will not be scored.

Use the space below and on the back cover to generate ideas and plan your essay. You may wish to consider the following as you think critically about the task:

Strengths and weaknesses of the three given perspectives

  • What insights do they offer, and what do they fail to consider?
  • Why might they be persuasive to others, or why might they fail to persuade?

Your own knowledge experience and values

  • What is your perspective on this issue, and what are its strengths and weaknesses?
  • How will you support your perspective in your essay?

You can see, given the instructions, that there are a lot of elements to consider. It's a lot more open-ended than the old ACT essay.

 

How Has the Assignment Changed?

In the old ACT essay, you had 2 jobs: take a position on the topic (and defend it), and address (and disqualify) the opposing perspective to your own.

In the Enhanced ACT Writing, you have still have 2 analytical jobs, but the specifics of the jobs have changed. You still have to take a position on the topic (and defend it), but, and this is the most novel part, you also have to discuss the relationship between the perspectives.

The ACT gives you space in the essay booklet that's specifically for planning (to emphasize that planning is CRUCIAL to the assignment) and contains ideas for brainstorming support. Unfortunately, the ideas they give are a bit obtuse. Let's translate them into simpler wording:

  • "What insights do they offer, and what do they fail to consider?"
  • = how is each perspective right and wrong?
  • "Why might they be persuasive to others, and how might they fail to persuade?"
  • = why would people agree or disagree with each perspective?
  • "What is your perspective on the issue, and what are its strengths and weaknesses?"
  • = think about the perspective you choose and make sure it's easy to support (which, hopefully, you'd do automatically)
  • "How will you support your perspective?"
  • = the same thing you had to do on the old ACT essay: think of reasons and examples that show the validity of your argument

 

PART III: Redesigned Scoring Criteria

The old ACT Writing score criteria were in paragraph form, by score, and not broken down into categories.

Let's take a look.

 

The Old ACT Essay Scoring Criteria

Score = 6

Essays within this score range demonstrate effective skill in responding to the task.

The essay shows a clear understanding of the task. The essay takes a position on the issue and may offer a critical context for discussion. The essay addresses complexity by examining different perspectives on the issue, or by evaluating the implications and/or complications of the issue, or by fully responding to counterarguments to the writer's position. Development of ideas is ample, specific, and logical. Most ideas are fully elaborated. A clear focus on the specific issue in the prompt is maintained. The organization of the essay is clear: the organization may be somewhat predictable or it may grow from the writer's purpose.  Ideas are logically sequenced. Most transitions reflect the writer's logic and are usually integrated into the essay. The introduction and conclusion are effective, clear, and well developed. The essay shows a good command of language. Sentences are varied and word choice is varied and precise. There are few, if any, errors to distract the reader.

By contrast, the ACT's new "writing competencies model" looks really complicated, but much of it is the same as the old ACT essay requirements. The major categories are still the same—"generate ideas" is the same as "takes a position and supports it" and so on.

Let's look at each section; the items in blue boxes are the newly-introduced elements. However, it's not 100% accurate to say that all of these are newly introduced. After the new criteria, we break down what's actually new and how it fits into the simpler, older scoring model.

 

The Redesigned 2015 ACT Essay Scoring Criteria

Generate Ideas

Develop Ideas

 

Sustain Ideas

Organize Ideas

Communicate Ideas

 

 

There's a lot to digest here, so we've created a condensed version of the old ACT scoring criteria on the left and the new additions from the blue boxes above on the right.

