ACT For Dummies: Book + 3 Practice Tests Online + Flashcards, 7th Edition
Book image
Explore Book Buy On Amazon
To create a great ACT essay, you must use specific examples, reasons, and details that prove your position on the prompt, and help refute counterarguments made by others. The ACT folks are looking for two things here, which we discuss in the following sections:
  • Specific examples
  • Variety of examples

Use specific examples

To get a handle on how specific your examples should be, consider the last time your parents questioned you about your Saturday night activities. We’ll bet their questions included all the old stand-bys: Where did you go? Who was there? Why are you home so late? Who drove? How long has he had his license? You know that vague answers never cut it.

This skill that you’ve been practicing for years is going to come in handy when you take your ACT Writing Test, because you’re already great at giving the specifics (or making them up). Really good examples discuss extremely specific details, events, dates, and occurrences. Your goal is to write in detail and to try not to be too broad and loose. For example, say that you’re trying to find examples to support uniforms. You can conclude that allowing students to wear whatever they want leads to distraction among the students. Great, but you need to be more specific. You need to give an example from your life when you witnessed this distraction, or site a relevant article you’ve read. In other words, give dates, mention people, rat on your friends! Just choose examples that you know a lot about so that you can get down to the nitty-gritty and be extremely specific.

Mix things up with a variety of examples

Over the past few years, you may have had to come up with a variety of excuses for breaking curfew — the car broke down, traffic was horrendous, the movie ran late, you forgot the time, you fell asleep … you know the routine. Again, thank your parents for helping you with yet another skill you can apply to the ACT Writing Test. Coming up with specific examples about how you feel about uniforms just from your personal life is easy, but it’s also boring.

Use a broad range of examples from different areas, such as literature, cultural experiences, your personal life, current events, business, or history. If you spend just a few moments thinking about the topic, you can come up with great examples from varied areas.

So, to answer the question, “Should schools require students to wear uniforms?” you may strengthen your own perspective by using examples like these:
  • Personal life: A scenario where you saw a girl wearing a short skirt and teeny top and noticed how it interfered with other students’ ability to concentrate
  • Current events: An example from a magazine article you read about a high school shooting that explains how the boys who fired guns in their school were trying to hurt the kids who looked and dressed like jocks
  • Cultural experience: The concern regarding wearing gang-related colors and logos and the potential implications doing so may have regarding violence in the schools
A nice variety of examples like these definitely gets the attention of the ACT folks and helps you sound like the smart writer that you are.

Form logical arguments

The ACT Writing Test provides you with an issue and three perspectives and expects you to examine the whole to create a logical thesis. Accomplishing this task is easier when you know a little about how to form arguments.

A logical argument consists of premises and a conclusion. The premises give the supporting evidence that you can draw a conclusion from. You can usually find the conclusion in the argument because it’s the statement that you can preface with “therefore.” The conclusion is often, but not always, the argument’s last sentence. For example, take a look at this simple deduction:

All gazelles are fast. That animal is a gazelle. Therefore, that animal is fast.

The premises in the argument are “All gazelles are fast” and “that animal is a gazelle.” You know this because they provide the supporting evidence for the conclusion that that animal is fast. The perspectives in the Writing Test prompt are unlikely to be so obvious as to include a conclusion designated by a "therefore," but you can form your own "therefore" statement to determine the conclusion.

In deductive reasoning, you draw a specific conclusion from general premises as we did for the earlier gazelle argument. With inductive reasoning, you do just the opposite; you develop a general conclusion from specific premises. Consider this example of an inductive argument:

Grace is a high school student and likes spaghetti. (Specific premise)

Javi is a high school student and like spaghetti. (Specific premise)

Gidget is a high school student and like spaghetti. (Specific premise)

Manny is a high school and likes spaghetti. (Specific premise)

Therefore, it is likely that all high school students like spaghetti. (General conclusion)

Because an inductive argument derives general conclusions from specific examples, you can’t come up with a statement that “must be true.” The best you can say, even if all the premises are true, is that the conclusion can be or is likely to be true. The perspectives you see in the Writing Test will be based on inductive reasoning.

Inductive reasoning often relies on three main methods. Knowing these ways of reaching a conclusion can help you analyze perspectives and effectively draw your own conclusions:

  • Cause-and-effect arguments: This argument concludes that one event is the result of another. These types of arguments are strongest when the premises prove that an event’s alleged cause is the most likely one and that there are no other probable causes. For example, after years of football watching, you may conclude the following: “Every time I wear my lucky shirt, my favorite team wins; therefore, wearing my lucky shirt causes the team to win.” This example is weak because it doesn’t take into consideration other, more probable reasons (like the team’s talent) for the wins.
  • Analogy arguments: This argument tries to show that two or more concepts are similar so that what holds true for one is true for the other. The argument’s strength depends on the degree of similarity between the persons, objects, or ideas being compared. For example, in drawing a conclusion about Beth’s likes, you may compare her to Alex: “Alex is a student, and he likes rap music. Beth is also a student, so she probably likes rap music, too.” Your argument would be stronger if you could show that Alex and Beth have other similar interests that apply to rap music, like hip-hop dancing or wearing bling. If, on the other hand, you show that Alex likes to go to dance clubs while Beth prefers practicing her violin at home, your original conclusion may be less likely.
  • Statistical arguments: These arguments rely on numbers to reach a conclusion. These types of arguments claim that what’s true for the statistical majority is also true for the individual (or, alternately, that what’s true of a member or members of a group also holds true for the larger group). But because these are inductive reasoning arguments, you can’t prove that the conclusions are absolutely true. When you analyze statistical arguments, focus on how well the given statistics apply to the conclusion’s circumstances. For instance, if you wanted people to buy clothing through your website, you may make this argument: “In a recent study of consumers’ preferences, 80 percent of shoppers surveyed said they prefer to shop online; therefore, you’ll probably prefer to buy clothes online.” You’d support your conclusion if you could show that what's true for the majority is also true for an individual.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Lisa Zimmer Hatch, MA, and Scott A. Hatch, JD, have been helping students succeed on standardized tests since 1987. They have written curricula and numerous test-prep guides, and have taught internationally through their online forums, live lectures, DVDs, and study programs.

This article can be found in the category: