Language Analysis: The Perfect Essay StructureBy Lauren White in Study
12th of May 2016
Language Analysis. It’s a third of the exam, and it’s one of the hardest parts of the VCE English course to master. Many schools complete their Language Analysis SAC early in the year, which means you’ll have months between your school assessment and the end-of-year task. Unfortunately, if you don’t keep up your skills in the meantime, it’s all too easy to fall behind and end up heading into October like “wait… what’s a language analysis and how do I do one!?”
(Sneaky plug for our L.A. Club if you’re looking for some valuable practice & feedback!)
What’s worse is that the kind of material you’re dealing with in your SACs probably won’t be very similar to what’s on the exam. AND the advice you get from your teachers may not align with what the assessors expect of you.
So how can you write an objectively safe, ridiculously impressive, kick-ass 10/10 piece at the end of the year?
Well, let’s first look at what the task involves. (NOTE: we’re mainly going to be focussing on Language Analysis in the exam as opposed to your SAC. Check with your teacher if you’re looking for an idea essay structure for your in-school assessment. This guide is to help you prepare for the big end-of-year task!)
What’s the point of a Language Analysis?
Luckily, there’s a pretty big clue on the Section C page of the exam. And by ‘clue,’ I mean VCAA have straight up told you what they’re looking for.
How is language used to persuade the audience?
That is what your whole piece should be geared towards. Not how many techniques you can find. Not how many quotes you can cram into your paragraphs. Not how many synonyms for the word ‘contends’ you can use. So long as your essays are addressing that core question, everything else is secondary.
However, there are different sub-criteria you’re expected to address, and those aren’t stated quite so clearly.
For one, you are required to unpack the persuasive devices and the language features in the material. You need to strike a balance between the different types of material you’re given. You need to talk about the way these techniques affect the audience and why the author would want them to think/feel/believe something. And you should also endeavour to discuss tone (or tonal shifts), connections between written and visual material, and the connotations of words and phrases.
For more on the different requirements in Language Analysis, scroll down to the end of this article for a complete checklist!
Any introduction you write is going to be pretty important. In Language Analysis, your intro isn’t technically worth any marks, but it is your chance to make a good first impression on your assessor! If your introduction is a rambly mess and takes three quarters of a page to express a whole bunch of useless information, then the person marking your work isn’t going to be too thrilled with you. Or, if you’ve misunderstood the author’s contention from the outset, you’re going to find it harder to recover later.
Compare this with an intro that’s clear, concise, and not bogged down by any unnecessary repetition. Obviously this neat intro is going to be a much better starting point.
Good Language Analysis introductions will usually be pretty straightforward. The most important thing is that you outline the contention of the main written piece(s).
Generally, you should also touch on the background information and the ‘spark’ that prompted this author to respond to an issue, though this is more optional and shouldn’t take more than a sentence or two. From there, you can outline the main contention, as well as the arguments of any accompanying written or visual material.
Note that if you get multiple written pieces, you don’t have to go through every single contention. So if you were given, say, three comments along with a blog post, explaining the contentions of each of those comments wouldn’t be necessary. In those circumstances, it’s enough to just go through the contention of the main piece and then mention that ‘this piece was also accompanied by a variety of comments spanning different views from members of the public.’ Then, when you have to analyse these comments in your body paragraphs, you can just give a quick run-down of those contentions where necessary.
Consider the following introduction for the 2015 VCAA exam:
SAMPLE LANGUAGE ANALYSIS INTRODUCTION
At the 2015 ceremony for the recognition of Australian volunteer organisations, the CEO of bigsplash, Stephanie Bennett, gave a speech celebrating the altruism of volunteers and extolling the good they do for their communities, and society as a whole. The speech which was later televised addressed the groups of volunteers who were present and praised them for their selfless acts of generosity. ‘bigsplash’ also bestowed an award upon a group called ‘Tradespeople Without Borders,’ and their spokesperson Mathew Nguyen was invited to give an acceptance speech. In it, he contended that volunteering should be thought of as its own reward, and that although the praise was welcome, it shouldn’t be an expected part of the volunteering process. Both of these speeches were also accompanied by various visual aids.