Old ACT Writing, Score of 6 New ACT Skill NameEnhanced ACT Writingadds...
The essay takes a position on the issue and may offer a critical context for discussion. The essay addresses complexity by examining different perspectives on the issue, or by evaluating the implications and/or complications of the issue, or by fully responding to counterarguments to the writer's position.Generate ideas (Judgment, Analysis, Narration and Reflection)

> multiple perspectives

> articulate insight/depth of understanding

> situated perspectives (context)

Development of ideas is ample, specific, and logical. Most ideas are fully elaborated.Develop Ideas (Develop a Position, Support an Explanation, Give an Account)

> appeals to emotion/feeling

> identify and explore relevant underlying assumptions, ideas, or values

> arrive at insight/deeper understanding through thoughtful consideration

A clear focus on the specific issue in the prompt is maintained.Sustain ideas (Focus)> Nothing New
The organization of the essay is clear: the organization may be somewhat predictable or it may grow from the writer's purpose.  Ideas are logically sequenced. Most transitions reflect the writer's logic and are usually integrated into the essay. The introduction and conclusion are effective, clear, and well developed.Organize ideas (Organization)> Sequence narrative elements effectively
The essay shows a good command of language. Sentences are varied and word choice is varied and precise. There are few, if any, errors to distract the reader.Communicate Ideas (Language Use)

> Use appropriate voice and tone

> Use narrative techniques

> Use descriptive vocabulary

 


Why Are There 3 Columns of Criteria?

The old ACT was entirely focused, in its instructions and scoring, on the Persuasive/Argumentative mode of writing. You were supposed to analyze the topic thoughtfully, which is part of the Analytical Expository mode, and you were encouraged to use examples, which requires the Reflective Narrative mode. But only the goals of the Persuasive/Argumentative mode were meant to count toward your score.

Like many recent education changes, redesigned ACT Writing scoring is purposely in line with the Common Core state standards, which are meant to improve the U.S.'s competency in relation to the education systems of other countries, and to make sure all students graduate college-ready.

These standards are considered more difficult than previous public school standards, and the changes are somewhat controversial in some circles. In any case, the ACT is now including this more complex (and accurate) view of writing competency in their new essay format.

Let's get more in depth with these two new modes of writing.

 

Analytical Expository Mode

You've probably written plenty of expository papers for high school, but the redesigned ACT Writing is focusing more on the Analytical part of the description. While the old ACT essay (and the SAT essay) scored only the persuasive elements of the essay—whether your arguments logically supported your point—the new scoring system is meant to reward INSIGHT. This is actually a huge revelation for standardized testing, and is not something that can be scored by a computer.

 

Reflective Narrative Mode

Really, this could just be called Storytelling. It's supposed to cover any specific examples or personal stories you choose to use to support your thesis. It's the least important of the three modes, both in the ACT essay and in academic writing. We don't need to worry much about these criteria—just give your examples clearly, and try to include all the relevant details. In scoring essays at PrepScholar, we don't find that this is a common problem for students.

 

Which ACT Writing Test Should I Take?

Most people will probably tell you that the old ACT Writing test was easier than the Enhanced ACT Writing test, and that you should definitely choose it over the new test if you have a choice. But it's a bit more complicated than that: it may be more accurate to say that the old test is more formulaic, scoring only for logical structure rather than actual insight or ability to analyze multiple viewpoints.

If you're the kind of student who writes great essays for English class, or who loves writing well, the redesigned ACT Writing test may be for you. It will take into account analytical skills that aren't part of the old essay, so if you write a really insightful essay for the old test, you won't be rewarded for it. On the redesigned ACT Writing test, you will.

Personally, I've always been the kind of person who hates writing to a formula and who wants all my writing to be interesting and insightful. For that reason, I'd choose the new test.

 

How Can I Study for the New ACT Writing Test?

Well, since we only have a few prompts, we don't know yet what specific topics you should read up on. But we do know you'll be asked to write about multiple perspectives on common cultural debates, such as nuclear power or government-subsidized health insurance.

So you can google "debate topics," choose a few that are appropriate for high schoolers, and prepare your own prompts: just find three different perspectives on the issue, and then use them to perform the Essay Task above. The ACT may be releasing more information before the redesigned Writing test is administered, so stay tuned to the PrepScholar blog to keep yourself in the know!

 

What's Next?

If you're researching this topic, you're probably looking to score a pretty high score. Read our guide to how to get a perfect ACT score, written by our 36 ACT scorer.

Also, read our guide on how to get a perfect 12 on the ACT Writing section.

What's a good ACT score for you? Find out how to get your ACT target score, step by step.

 

Want to improve your ACT score by 4 points? 

Check out our best-in-class online ACT prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your ACT score by 4 points or more.

Our program is entirely online, and it customizes your prep program to your strengths and weaknesses. We also have expert instructors who can grade every one of your practice ACT essays, giving feedback on how to improve your score.

Check out our 5-day free trial:

 

Sometimes writing—especially writing for standardized tests—can feel like something you "get" or "don't get." That's primarily because it's very difficult to explain and teach writing in a mechanical way, especially when you're up against time limits.

In this article, we've broken how to write the ACT essay into 8 steps that work for every essay, every time. Then, we show you exactly how to do it with an actual ACT essay example.

Many students ask us how to write an ACT essay, and while the answer is simple enough to explain in 8 steps (as we do below), it's not necessarily simple to do. As with any skill, the key to learning how to write an ACT essay is to study a good model (which we are going to cover in this article) and then practice, practice, practice.

 

Tackling ACT Writing, Step by Step

The ACT essay plan below has been modified from our ACT Essay Tips article to fit the new ACT Writing Test. The template includes 3 sections: planning, writing and revising. If you practice using this template to write ACT essays, you'll get much faster and (probably) more precise. Here's the sample prompt we'll be responding to:

Intelligent Machines

Many of the goods and services we depend on daily are now supplied by intelligent, automated machines rather than human beings. Robots build cars and other goods on assembly lines, where once there were human workers. Many of our phone conversations are now conducted not with people but with sophisticated technologies. We can now buy goods at a variety of stores without the help of a human cashier. Automation is generally seen as a sign of progress, but what is lost when we replace humans with machines? Given the accelerating variety and prevalence of intelligent machines, it is worth examining the implications and meaning of their presence in our lives.

Perspective One: What we lose with the replacement of people by machines is some part of our own humanity. Even our mundane daily encounters no longer require from us basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for other people.

Perspective Two: Machines are good at low-skill, repetitive jobs, and at high-speed, extremely precise jobs. In both cases they work better than humans. This efficiency leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone.

Perspective Three: Intelligent machines challenge our long-standing ideas about what humans are or can be. This is good because it pushes both humans and machines toward new, unimagined possibilities.

Write a unified, coherent essay about the increasing presence of intelligent machines.

 

Stage 1: Planning

Time: 8-10 minutes

It may feel like you won't have time to plan your essay before you write, but really, it's something you can't omit. Trust us. Organizing your thoughts as you write will cost you way more time than if you take the time to plan out your essay before you begin writing.

 

Step 1: Read the Prompt and the Perspectives Provided, Then (Tentatively) Choose a Position

Because addressing the relationship between your perspective and at least one of the other three perspectives is an integral part of the essay task, you need to make sure you understand what each prompt is saying. The good news is that each perspective includes both a general assertion about intelligent machines as well as an opinion that places the topic in a broader context, saving you some work in coming up with your own, independent perspective.

While it is possible to come up with a fourth point of view on the topic, I don't recommend it, as the added time you'll have to spend coming up with your own point of view could be better spend developing your comparison of your perspective to at least one of the other perspectives. If your perspective is a "blending" of multiple perspectives, then that's also fine, as long as you make sure you compare your blended perspective to each of the perspectives it combines; otherwise, you won't fulfill the "analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective" part of the task. Bottom line: choose the perspective you think you can support the best.

For this sample ACT essay, I'm going to tentatively choose to argue Perspective Three (that intelligent machines challenge long-standing ideas about humanity, which in turn pushes humans and machines toward new, previously unimaginable possibilities), simply because that happens to be the position I think I'll be able to support the best.

 

Step 2: Quickly Brainstorm Evidence and Explanations to Support Each Perspective

Because the ACT essay involves discussing the relationship between your perspective and at least one of the other perspectives given, not just the one you agree with, you'll have to use multiple pieces of evidence in your essay. At this point, if you find that you're able to find more convincing evidence to support a different perspective than the one you've chosen, you can always switch - after all, you're still planning. Also, you don't have to write in complete sentences, or phrase things as elegantly as you will in the actual essay, so don't worry about that.

