Introduction to the Essay

Kristin Fracchia
Lesson by Kristin Fracchia
Magoosh Expert
Learn More About Magoosh ACT
All right, who want's to talk about the ACT Writing Test? You probably do because you are watching this video, so you probably want to learn about it. So let's just go ahead and cut the to chase and start talking about it. All right, so the ACT Writing Test what does it look like? It is one essay that you have to write in 40 minutes.

It's optional, it's the last section of the test after all the multiple choice portions. So you may notice if you are taking this test early in the Fall in 2015 that this is different, there is a new ACT essay starting in September 2015 so that is the essay that we are talking about here. The old essay gave you a 30 minute time limit.

So you may think, hey, they're being nice. But that's because the essay problems has gotten a little more complicated. So they're giving you some more time to plan and think and do everything that the essay is asking you to do. But it is still optional. So that means that if you sign up for the ACT without writing, you're gonna be in a different room.

And after the multiple choice sections, you're all gonna get to scamper off to freedom. And then, if you take the writing test, you are going to be in a room with other kids taking the writing test, and you're gonna get a chance to stand up and stretch, and take a little mini break before you jump into this essay. So, it's a bit of a long haul but it's important because the writing test, the essay is required or recommended by a lot of schools so your job is to check the requirements of the schools you're interested in and see if the writing test is right for you and if it is, well, you're probably watching this video.

So you wanna learn more about it. So, again, let's go ahead and cut to the chase and meet our essay prompt. Now, I know you can't read my little pictures here, but I just wanted you to get a sense, give you these screen shots of what the essay is going to look like on your page when you flip to this section of your ACT test booklet. So you can see there's quite a lot of text here.

We're gonna go ahead and break it down in more detail, but I just wanted you to get a visual of what it looks like on the page as we talk about the different parts. Okay, so, the first part is the introductory discussion of an issue. And that's this little part that you can see on the screenshot right here. So this one was an ACT example essay prompt about intelligent machines and the prevalence of machines in our life.

So it gives us some examples. It sets this issue up for us. It gets our brains working about it. It gives us examples. Robots build cars on assembly lines. Self-checkout machines are now common in grocery stores.

It asks questions, it gives us a little food for thought. What's lost when we place humans with machines, what's gained. You should read this, this is really important to read because you can use the examples in the introductory material in your essay, although you should definitely think up your own examples too, that's really important, but it gives you some things to start working with and to start developing your own perspective on the issue.

The next part here gives you three perspectives in three little boxes here on this issue, they may be supporting it, the topic or they may be contradicting it or partially supporting it or sending some type of special perspective on that issue. This is the most important part of the essay prompt for you to be paying attention to because the third part, the essay task which you see right here is going to ask you to evaluate these perspectives.

And the essay task is going to be worded basically the same on every test. You have three things to accomplish as part of your essay task, you have to analyze and evaluate the perspectives that are given. You have to present your own perspective on it and you have to explain the relationship between your perspective and the others. We're going to take a closer look at the essay task in just a moment on the next slide.

That's just to get you started. And finally we have this planning your essay advice. And this is generally gonna be on the second page. And it's, kind of, not necessarily all that important for you to pay attention to. It's good for you to know before you go into the ACT essay test.

But, it's basically going to be like the thinking questions that your English teacher might give you on an essay assignment sheet. Like, what insights did the perspectives offer, and what did they fail to consider? Why might they be persuasive or not persuasive? How will you support your perspective in the essay? It's not enormously helpful.

If you know what you're supposed to do in the essay, you shouldn't really have to read it or pay attention to it, so just skim it if you'd like, but otherwise just jump right into the planning. So this is actually the most important part of the page because you have all this blank space to plan my essay. This is where you are going to be writing down all your thoughts developing an outline, putting down your examples, doing some brain-storming, coming up with a thesis statement.

So you have blank pages and you actually have another blank page in your test book for you to get all your ideas out on paper. But remember that none of this is going to be graded. This is in your essay booklet. It's not on the test booklet that's getting graded, so make sure that you don't write things here that you want the graders to see.

You don't need to waste time making your planning pretty imperfect. No grader's going to see it. But it's really important that you use your space to plan your essay so that when you're writing it it's not all one just big nonsensical blob which would be really, really bad. So let's take a closer look at the essay task.

Once again, as I was just mentioning, there are three things you need to do as part of the essay. You need to first of all, write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on blank. This is insert issue here. So whether it's intelligent machines or censorship or any number of things that they're going to ask you to talk about.

This is going to change on every test but you're going to basically have the same prompt around this blank. And here are the three things that you are supposed to do: You are supposed to analyze and evaluate the perspectives given, first of all. This means you need to talk about all of them, all three of them. Don't leave any of them out.