Notice that this intro has focused more so on the contentions of the two written pieces and has only really addressed the visuals in that final sentence? That’s because, for this exam, the written content was way more dominant. It wouldn’t’ve hurt to briefly summarise what the visuals were, but in the interests of keeping the intro short and sweet, we can just leave them till later.
Now onto the important parts of your Language Analysis essay – body paragraphs! This is where the vast majority of your marks are decided, and no matter how delightful your intros and conclusions are, the body paragraphs are your biggest priorities. Solid language analysis abilities are the strength of any Section C piece, so it’s crucial that you know how to conduct detailed and efficient analysis.
There are many different ways to analyse the material, and it will depend on the kind of content you get given in the exam. But the way you format your analysis is also a pretty significant factor.
The most common strategy is to structure things chronologically (meaning you just start analysing the beginning of the material and go on till you get to the end and run out of stuff to say). The advantage here is that this method is pretty straightforward, and won’t require a whole lot of planning. You can essentially just read through the material once or twice and begin analysing straight away. But the disadvantage is that there’s a chance your essay could become really imbalanced. If the author’s arguments are all over the place, and you end up repeating yourself and jumping around unnecessarily, you could potentially lose marks for lacking cohesiveness.
Other methods involve structuring by techniques, which is even riskier since it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to find a neat way to divide the material up into three or four paragraphs based on the language devices they employ. And if you just turn your ‘essay’ into a collection of disconnected paragraphs focussing on a heap of different techniques, you’ll definitely struggle to earn credit for your overall structuring of the material.
What I would recommend instead is that you structure your essay by arguments (or, more accurately, sub-arguments).
How do you do that?
Well, if an author is trying to convince you that their contention was right, then they’d also be trying to convince you of various other supporting points.
For instance, if I were trying to persuade you to move to New Zealand, then it would make sense that I’d also want you to believe that:
– New Zealand is more livable than Australia.
– New Zealand has a strong economy and job prospects.
– New Zealand people are nicer and better looking.
…and so on. Whereas, if I were trying to persuade you NOT to move to New Zealand, then I’d be claiming that
– New Zealand is way less livable than Australia.
– New Zealand’s economy is dead and no one can find employment.
– New Zealand people are all cruel and ugly.
From this, we can conclude that the sub-arguments are supporting the overall contention. Because if I were instead trying to argue that you SHOULD move to New Zealand, but I was saying that their economy was dead and that everyone who lived there was hideous, that wouldn’t help strengthen my argument.
So if you were to conduct a Language Analysis based on my argument, you might break things down into:
Paragraph 1: the livability of New Zealand
Paragraph 2: the strength of the New Zealand economy, and the potential job prospects
Paragraph 3: the appeal of New Zealand people
Then, in each of these paragraphs, you would discuss how language is used to persuade readers of these sub-arguments. And at the end of each paragraph, you can link these sub-arguments to the overall contention of the author. So you’d begin by outlining what the sub-argument is, and what the author is suggesting. Then, you’d analyse evidence from the material to demonstrate this. Finally, you can explain why this sub-argument is supporting the author’s broader intention.
This will neatly get around the problem of needing to jump around the articles (since you’re grouping by ideas/arguments rather than going through it all line by line,) and it will usually make for a much clearer and more even dissection of the material. It’s reasonably quick, it’s easy to master, and it’s probably the most sophisticated way to format your analysis, so I’d definitely recommend this as your first resort.
That is, unless you get a comparative piece…
OMG COMPARATIVE LANGUAGE ANALYSIS WTF!?