 

Sources for evidence

Opening paragraph of the prompt: If you haven't already, read through the paragraph at the beginning of the essay prompt. You can appropriate some or all of the examples in it to use in your own essay. 

Personal Experience: you can tell any story (real or not) about you or someone else you know (or make up) that supports any one of your points.

Statistics: again, these can be real or made up. You could invent a research study that looked at recordings of phone calls and found >80% of people end up cursing while using automated phone menus (to support perspective one), make up statistics that show automated cashiers are able to process 3x as many check-outs as human cashiers (to support perspective 2), or come up with any other kind of statistics that support one of the perspectives.

Specifics from Sources: use knowledge of events from history or current events to support your points. If you're not certain of the details, it's all right - the essay graders won't deduct points for factually inaccurate information. For this essay, you could use the invention of the printing press (and its effects) as an example of how mechanization can lead to "unimagined possibilities."

 

Here's the evidence I came up with for my essay:

Perspective One: What we lose with the replacement of people by machines is some part of our own humanity. Even our mundane daily encounters no longer require from us basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for other people.

Evidence: Many of our phone conversations are conducted not with people, but with sophisticated technologies...that don't necessarily work at 100%

Explanation: People get so frustrated with the technology that when they press "0" to speak with a real human they are often rude and discourteous

 

Perspective Two: Machines are good at low-skill, repetitive jobs, and at high-speed, extremely precise jobs. In both cases they work better than humans. This efficiency leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone.

Evidence: Robots build cars on assembly lines

Explanation: Lower cost, decreases risk of injury to human workers

 

Perspective Three: Intelligent machines challenge our long-standing ideas about what humans are or can be. This is good because it pushes both humans and machines toward new, unimagined possibilities.

Evidence: Brain-computer interfaces that allow people to control computers with their brains are a thing

Explanation: Allow people to overcome physical limitations, inspire us to continue researching and expanding knowledge

 

 

Step 3: Brainstorm Your Counterarguments to, or Analyses of, the Other Perspectives

There's no one right way to respond to the perspectives the ACT gives you. Some of it depends on what point of view you take. For instance, if I agreed with Perspective One, which takes a negative view of the effects of intelligent machines, I might want to discuss both of the other two perspectives (which both take positive views of intelligent machines) in one paragraph, and then disagree with them in the next paragraph as I present my support for Perspective One.

 

Since I am arguing for Perspective Three (machines challenge our ideas about what humans are or can be, which pushes us and machines toward new possibilities), I am going to argue against Perspective One and Perspective Two separately, because I have strong evidence for my analyses of each perspective. Because the essay only requires you to analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective, if I had lots of evidence to use in my comparison of my perspective and Perspective One, but nothing to say about Perspective Two, I could also decide not to discuss that perspective at all. In this case, I was able to thing of solid arguments for and against both of the other perspectives, so I chose to analyze both of them and their relationship to my perspective below. Again, these are not necessarily worded in their final form.

 

Perspective One: What we lose with the replacement of people by machines is some part of our own humanity. Even our mundane daily encounters no longer require from us basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for other people.

Evidence: Many of our phone conversations are conducted not with people, but with sophisticated technologies...that don't necessarily work at 100%

Explanation: People get so frustrated with the technology that when they press "0" to speak with a real human they are often rude and discourteous

Counterargument/analysis: The benefits outweigh the costs, because providing people with the option to submit prescriptions or ask about store hours through an automated menu frees up customer service reps to answer real questions. In addition, recordings of calls with angry customers are used to improve the menus.

 

Perspective Two: Machines are good at low-skill, repetitive jobs, and at high-speed, extremely precise jobs. In both cases they work better than humans. This efficiency leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone.

Evidence: Robots build cars on assembly lines

Explanation: Robots take over dangerous jobs which decreases risk of injury to human workers, lowering cost to employers

Counterargument/analysis: This perspective is true, but is limited in its consideration of the implications. Robots can not only do things instead of humans, but can actually work with humans, as in precise surgery, to a better result than either humans or machines alone.

