How to Examine a Perspective for the ACT Writing Test

By Lisa Zimmer Hatch, Scott A. Hatch

The ACT Writing Test provides you with an issue and three perspectives and expects you to examine each one to determine which is the most logical. Accomplishing this task is easier when you know a little about how to analyze arguments.

A logical argument consists of premises and a conclusion. The premises give the supporting evidence from which you can draw a conclusion. 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 likes spaghetti. (Specific premise)

Gidget is a high school student and likes 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.