Yep. Comparative tasks are not only very possible (as the 2011, 2014, and 2015 exams show,) but it’s also quite likely that you’ll have to deal with them this year. There’s no telling what VCAA will throw at you though. Maybe it’ll just be a single written piece with a couple of visuals (à la2008-2013), maybe it’ll be one main piece with a comment or response (like in 2014 and 2015), or maybe it’ll be some kind of horrifically difficult task with half a dozen different written pieces (*cough2011cough*). Likewise, we don’t know whether there’ll be an opinion piece, a speech, a blog post, or something we haven’t seen before. Everything’s a mystery until 9:00am October 26th when about 50,000 kids turn to Section C.
But the fact that you don’t know precisely what kind of material is going to come up doesn’t mean it’s impossible to prepare yourself.
After all, you don’t know which exact numbers are going to be on your Maths exams ahead of time, do you?
Whilst you may not be able to predict what the exam material will look like, there are a couple of things we can safely assume.
1. There’ll be two pages worth of content to analyse.
2. There will DEFINITELY be both written and visual material.
3. Supplementary visual material (e.g. a slideshow presentation or an embedded visual) usually has the same contention as the piece it accompanies.
4. The material will be based on the same subject matter, even if the contentions of written pieces differ.
But guess what? Our sub-argument approach from above still works for comparative material!
All you have to do is find sub-arguments that are present in different written pieces. Let’s take that New Zealand example from above, and assume that you were given two pieces on the exam. The first one argues that you should move to New Zealand for those reasons we outlined. But the second piece suggests that you shouldn’t move.
Your essay will consist of three paragraphs (if you’ve found three key ideas you believe to be important) and each one will focus on the same sub-arguments as before:
Paragraph 1: the livability of New Zealand.
Paragraph 2: the strength of the New Zealand economy, and the potential job prospects.
Paragraph 3: the appeal of New Zealand people.
But this time, you will spend time on both pieces within the same paragraph.
For instance, in your first paragraph, you would discuss how the first author depicts New Zealand as a wonderful island paradise. Then (using a linking phrase like ‘by contrast’ or ‘on the other hand,’) you’ll bring up the second author and discuss how they instead draw attention to how New Zealand is a nightmarish hellscape full of blood and gore and death, and no one would ever want to live there!
*Disclaimer: I have never been to New Zealand.
Point being: your body paragraph contrasts the authors’ approaches, thereby ensuring you don’t have to do a clunky ‘comparison’ paragraph at the end.
Note that you DON’T have to mention every single article in every single paragraph of your Language Analysis piece. If you were given something like the 2015 exam, you might have:
Paragraph 1: the main speech + the first visual.
Paragraph 2: the main speech + the secondary speech.
Paragraph 3: the secondary speech + the second visual.
There’s no one correct structure; it’s all dependent on what YOU think is important.
By way of example, here’s a body paragraph for the 2015 exam that looks at the main speech, and the secondary one, looking at the way the two speakers position the award:
SAMPLE LANGUAGE ANALYSIS BODY PARAGRAPH
Bennett likewise lauds the role of the Volunteers Award as an important and necessary gesture of recognition. From the outset, she proclaims that it is her “great privilege” to present the ceremony, which aggrandises the award by implying that it is an honour to present, let alone to receive. She also clearly elucidates bigsplash’s intentions by directly stating that their “corporate ethos” has prompted them to try and “address [the] lack of acknowledgement” granted to volunteers. Hence, she engenders the audience’s respect for the organisation in order to solidify the award as being the product of a benevolent institution. This can also be seen in her use of definitive and pithy language in calling for the audience to “never forget or overlook” volunteers since “bigsplash certainly does not.” By contrasting words like “forget” and “overlook” and their connotations of neglect and disregard with the comparatively kind and fair ethos of ‘bigsplash,’ Bennett positions the award as something that corrects this injustice. And since she explicitly characterises the award as being “from bigsplash,” she is therefore highlighting the company’s social conscience and goodwill. Contrarily, although Nguyen in his acceptance speech does recognise the importance of the award, he instead sees it as an incidental part of volunteering rather than an integral force to redress the balance of acknowledgement. His colloquial opening of “thanks heaps” and “cheers” stands in contrast to Bennett’s formality, and instead creates a sense of casual humility as opposed to ceremonious grandeur. Nguyen also declares that the “pleasure” achieved through “seeing things improve for people” is in fact “better than [the] award” with the comparative word “better” eliciting a comparison in the audience’s minds in which volunteering is more beneficial and rewarding than receiving a formal commendation. Thus, Nguyen’s speech infers that volunteers should derive fulfilment by observing the positive consequences of their actions, and that bigsplash’s award is a welcome, but ultimately inessential part of their intentions.