It means you need to go beyond just repeating, or paraphrasing what the perspectives say, you need to elaborate on them with your own examples and analysis. Do you think they are true or not true? Do you agree with them or not? Don't be afraid to disagree with them, by the way.

Essay graders will reward you for challenging some of the perspectives. Being able to see multiple sides of an issue, and being able to critique perspectives is a really important skill that they like to see in high school students. So, don't just agree with all of them, or just repeat what all of them say. If you can challenge one of them, if you don't agree with it, make sure to say so and then make sure to support it with examples.

Equally important, actually probably more important is this second part of the test here which is to state and develop your own perspective on the issue. But wait, notice this part of the prompt below here. It says your perspective may be in full agreement, partial agreement or wholly different from any of the others. So this means that you don't need to necessarily come up with an entirely new perspective that no one's ever though of on this issue in order to get a great score.

It can also be in partial agreement with it. Maybe you're taking one of the perspectives and you're just Building on it a little bit. You can also be wholly different. You can come up with a new thing, but my advice in general is to stay away from this wholly different angle and that's for two reasons.

First of all because if you do that, that means you now have four perspectives to evaluate and support you have to address all three of the prospectives that have already been given to you and then you need to do yours. But if you get a perfect score which you can by completely agreeing with or just agreeing mostly with one of the three perspective there given to you then you can spend your time delving into the three perspectives and developing a few good examples on that in more detail, rather than introducing something different that may or may not be a strong argument.

Or, the second reason why I suggest not going for this wholly different angle, is because you really run the risk of going off topic here. So, you may think you have like a whole new perspective you wanna be presenting. But it's really only loosely tied into the prompting, you started just like talking about machines, in general. And then you get a really bad grade.

Because if you don't stick. Close to the task bad news will happen. So my advice in general is to agree in full, or in part. Now for some super strong writers who have brilliant ideas, and maybe worth the risk of impressing graders, with your out of the box thinking. But again if you can get a perfect score by sticking to the given perspectives devoting your time to coming up with the most incredibly perfect examples and support for them you really need to think about wether or not it is worth the risk.

Okay so then we have this third part, lets move onto that of this essay task explain the relationship between your perspective and those given. From what I've seen so far from some essays and the scores they've received on this, this is not worth devoting really explicit attention to in your essay. It should really just happen naturally as you transition from evaluating the perspectives to explaining your own.

It's also something you can wrap up in the conclusion so, for example, although some people may believe that intelligent machines are the way of the future, we as humans get to determine our future and what that means. Blah blah blah blah. So within that sentence, by using transitions, we've compared the other perspectives to our own.

So we're covering this third point. So don't get overwhelmed by all of these things that you have to do here. Focus on these first two and you are going to be golden, promise. Lets talk about how the essay is scored a little bit. We're going to work backwards a little bit. We are going to start with what you see on your test report.

So when you open that envelope or go online and check your scores, which is the way it works now, you're going to receive a writing test score on a scale of 1 to 36. This is the same as the other multiple choice sections of the test. You're also gonna see what are called domain writing scores on a scale from 2 to12.

And that's on four different domains. Ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use and conventions. So these are the four domains that the graders are explicitly grading your essay on and we have another video on scoring that's going to break this down further but just to give you the basics here.

Each grader, you're going to have two different graders and they're going to grade your essay on a scale of one to six on each of these four different domains. So this overall score of 2 to 12 comes from adding the two reader scores together. But they don't exactly add up to your overall writing score of 1 to 36 as you math whizzes probably observed.

There would be no way to get a 1 and that would mean the top score would be 48. So what happens is similar to what happens on the other sections of the test. You get a raw score and this is converted to a scaled score from 1 to 36. So you can check out our scoring video for more specifics on the scoring breakdown, and what your essay has to do with each of these four domains to get a good score, but we are going to leave it at that, now for our introduction to the ACT essay.

So again, just as a reminder, you have the domain scores and some of the two readers' scores one to six, and that's converted to that scale score. A couple more notes on scoring. The writing score does not effect your subject area scores or your overall composite. Score. So it's still separate as it's always been.

It's not going to change that overall score of 36 that comes from averaging your multiple choice subject area scores. And it's not going to change them at all. It's going to be a separate score that's reported to you and to colleges. But you're also going to get, if you take the writing test what's called an English Language Arts score and this is a score that tries to combine your essay score with your score on the English multiple choice section.

It was originally designed as a way to more directly compare ACT writing scores to SAT writing scores, which combine the multiple choice questions and the essay. This is becoming a little less meaningful because the SAT essay. On the new test, starting in 2016, is going to be optional, so overall, don't really worry too, too much about this English Language Arts score, it's just kind of another little number that is not, that is far from the most important number to colleges.

All right. Here's my favorite screen of this lesson, do's and dont's for the ACT essay. So we're just gonna talk about some general overview rules of thumb to do well on this ACT essay and then we have tons of other information and helpful hints in our subsequent lessons on the ACT essay on how to get your best score, but let's just go ahead and go through some of the big picture stuff.