 

Step 4: Organize Your Essay

Now that you have the main points of your essay, it's time to organize them in a way that makes sense. Make sure to include your introduction (with your thesis statement containing your point of view, or at least a rough sense of your thesis statement) and conclusion in this organization. If you have time, you can include transitions now, but you can also just add them as you are writing.

 

Introduction

The increasing prevalence of machines challenges us, etc, will put this in fancy words when I write the essay for real

 

Body Paragraph 1

  • Perspective One argues that replacing humans with machine leads us to lose part of our own humanity, because even our mundane daily encounters no longer require from us basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for other people.
  • I have witnessed this in my own life through watching my mother interact with some of those "sophisticated" automated phone systems. She sometimes gets so frustrated with the technology refusing to do what she wants that, by the time the menu allows her to speak to a real human, my mother is no longer courteous or respectful.
  • Despite this frustration, I think the benefits outweigh the costs, because providing people with the option to submit prescriptions or ask about store hours through an automated menu frees up customer service reps to answer real questions. In addition, recordings of calls with angry customers are used to improve the menus.

 

Body Paragraph 2

  • In contrast to Perspective One, Perspective Two argues that the main utility of machines is in their ability to perform repetitive tasks more precisely and efficiently than humans.
  • In auto plants around the world, robots build cars on assembly lines, performing their jobs with high precision and at lower overall cost to employers, who can make a one time purchase rather than having to pay a human a yearly salary (and worry about liability issues)
  • This perspective is fine as far as it goes, but is limited in its consideration of the implications. Robots can not only do things instead of humans, but can actually work with humans, as in precise surgery, to a better result than either humans or machines alone.

 

Body Paragraph 3

  • The true impact of intelligent machines in our lives is that they challenge us to re-think our preconceived notions of what people can do or become in the future.
  • An example of this is brain-computer interfaces that allow people to control computers with their brains.
  • With BCIs, people can overcome physical limitations.. In addition, BCIs have capture the interest of people from all different backgrounds and are being applied to non-scientific fields to create new, previously unimagined inventions and ways to interact with the world.

 

Conclusion sentence

In conclusion, rather than taking away from our humanity, intelligent machines help us to move forward as a species to new heights.

 

By the end of this step, you should try to have about 30 minutes left so you have enough time to write. If you don't, just keep in mind that you might have to skimp on some of your explanations/counterarguments for the perspective(s) you compare to your own.

 

Stage 2: Writing

Time: 25-28 minutes

Once you've structured your argument, it's time to write it all down!

 

Step 5: Introduction Paragraph & Thesis

Write your introduction. If you can think of an interesting first sentence that brings your thesis into a larger discussion, start with that. (If writing the introduction stumps you, just leave 10-15 lines blank at the beginning of the paper and come back to it.)

From the simplest system of pulleys and ropes in ancient Greece to the most complex supercomputer in the world today, machines have had (and continue to have) a profound influence on the development of humanity.

Make sure you clearly state your thesis. For a 3+/6 essay, this should include your perspective on the issue and how it relates to at least one of the other perspectives presented in the prompt.

While some argue that machines have a negative impact on us, the increasing prevalence of intelligent machines in the world challenges us to change long held beliefs about our limitations and to continue forward to new and even more advanced possibilities.

 

Step 6:  Body Paragraphs

When you start your first body paragraph, try to think of a first sentence that refers back to the first paragraph. Ideally, you'll start every paragraph by referring back to your thesis to create a unified argument.

One common argument against the increased presence of machines in our day-to-day lives (seen in Perspective One) is that machines leach away at our basic humanity.

Then address the argument opposing yours (in this case, Perspective One). Explain the evidence that supports this perspective in 3-5 sentences.

I found this to be true in my own life as a result of witnessing many a phone conversation between my mother and an automated telephone menu. For whatever reason, she consistently has issues with the menus that try to verify her date of birth. The automated system never understands what she says (possibly because of her accent), and asks her to input the numbers via her keypad; of course, my mom's smartphone is so smart that the screen turns off while she is on a call, making it impossible for her to follow the automated phone system's instructions. By the time the system gives up and routes her to speak to a "human representative," my mother is often so frustrated that she is far from courteous and respectful to that person.

Then, make sure to explain your counterargument to this perspective, tying it back to your thesis.

Despite my mother's understandable frustration with automated phone systems, however, overall the benefits outweigh the costs. Providing people with the option to submit prescriptions or ask about store hours through an automated menu frees up customer service representatives to answer questions machines are incapable of addressing. In addition, the recordings of angry phone calls (where customers are not courteous, respectful, or tolerant of other humans) are used to improve the phone menus to make them more user-friendly. Thus, the momentary disrespect toward other humans caused by machines is more than compensated for by the positive effects of those same machines.

 

Body Paragraph 2

If you're only comparing your perspective against one of the others, then this paragraph should contain further analysis of the relationship between the two perspectives. If you're comparing your perspective against both of the other perspectives (as I did in this essay), then this is where you introduce your thoughts on the second perspective.

Another school of thought, exemplified by Perspective Two, argues that the main utility of machines is their ability to perform repetitive tasks more precisely and more efficiently than humans, which leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone.

Address the argument of this second perspective (in this case, Perspective Two). Explain the evidence that supports this perspective in 3-5 sentences.

In auto plants around the world, robots build cars on assembly lines. Instead of having to pay a human employee a yearly salary, invest time in training that employee, and worry about liability should that employee be injured, manufacturing plants can now make a one-time purchase of an intelligent machine that will perform that same job at higher levels of precision. This leads to a more prosperous world for the manufacturers, as they are able to invest less money to get a better product.

Then, make sure to explain how this perspective relates back to your perspective.

This perspective is fine as far as it goes, but is limited in its consideration of the implications. Robots can not only work in place of humans, but can also work cooperatively with humans to a greater results than either could have hoped for alone. This can be seen in highly complex and delicate surgeries, where a surgeon controls robotic microtools to perform operations that even ten years ago would have been unimaginable and impossible.

 

Body Paragraph 3

Introduce your main perspective, linking it back to the counterarguments you've made against at least one of the other perspectives.

I agree with Perspective Three that the true impact of intelligent machines in our lives is that they challenge us to re-think our preconceived notions of what people can do or become in the future.

Present one final example in support of your perspective.

A final example of this is brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs. Humans are able to manipulate computers with their brains via electrodes that are either implanted in their brains or attached (temporarily) to their heads. With these intelligent machines, formerly paralyzed people who had no hope of communicating with others are able to transcend their physical limitations by concentrating to form words out of keyboards on the computer screens. In addition, BCIs have captured the interest of people from all different backgrounds and are being applied to non-scientific fields like music to create new, previously unimagined instruments that react to people's thoughts, adding a new dimension to an ancient art form. Truly, intelligent machines are providing the impetus not just for greater efficiency, but for greater accomplishments.

 

Step 7: Conclusion

Check your time. Try to have 5-6 minutes left at this point.

Come up with a quick sentence that restates your thesis to wrap up the essay.

In conclusion, rather than taking away from our humanity, intelligent machines actually help us to move forward as a species to achieve new, previously unimagined possibilities.

 

Stage 3: Revising

Time: 2-4 minutes

 

Step 8: Reread & Revise

Let's look at our complete ACT essay example:

[1]     From the simplest system of pulleys and ropes in ancient Greece to the most complex supercomputer in the world today, machines have had (and continue to have) a profound influence on the development of humanity. While some argue that machines have a negative impact on us, the increasing prevalence of intelligent machines in the world challenge us to change long held beliefs about our limitations and to continue forward to new and even more advanced possibilities.

[2]     One common argument against the increased presence of machines in our day-to-day lives (seen in Perspective One) is that machines leach away at our basic humanity. I found this to be true in my own life as a result of witnessing many a phone conversation between my mother and an automated telephone menu. For whatever reason, she consistently has issues with the menus that try to verify her date of birth. The automated system never understands what she says (possibly because of her accent), and asks her to input the numbers via her keypad; of course, my mom's smartphone is so smart that the screen turns off while she is on a call, making it impossible for her to follow the automated phone system's instructions. By the time the system gives up and routes her to speak to a "human representative," my mother is often so frustrated that she is far from courteous and respectful to that person. Despite my mother's understandable frustration with automated phone systems, however, overall the benefits outweigh the costs. Providing people with the option to submit prescriptions or ask about store hours through an automated menu frees up customer service representatives to answer questions machines are incapable of addressing. In addition, the recordings of angry phone calls (where customers are not courteous, respectful, or tolerant of other humans) are used to improve the phone menus to make them more user-friendly. Thus, the momentary disrespect toward other humans caused by machines is more than compensated for by the positive effects of those same machines.

[3]     Another school of thought, exemplified by Perspective Two, argues that the main utility of machines is their ability to perform repetitive tasks more precisely and more efficiently than humans, which leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone. In auto plants around the world, robots build cars on assembly lines. Instead of having to pay a human employee a yearly salary, invest time in training that employee, and worry about liability should that employee be injured, manufacturing plants can now make a one-time purchase of an intelligent machine that will perform that same job at higher levels of precision. This leads to a more prosperous world for the manufacturers, as they are able to invest less money to get a better product. This perspective is fine as far as it goes, but is limited in its consideration of the implications. Robots can not only work in place of humans, but can also work cooperatively with humans to a greater results than either could have hoped for alone. This can be seen in highly complex and delicate surgeries, where a surgeon controls robotic microtools to perform operations that even ten years ago would have been unimaginable and impossible.

[4]     I agree with Perspective Three that the true impact of intelligent machines in our lives is that they challenge us to re-think our preconceived notions of what people can do or become in the future. A final example of this is brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs. Humans are able to manipulate computers with their brains via electrodes that are either implanted in their brains or attached (temporarily) to their heads. With these intelligent machines, formerly paralyzed people who had no hope of communicating with others are able to transcend their physical limitations by concentrating to form words out of keyboards on the computer screens. In addition, BCIs have captured the interest of people from all different backgrounds and are being applied to non-scientific fields like music to create new, previously unimagined instruments that react to people's thoughts, adding a new dimension to an ancient art form. Truly, intelligent machines are providing the impetus not just for greater efficiency, but for greater accomplishments.

[5]     In conclusion, rather than taking away from our humanity, intelligent machines actually help us to move forward as a species to achieve new, previously unimagined possibilities.

In these last 2-4 minutes, you want to read over your essay and trying to pick up a point or two by revising. In this time, you can do a number of things.

You can, of course, correct mistakes:

Paragraph 1, Sentence 2: [subject/verb agreement; change is bolded]

The increasing prevalence of intelligent machines in the world challenges us to change long held beliefs about our limitations and to continue forward to new and even more advanced possibilities.

You can replace dull or problematic words or phrasing with fancier words or clearer turns of phrase:

Paragraph 2, last sentence

Thus, the momentary disrespect toward other humans caused by machines is more than compensated for by the positive effects of those same machines.

We can change it to:

Thus, any momentary disrespect my mom might show to a customer service representative (as a result of frustration with the automated system) is more than compensated for by the positive effects of those same machines.

There you go! Now you know how to write a good ACT essay.

If any part of this was confusing, re-read that section. Then try to do it yourself with a sample ACT essay prompt.

 

How Do I Do This Myself?

Practice planning your essays in 8-10 minutes before you start writing. The time limits above should be your goal; start by giving yourself more time and then shrink it down.

You can use the list from our ACT essay prompts blog post or any list of ACT-like questions and start with the planning stage. Don't forget to check out our full analysis of the ACT Writing Rubric, with strategies and explanations that can guide you in your essay planning!

Our blog post about ACT essay tips has more in-depth information about the details of planning and arguing in the ACT essay.

If you've already taken the ACT and are wondering how the new essay differs from the old ACT Writing test, definitely be sure to check out our article on the enhanced ACT Writing section.

 

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