See how that transition sentence made the connection between these two pieces nice and clear? This is all the comparison you need! So don’t waste a whole paragraph going back and forth between different parts of the material. Just find a point of similarity or difference between them, and do a quick and simple transition within one of your body paragraphs.
Finally, there’s the conclusion of your Language Analysis essay. Much like the intro, it is a structural requirement meaning you should write one if you don’t want to lose marks. However, there’s not a lot at stake here. Provided you can wrap things up nicely and make a good final impression, you should be fine.
If possible, try and say something about how language has been used overall, or comment on a major appeal or big technique that the author uses. Otherwise, just build your way back out to the overall contentions, and make a brief statement or two about how the author wants the audience to respond. Don’t do any new analysis, and try not to just list various devices you’ve found. Instead, focus on the broad intentions of the author, and the way they are positioning the audience.
Here’s a sample conclusion based on the 2015 exam that deals with both written pieces:
SAMPLE LANGUAGE ANALYSIS CONCLUSION
By implying that volunteering should be done without expecting gratitude, Nguyen’s speech encourages the audience to consider acts of charity as being more rewarding than commendation. By contrast, Bennett suggests that bigsplash and their award is a potent symbol of the need to recognise and reward those who contribute to the community. Thus, whilst both speakers concur that volunteering is an admirable and selfless act, Bennett seeks to elicit the audience’s approval for bigsplash’s generosity towards the volunteers whose work goes unnoticed, while Nguyen instead encourages the audience to view volunteering as a philanthropic act that doesn’t necessarily require acknowledgement to be worthwhile.
Language Analysis Checklist
Length and Coverage
• Is the piece an appropriate length given the task material?
• Does the spread of the analysis reflect the spread of the material?
• Is the analysis balanced across the written and/or visual pieces with an appropriate amount of explanation for each?
• Does the piece appear to have covered the most important facets or ‘gist’ of the material?
• Does the piece take into consideration any relevant background information or structural features (e.g. it being a blog, speech, magazine interview, etc.)?
• Has the piece avoided summarising the material, or evaluating it by casting judgement on the effectiveness of the persuasion or providing their opinion on the issue?
• Does the piece adopt a structure that is suitable to the task?
• Are the paragraphs (if multiple) roughly even and balanced in terms of what they’re covering?
• Does the piece begin and conclude in an appropriate way?
• Is the contention articulated in this piece accurate, and well-explained?
• Has this piece expressed a comprehensive understanding of the overarching argument and sub-arguments?
• Does the analysis in this piece help support the contention that has been identified?
Quality of Analysis
• Does this piece justify itself in terms of how language is used to persuade?
• Does it use a method of analysis that maximises efficiency?
• Does this piece examine persuasive language and explain how it is persuasive?
• Are there a few examples of close connotative analysis, and has this piece taken the appropriate opportunities to explore this language?
• Does this piece have sufficient explanations as to how the audience are made to think, feel, or believe?
• Is the piece accurate in its assessment of the audience’s response and the author’s intention?
• Do the points raised in this analysis culminate in a discussion of why the author has made certain choices in order to get their argument across?
• Does the piece have effective topic sentences that make the initial focus clear?
• Are the topic sentences precise and well-worded?
• Has the student avoided jumping into close analysis too soon?
• Do the topic sentences outline a concept specific to the material as opposed to a very general concern relating to the issue instead of the material?
• Have the quotes been well-integrated, and do they fit the grammar of the sentences they’re in?
• Has the student modified quotes with [square brackets] and ellipsis […] where appropriate?
• Are the quotes the right length, and has the student selected the most relevant language to include as opposed to inserting a whole chunk of the piece in their own work?
• Do the quotes support the analysis being conducted?
• Does the piece use a sufficiently varied amount of evidence and avoid using the same language multiple times, where possible?
• Has the piece made succinct and obvious connections between different points of analysis?
• Does the piece have a sense of flow in the way it transitions both within and between paragraphs?
Techniques and Metalanguage
• Has this piece correctly identified a variety of important rhetorical and persuasive devices?
• Are these devices linked to an appropriate quote or example to demonstrate their application?
• Does this piece use the correct metalanguage when commenting on language, tone, and argument?
• Does the analysis comment on any overarching tones in the material?
• Does the analysis comment on any distinctive tonal shifts in the material?
• Is this discussion on tone supported by quotes/evidence?
• Does the piece choose an appropriate moment to comment on the visual?
• Has the piece correctly identified the contention of the visual, or, at least, has the piece conducted sufficient justification for its interpretation of the visual?
• Does the piece use metalanguage to describe the visual features and explain how and why they persuade?
• Has the piece made effective connections between the written and visual material (where applicable)?
• Is the wording and syntax of this piece clear and concise?
• Are the sentences an appropriate length with the right amount of information packaged into each one?
• Does the piece flow effectively from one piece of analysis to the next, successfully avoiding the trap of feeling like a string of unconnected bits and pieces based on annotations?
• Does the expression and grammar do justice to the quality of the analysis?
If you have any Language Analysis questions, feel free to drop them below. Alternatively, our English Q and A thread is always at your service!
There is no part of the ACT more mysterious to students than the essay, and very few people seem to know what exactly the ACT is looking for in a "perfect" essay (particularly since September 2015 was the new ACT Writing test's debut). Luckily, we've got the expertise to give you some insight into how the essay works and what you can do to push your score those extra few points up the scale.
Whether you're trying to impress your dream school or just want to boost your ACT score, the essay is a great thing to work on. Some of the tips below stand alone, while others are part of larger categories that have been assembled based our ACT expertise.
Important: If you haven't read our other ACT Writing guides before, take a minute and read them now:
The ACT Writing Rubric: Analysis, Explanation, and Strategies
How to Write an ACT Essay, Step by Step
This will make the rest of the article make more sense.
Part I: What a 12 on the ACT Essay Means
If you're already scoring an 8 or above in every domain on practice (or real) ACT essays, you have a shot at completely nailing what the graders want, represented by a score of 12, with a little practice. But there's something important to remember in your quest for perfection: on the ACT essay, a 12 is not always achievable. We've got good news and bad news for those of you who are determined to know how to get a 12 on the ACT essay.
NOTE: For students who took the ACT Writing test from September 2015 - June 2016, ACT essays were scored on a scale of 1-36 (calculated by adding all your domain scores together and then scaling them). Starting September 2016, however, the ACT essay is now scored by averaging all four domain scores, on a scale of 2-12.
The Big Secret
You'll have to practice this. The perfect ACT essay is like a puzzle that happens to be in writing form—it can be mastered, but to do it well and completely every time requires a few month's practice. Knowing how to write other kinds of essays will only help you a limited amount.
The Bad News
Because the whole essay must be written in 40 minutes, getting a 12 requires some luck. You have to pick a thesis and think of relevant and convincing evidence to support it before you can even start writing, so a lot depends on how quickly you can decided on a point of view and relevant support for whatever the prompt happens to be. And because perfect-scoring essays are almost always at least two pages long, you don't have any time to spare.
The Good News
Because the essay is so formulaic, it's always possible to get at least a 10 in each domain. And, on top of this, no college worth its salt is going to base your college admission on getting those last two points on an essay you had to write in 40 minutes. The goal, really, is to show that you can write a decent essay in that time, and a 10 in each domain shows that just as well as a 12 does.
Part II: The Difference between a 10 and a 12
If we asked the ACT what the difference is between a 10 and a 12 ACT essay, they would direct us to their scoring criteria below that describes the difference between the 5 and 6 essay scores in each domain. As you may already know, a total domain score of 12 comes from two readers separately giving your essay a 6; the four domain scores are then averaged to calculate your total essay score of 12. We've marked the differences between the 5 and 6 criteria in bold. Later, we'll look at these differences in the context of a sample essay.
|Score of 5 (10)||Score of 6 (12)||Major Differences|
|Responses at this scorepoint demonstrate well-developed skill in writing an argumentative essay.||Responses at this scorepoint demonstrate effective skill in writing an argumentative essay.|
|Ideas and Analysis||The writer generates an argument that productively engages with multiple perspectives on the given issue. The argument’s thesis reflects precision in thought and purpose. The argument establishes and employs a thoughtful context for analysis of the issue and its perspectives. The analysis addresses implications, complexities and tensions, and/or underlying values and assumptions.||The writer generates an argument that critically engages with multiple perspectives on the given issue. The argument’s thesis reflects nuance and precision in thought and purpose. The argument establishes and employs an insightful context for analysis of the issue and its perspectives. The analysis examines implications, complexities and tensions, and/or underlying values and assumptions.|
The 6 essay gives a more specific and logically precise context. The thesis and argument show a deep understanding of the issue, while the analysis not only mentions, but also inspects the complexities and implications of the issue.
|Development and Support||Development of ideas and support for claims deepen understanding. A mostly integrated line of purposeful reasoning and illustration capably conveys the significance of the argument. Qualifications and complications enrich ideas and analysis.||Development of ideas and support for claims deepen insight and broaden context. An integrated line of skillful reasoning and illustration effectively conveys the significance of the argument. Qualifications and complications enrich and bolster ideas and analysis.||The 6 essays develops its ideas and support for those ideas more thoroughly and examines the implications of the ideas and support in a larger context. In addition, the complexity of the discussion for each examples strengthens the essay's argument and the analysis of the issue at hand.|
|Organization||The response exhibits a productive organizational strategy. The response is mostly unified by a controlling idea or purpose, and a logical sequencing of ideas contributes to the effectiveness of the argument. Transitions between and within paragraphs consistently clarify the relationships among ideas.||The response exhibits a skillful organizational strategy. The response is unified by a controlling idea or purpose, and a logical progression of ideas increases the effectiveness of the writer’s argument. Transitions between and within paragraphs strengthen the relationships among ideas.||The 6 essay is organized to enhance the logic and strength of the writer's argument, whereas the 5 essay is only organized clearly.|
|Language Use||The use of language works in service of the argument. Word choice is precise. Sentence structures are clear and varied often. Stylistic and register choices, including voice and tone, are purposeful and productive. While minor errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics may be present, they do not impede understanding.||The use of language enhances the argument. Word choice is skillful and precise. Sentence structures are consistently varied and clear. Stylistic and register choices, including voice and tone, are strategic and effective. While a few minor errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics may be present, they do not impede understanding.||The 6 essay is written extremely well, whereas the 5 essay is written pretty well. This means getting creative and using advanced vocabulary appropriately if you want a 6.|
Part III: Applying the Criteria in a Real ACT Essay Example
Now we'll look at a sample essay and how it demonstrates the characteristics of the 6 essay above. First, let's look at the prompt:
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.
Now, read the ACT essay example below, and try to notice how it meets the criteria in the table above.
From the simplest system of pulleys and ropes to the most complex supercomputer in the world today, machines have had (and continue to have) a profound influence on the development of humanity. Whether it is taking over monotonous, low-skill tasks or removing that messy “human” element from our day-to-day interactions, machines have answered the call to duty. The increasing prevalence of intelligent machines challenges us to change long held beliefs about our limitations and to continue forward to new and even more advanced possibilities.