Alright. So, do, number one. Write only on the. Given topic. I know that sounds pretty self explanatory and you're thinking yeah, obviously I'm going to do that but you'd be surprised how many students don't. They kind of panic, they start coming up with ideas, and just start writing it, they're just trying to fill the pages to get something down.

The way that you can avoid this is by having a really good outline and using that planning time to develop an outline, so don't do this, write about a different topic or one that loosely relates to the given topic. Like I said, this happens for one to two reasons, usually because you panic and you just start writing and you have some good ideas. And you're like oh that's a good idea and you start expanding on it.

And it leads you to this other good idea. And you just go off on this chain of stream of consciousness thoughts. And you get to the end and you are not talking about the topic at all again. So then you try to write one sentence about the topic. That's what happens. That's what usually happens, but then sometimes students try to get cute and think well I could write a really good essay about George Washington, because I know so much about him, so I'm just gonna talk about George Washington and loosely tie it into this prompt.

Don't do that, it's really really best to just stick to what you're being told to write about. Do take a clear position on the topic, and don't be wishy washy or try to argue for multiple sides of the issue. So, lots of times students take a look at it and they're like, oh that perspective makes sense, and hey I can see how that one's true too.

You may partially agree with more than one side or you may be able to see how both sides could be legit. Perspectives that people could have on the topic, but that's why that topics presented. Because it's controversial, because it's debatable, because people could be on different sides of it.

So don't try to do that, don't try to argue all the perspectives here because it's just going to be, they're going to be like what. I don't know what this kid is trying to argue. He doesn't have an argument. So just pick a side, go with it and do the best job you can to support it. And acknowledge maybe a little bit that there's other sides to the issue, but explain why your side, by one side, your clear position is the best.

That will get you your best score. Do include specific examples that support your position. Okay, and don't include examples that support opposing positions, unless you're showing why they're wrong. So, you don't have a lot of space here to be devoting to developing examples from the opposition and then saying but that's wrong because this, so you might be able to throw in one quick example and say ha but I had this better counterexample that is more true.

But you don't want to devote a lot of time to that because what will end up happening a lot of times, is you'll start running out of time for the essay, you're not gonna be able to do a good job of it, so. Just find really specific examples that support your position and spend your time developing those. And when I say specific I mean specific.

I mean your talking about one specific event that happened, not generally speaking. So we're going to talk more about that in the example videos, but specific. The more specific, the better. All right, do you organize your thoughts into multiple paragraphs and don't write all in one big paragraph.

Even if you're not a really confident writer who doesn't know how to organize your essay into paragraphs, at least put them into paragraphs even if you're not really sure how all of your thoughts, which thoughts should go in which paragraph. It just looks nicer and looks more organized, but even though you're going to organize your thoughts into paragraphs that make sense.

You're going to have an introduction, you're going to have some body paragraphs. Maybe two to four body paragraphs and we'll talk about that in the structuring your essay video, what to put in each paragraph, and a conclusion. So don't just write all in one big paragraph. That really confuses readers who are just reading your essay really quickly. An essay that you wrote really quickly, they're reading really quickly.

And if you create some separation from them, some breaks between your ideas, it's going to help them out and let them feel more confident that you know what you are doing. Next, organize your thoughts into multiple paragraphs. Actually, I already said that. Write persuasively , and choose your words carefully.

That's my next point I meant to make here. All right. But don't try to impress with your vocabulary, formal style, or complex sentences. So, obviously, you know. Well, I'm supposed to be persuading, so I should write persuasively.

But this is the important part here, these compliment each other. They go together. Don't try to just impress, don't try to talk in some formal tone that you think sounds really academic and smart. Or use really big words for the sake of using really big words or really long sentences for the sake of using really long sentences and thinking you're sounding elegant.

Again, eloquent. Remember, you don't have a lot of time to write this essay, and they're not spending a lot of time reading it. They're going through it so fast, so you want to be clear, you want to choose your words carefully, be as specific as possible, but don't use vocabulary just to impress.

There's some points here for really purposeful word choice but you stand a greater chance of losing points for being confusing by having overly needless complex sentences and vocabulary. Finally, write neatly. They have to read it. If they can't read it they can't give you a score.

And they really don't have a lot of patience after reading hundreds of essays. So I suggest, for that reason, don't write in cursive. I know not many people write in cursive now any more anyway, it's a little bit of a lost art. But, don't do it unless it's somehow easier to read than your print. If that's the case, go for it.

Whatever's gonna be the easiest for them to read. All right, we are going to forge ahead in other videos with more specifics on scoring, on time management, on planning, on writing thesis statement structure, body paragraphs. So you're ready now, you know what ACT Essay is about so go ahead and check those other videos out

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