One common argument against the increased presence of machines in our day to day lives is that machines leach from us our basic humanity. Indeed, certain people whose only social interactions are anonymous text-based conversations with other anonymous Internet forum dwellers over computers may begin to lose basic human courtesy and empathy. This is crystal clear with a glance at the comments section of any popular news article. Yet machines are also capable of enhancing people’s abilities to communicate. An example of this can be found in Tod Machover’s lab at MIT, where breakthroughs in neurotechnology have made it possible for quadripalegics to manipulate text on computers with their minds. Such interactions would be impossible without the existence of intelligent machines. Therefore, I must disagree with Perspective one. Rather than losing part of our own humanity to machines, we instead make that most-essential-to-humanity of acts, communication, possible.
Another school of thought (Perspective Two) argues that machines are good at how and high skill repetitive jobs, which leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone. This can be seen in the human work hours that are saved daily with automated phone menus. Before intelligent machines made automatic telephone menus possible, every customer service call ate up valuable employee time. Now, menus allow callers to choose the number that best suits their needs, routing calls to appropriate destinations without the need for human employees to waste time explaining for the hundredth time that “our business hours are 10am-6pm.” On the other hand, no mechanized system of this kind is perfect, because it can’t predict all future outcomes. In terms of automated telephone menus, this means that sometimes, no menu options are correct. While automated systems may take the burden off of human workers, it is a mistake to think that they can replace humans entirely. Why else would the last line of resort for most automated phone menus be “Dial “0” to speak to an operator/customer service representative?” Perspective Two is true, but it only goes so far.
A final example will demonstrate how intelligent machines challenge longstanding ideas and push us towards new, unimagined possibilities (perspective three). At my high school, all students had to take diagnostic tests in every main subject to figure out our strengths and weaknesses, and we were then sorted into class by skill level. A truly remarkable pattern emerged as a result of this sorting: it turned out that every kid in my medium-level physics class was also a talented musician. The system that sorted us allowed us to find this underlying pattern, which changed the way our teachers taught us; we learned about mechanics through examples that were more relevant to our lives (answering questions like “how many pulleys are needed to lift a piano?”), which in turn made our classes both more enjoyable and also more effective. When before I had struggled with physics and simply assumed it was a subject I “wasn’t good at,” the intelligent, automated sorting system allowed me to discover that I could in fact understand mechanics if taught in the right way. This discovery pushed me toward previously unimagined academic possibilities.
In conclusion, intelligent machines help us to move forward as a species to greater heights. While machines can cause problems and may in some cases need human input to function optimally, it is how we react and adapt to the machines that is the real takeaway.
This was a real essay written by me within the time limit. What do you think?
Now let's look at an annotated version of this ACT essay example that points out the essay's features.
What Makes This ACT Essay a 12, Rather Than an 8 or 10?
|Major Differences between a 5 and a 6 Essay (from table above)||Sample Essay|
|Ideas and Analysis||The 6 essay gives a more specific and logically precise context. The thesis and argument show a deep understanding of the issue, while the analysis not only mentions, but also inspects the complexities and implications of the issue.|
> The author clearly states her perspective and compares it to two other given perspectives, presenting both positive and negative aspects of the two perspectives she does not entirely agree with: "One common argument against the increased presence of machines in our day to day lives is that machines leach from us our basic humanity...Yet machines are also capable of enhancing people’s abilities to communicate."
|Development and Support||The 6 essays develops its ideas and support for those ideas more thoroughly and examines the implications of the ideas and support in a larger context. In addition, the complexity of the discussion for each examples strengthens the essay's argument and the analysis of the issue at hand.|
> The author gives both general statements... "Rather than losing part of our own humanity to machines, we instead make that most-essential-to-humanity of acts, communication, possible."
> ...and specific examples that discuss both sides of the perspectives: "...certain people whose only social interactions are anonymous text-based conversations with other anonymous Internet forum dwellers over computers may begin to lose basic human courtesy and empathy...[on the other hand,] breakthroughs in neurotechnology have made it possible for quadripalegics to manipulate text on computers with their minds."
|Organization||The 6 essay is organized to enhance the logic and strength of the writer's argument, whereas the 5 essay is only organized clearly.|
> The essay begins (after the introduction paragraph) by addressing opposing views and discussing their strengths and their limits.
> Then it goes on in paragraphs 4 to explain a final reason why intelligent machines challenge ideas about humanity and push us towards new possibilities.
|Use of Language||The 6 essay is written extremely well, whereas the 5 essay is written pretty well. This means getting creative and using advanced vocabulary appropriately if you want a 6.|
> The "advanced" vocabulary is highlighted in blue.
> Sentence structure is varied, like here: "On the other hand, no mechanized system of this kind is perfect, because it can’t predict all future outcomes. In terms of automated telephone menus, this means that sometimes, no menu options are correct. While automated systems may take the burden off of human workers, it is a mistake to think that they can replace humans entirely. Why else would the last line of resort for most automated phone menus be “Dial “0” to speak to an operator/customer service representative?”"
Considerations That Aren't Included in the ACT's Published Guidelines
The essay is long enough to analyze and compare the author's perspective to other perspectives in a nuanced way (1 positive example for each perspective with an addition negative example comparing the 2 perspectives the author disagreed to her own perspective) and include an introductory paragraph and a conclusion. While ACT, Inc. doesn't acknowledge that length is a factor in scoring ACT essays, most experts agree that it is. But length means nothing if there isn't valuable information filling the space, so long ACT essays also need to be detailed—this author uses the space to give lots of analysis of and context for her examples.
You may have noticed that the essay is broken up into multiple paragraphs (into the standard 5-paragraph format, in fact). This makes the essay easier to read, especially for the ACT readers who have about 2-3 minutes to read (and score!) each essay. If your points can easily be split up into small parts, then it makes sense to split it up into even more paragraphs, as long as your essay's organization and logical progression remains clear.
Content and Examples
This essay uses a personal example, which may or may not be made up (spoiler alert: it is). But the point is that it could be made up, as can anything you use in your essay. Being able to think of examples (that are not TOO obviously made up) can give you a huge advantage on the ACT essay.
Do's and Don'ts for a 12 ACT Essay
The key to a perfect score on the ACT essay is to use every second of your time wisely. To this end, here are a few tips to avoid common time-wasters and put your energy where it will get you the most points.
DO spend time:
1. Writing as much as you can without including repetitive or irrelevant information
2. Revising the first and last paragraphs (they stand out in readers' minds)
3. Making sure you have transitions
DON'T spend time:
1. Thinking of 'smart' sounding evidence— examples from your own life (or made up about your own life) are just as viable as current events, as long as you keep your example focused and concise
2. Trying to correct every error—the grammar and spelling do not have to be perfect to score a 12 in the Language Use domain
3. Adding as many vocabulary words as you can—you only need enough to avoid repeating the same basic words or phrases multiple times; you'll max out fancy vocab's potential at 2 words per paragraph
How To Practice Your Writing To Get A Perfect 12 In Each Domain
- Start with our list of ACT essay prompts.
- Create a list of evidence examples—from literature, history, or personal experience—that you can use for many or most prompt arguments.
- Practice first with extended time—50 minutes—so you can get an idea of what it takes to get a top-scoring essay.
- Find a way to grade your essay, using the ACT Writing Rubric. If you can be objective about your writing, you can notice weak spots, especially if you ran out of time but know what to do. Otherwise, try to get help from an English teacher or a friend who's a better writer than you are.
- Start narrowing the time down to 40 minutes to mirror the actual test.
- Stay confident! The ACT essay is just like a puzzle—every time you do one, you get better at doing it.
Find out more about how to write an ACT essay with this step-by-step example.
Use our analysis of the ACT Writing Rubric to learn about how your essay will be scored - and discover strategies you can use to get the score you want.
Want to aim for perfection on the ACT with a 36?Read our guide on how to score a perfect ACT score, written by our resident 36 scorer.
Make sure your ACT score is high enough for the schools you want to apply to. Find out how to find your ACT target score.
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: