SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

ACT Essay Format and Templates You Can Use

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Oct 11, 2015 8:00:00 AM

ACT Writing

 

feature_actessayformat

Most of the ACT is entirely multiple choice. All you have to worry about when answering the questions is that you’re filling in the correct answer bubble!

But then there’s that (optional) Writing section, which requires you to give your answer in words. How are you supposed to write a persuasive essay in 40 minutes? What format should your essay have? Is there an ACT essay template that can guarantee you a high score? We'll answer these questions in this article.

feature image credit: homework ritual by woodleywonderworks, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

What Does Your ACT Essay Need? 5 Key Elements

In order to do well on ACT Writing, your essay will need to have the following five elements (not necessarily in this order):

 

1. An Introduction

The first thing the grader will see is your opening paragraph, so you should make a good impression. Don't just jump right into the meat of your essay - introduce your perspective (your thesis statement) and how it relates to the other perspectives given by the essay prompt. You don't necessarily have to start out by writing your introduction (you can always leave a few lines blank at the top of your essay and come back to it after you've written your example paragraphs), but you MUST include it.

 

2. Your Thesis Statement (should be in your introduction)

You must take a perspective on the issue presented in the prompt paragraph and state it clearly. I advise using one of the three perspectives the ACT gives you as your position/perspective; you can come up with your own perspective, but then you have more work to do in the essay (which is not ideal with a time constraint). Your thesis statement (the statement of your perspective) should go in the introduction of your essay.

 

3. A Discussion of All Three Perspectives

In your essay, you must discuss all three perspectives the ACT gives you. Make sure to discuss pros as well as cons for the perspectives you don’t agree with to show you understand the complexities of the issue.

 

4.  Examples or Reasoning to Support Each Point

To support your arguments for and against each perspective, you need to draw on reasoning or specific examples. This reasoning should be in the same paragraph as the arguments. For instance, if your argument is about how globalization leads to greater efficiency, you should include your support for this argument in the same paragraph.

And it's not enough to just say “Because freedom” or “Because Stalin” or something like that as your support and leave it at that. You need to actually explain how your reasoning or examples support your point.

 

5. Clear Organization

Avoid discussing multiple points in one paragraph. Instead, our recommended strategy is to discuss one perspective per paragraph. This organization will not only make it easier for you to stay on track, but will also make it easier for your essay's scorers to follow your reasoning (always a good thing).

 

body_sadpuppygrader
Ketty by Elena Gurzhiy, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.
Pro tip: To gain motivation to make your essay easier to follow, imagine your essay graders with sad puppy eyes.

 

ACT Essay Outline

The 5-paragraph structure might seem boring, but it is a good way to keep your points organized when writing an essay. For the ACT essay, you'll need an introduction, three body paragraphs (one paragraph for each perspective), and a conclusion. You should state your thesis in your introduction and conclusion (using different words in your conclusion so that you're not repeating yourself exactly).

So how do you write in this five paragraph structure on the ACT? I'll show you how to put the plan into action with an essay template that can be used for any ACT essay question. First, here's the prompt I'll be using:

 

Public Health and Individual Freedom

Most people want to be healthy, and most people want as much freedom as possible to do the things they want. Unfortunately, these two desires sometimes conflict. For example, smoking is prohibited from most public places, which restricts the freedom of some individuals for the sake of the health of others. Likewise, car emissions are regulated in many areas in order to reduce pollution and its health risks to others, which in turn restricts some people’s freedom to drive the vehicles they want. In a society that values both health and freedom, how do we best balance the two? How should we think about conflicts between public health and individual freedom?

 

Read and carefully consider these perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the conflict between public health and individual freedom.

 

Perspective One

Perspective Two

Perspective Three

Our society should strive to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. When the freedom of the individual interferes with that principle, freedom must be restricted.

Nothing in society is more valuable than freedom. Perhaps physical health is sometimes improved by restricting freedom, but the cost to the health of our free society is far too great to justify it.

The right to avoid health risks is a freedom, too. When we allow individual behavior to endanger others, we’ve damaged both freedom and health.

 

Write a unified, coherent essay in which you evaluate multiple perspectives on the conflict between public health and individual freedom. In your essay, be sure to:

  • analyze and evaluate the perspectives given
  • state and develop your own perspective on the issue
  • explain the relationship between your perspective and those given

Your perspective may be in full agreement with any of the others, in partial agreement, or wholly different. Whatever the case, support your ideas with logical reasoning and detailed, persuasive examples.

 

Next, I'll break down the ACT essay into its individual parts (introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion) and give examples for what each should look like. Because I'm writing in response to a specific prompt, some of the information may not translate exactly from essay to essay; instead, focus on the structure of the paragraphs. I've bolded key structural words and phrases for you to focus on. 

 

Introduction (2-3 sentences)

Begin your introduction with a general statement about the topic that draws the reader in; should provide some context for what you’ll be discussing in the essay. Can be omitted if you’re short on time (1-2 sentences).

As society progresses into the 21st century, there are some pundits who create a false two-sided fight between individual liberty and complete dependence on the government.

 

Next comes your thesis statement that includes a clear position on the issue. For highest score, you should also mention the other perspectives in contrast to the position you’ve chosen (1 sentence).

While individual freedom is essential to society, I believe that the freedom to avoid health risks supersedes freedom of the individual when individual behavior endangers others.

 

Sample ACT essay introduction:

As society progresses into the 21st century, there are some pundits who create a false two-sided fight between individual liberty and complete dependence on the government. While individual freedom is essential to society, I believe that the freedom to avoid health risks supersedes freedom of the individual when individual behavior endangers others.

 

Body paragraph 1 (Opposing perspective) (5-7 sentences)

Open with a transition to one of the other two perspectives (1 sentence).

Perspective Two espouses the view that “[t]hose who give up freedom in order to gain security deserve neither.”

 

Provide an example of how this perspective is somewhat true and explain why (2-3 sentences).

This perspective is true to some extent. For instance, in the Civil Rights movement, schools were integrated at the cost of both the mental well-being of racists, who had to deal with the blow to their world view, and the physical and emotional well-being of those being integrated, who had to deal with the abuse flung upon them by said racists. The freedom to attend any public school was deemed more important to society than the temporary mental, emotional, and in some cases physical health risks caused by that freedom. 

 

Provide an example of how this perspective is mostly false when compared to the perspective you agree with and explain why (2-3 sentences).

I do not believe, however, the Perspective Two is always a useful way to think about the world, particularly when life and death is at stake. During the Civil Rights movement, parents who were afraid their children might incur physical or even fatal harm from being forced to integrate still had the freedom to homeschool; the same goes for parents who were racist and did not wish their children to interact with children of “lesser” races. While the government pushed the issue of freedom of all people to attend all public schools, it could not make it mandatory for every child to attend a public school (rather than being homeschooled, or attending private or church school) and risk physical injury or worse.

 

Sample Body Paragraph (Opposing Perspective):

Perspective Two espouses the view that “[t]hose who give up freedom in order to gain security deserve neither.” This perspective is true to some extent. For instance, in the Civil Rights movement, schools were integrated at the cost of both the mental well-being of racists, who had to deal with the blow to their world view, and the physical and emotional well-being of those being integrated, who had to deal with the abuse flung upon them by said racists. The freedom to attend any public school was deemed more important to society than the temporary mental, emotional, and in some cases physical health risks caused by that freedom. I do not believe, however, that Perspective Two is always a useful way to think about the world, particularly when life and death is at stake. During the Civil Rights movement, parents who were afraid their children might incur physical or even fatal harm from being forced to integrate still had the freedom to homeschool; the same goes for parents who were racist and did not wish their children to interact with children of “lesser” races. While the government pushed the issue of freedom of all people to attend all public schools, it could not make it mandatory for every child to attend a public school (rather than being homeschooled, or attending private or church school) and risk physical injury or worse.

 

Body paragraph 2 (Opposing perspective) (5-7 sentences)

Same as above, except with the other perspective you disagree with/don't entirely agree with. Make sure to use transition words so that the change of topic (from the previous perspective) isn't abrupt or unexpected.

 

body_transitiontoinquisition
The Spanish Inquisition, Torture Chamber, Loket Castle, Czech Republic. by Jim Linwood, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped and resized from original.

To make your example of the Spanish Inquisition less unexpected, make sure to use transitions.

 

Body paragraph 3 (Your perspective) (5-7 sentences)

Acknowledge the value of the other two perspectives, but affirm that your perspective is the truest one (1-2 sentences).

As can be seen from the examples above, sometimes the greater good means individual freedom is more important than personal health. For the most part, however, allowing individual behavior to harm others damages both freedom and health.

 

Provide one final example of why this perspective is true (3-5 sentences).

Some parents worry that vaccines contain toxic chemicals and so have fought for the right to not vaccinate their children against once deadly diseases like measles. By being allowed this freedom, however, these parents are not only putting their children at risk of catching these virulent diseases, but are risking the life of anyone with a compromised immune system who comes into contact with a non-vaccinated child. The results of the anti-vaccination movement can be seen in cases like the recent measles outbreak at Disneyland and the mumps outbreak at a New York City daycare company; both of these outbreaks unfortunately led to fatalities. When the health risks caused by personal freedom reach life-and-death stakes, it is necessary to restrict individual freedom in favor of freedom to avoid preventable health risks.

 

Sample Body Paragraph (Your Perspective):

As can be seen from the examples above, sometimes the greater good means individual freedom is more important than personal health. For the most part, however, allowing individual behavior to harm others damages both freedom and health. Some parents worry that vaccines contain toxic chemicals and so have fought for the right to not vaccinate their children against once deadly diseases like measles. By being allowed this freedom, however, these parents are not only putting their children at risk of catching these virulent diseases, but are risking the life of anyone with a compromised immune system who comes into contact with a non-vaccinated child. The results of the anti-vaccination movement can be seen in cases like the recent measles outbreak at Disneyland and the mumps outbreak at a New York City daycare company; both of these outbreaks unfortunately led to fatalities. When the health risks caused by personal freedom reach life-and-death stakes, it is necessary to restrict individual freedom in favor of freedom to avoid preventable health risks.

 

Conclusion (1-2 sentences)

Transition into restating your thesis, using different words (1-2 sentences).

Sample ACT Essay conclusion:

America was built on the idea that there is a fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – in that order. When individual behavior puts others’ lives at risk, it must be curtailed.

 

Putting Your Essay Together

Here is my final ACT essay template (excluding the second body paragraph):

As society progresses into the 21st century, there are some pundits who create a false two-sided fight between individual liberty and complete dependence on the government. While individual freedom is essential to society, I believe that the freedom to avoid health risks supersedes freedom of the individual when individual behavior endangers others.

Perspective Two espouses the view that “[t]hose who give up freedom in order to gain security deserve neither.” This perspective is true to some extent. For instance, in the Civil Rights movement, schools were integrated at the cost of both the mental well-being of racists, who had to deal with the blow to their world view, and the physical and emotional well-being of those being integrated, who had to deal with the abuse flung upon them by said racists. The freedom to attend any public school was deemed more important to society than the temporary mental, emotional, and in some cases physical health risks caused by that freedom. I do not believe, however, that Perspective Two is always a useful way to think about the world, particularly when life and death is at stake. During the Civil Rights movement, parents who were afraid their children might incur physical or even fatal harm from being forced to integrate still had the freedom to homeschool; the same goes for parents who were racist and did not wish their children to interact with children of “lesser” races. While the government pushed the issue of freedom of all people to attend all public schools, it could not make it mandatory for every child to attend a public school (rather than being homeschooled, or attending private or church school) and risk physical injury or worse.

[Body paragraph two on the other opposing perspective would go here]

As can be seen from the examples above, sometimes the greater good means individual freedom is more important than personal health. For the most part, however, allowing individual behavior to harm others damages both freedom and health. Some parents worry that vaccines contain toxic chemicals and so have fought for the right to not vaccinate their children against once deadly diseases like measles. By being allowed this freedom, however, these parents are not only putting their children at risk of catching these virulent diseases, but are risking the life of anyone with a compromised immune system who comes into contact with a non-vaccinated child. The results of the anti-vaccination movement can be seen in cases like the recent measles outbreak at Disneyland and the mumps outbreak at a New York City daycare company; both of these outbreaks unfortunately led to fatalities. When the health risks caused by personal freedom reach life-and-death stakes, it is necessary to restrict individual freedom in favor of freedom to avoid preventable health risks.

America was built on the idea that there is a fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – in that order. When individual behavior puts others’ lives at risk, it must be curtailed.

 

Even though there are some minor grammatical issues in this essay, because they don't significantly affect the readability of my essay they don't matter. There are also some factual inaccuracies in this essay (as far as I know, there haven’t been any reports of a mumps outbreak in NYC daycare facilities), but that doesn’t matter for the ACT as long as the facts are persuasive and make sense in the context of the essay. Adding false information about a mumps outbreak added to the persuasive impact of the essay, so I put it in, whereas I couldn’t figure out a way to work dinosaurs into this essay, and so they were not included.

 

body_essayvelociraptor
Velociraptor by Tomi Lattu, used under CC BY 2.0/Resized from original.

Next essay, my velociraptor friend. Next essay.

 

How Do You Write Essays In This Format?

Now that you have a structural template for your ACT essay, how and when do you use it?

An essay template is most helpful during the planning phase of your essay. Whether you're writing a practice essay or taking the test for real, it's important to take the time to plan out your essay before you start writing. I personally believe 8-10 minutes is a good amount of planning time to start out with, although you may get faster at planning as you practice, leaving more time for writing and revising.

It might be tempting to leave out this planning stage so that you have more time to read the prompt or write. Don't fall into this trap! If you don’t take the time to plan, you run the risk of writing a disorganized essay that doesn't really support your argument or omits one of the perspectives. If you’re struggling with decoding the prompts, be sure to read my article on how to attack ACT Writing prompts; it'll help you break down every ACT Writing prompt so that you can extract the information you need to write your essay.

In addition to using this essay template when you're planning out your essay, you also need to make sure you practice writing this kind of essay before you take the real ACT Plus Writing. Don't expect to just memorize this outline and be good to go on test day - you'll need to practice putting the template to good use. Practice with as many ACT Writing prompts as you can - our complete guide to ACT Writing prompts will get you started.

 

ACT Essay Format: A Quick Recap

Remember, your essay should be in the following format:

  • Introduction (with your thesis) - 2-3 sentences
    • Your point of view on the essay topic (should be the same as one of the three perspectives the ACT gives you).
  • Body paragraph 1 (Opposing perspective) - 5-7 sentences
    • Reason why it's true (with reasoning or examples for support)
    • Reason why it's not as true as your perspective (with reasoning or examples for support)
  • Body paragraph 2 (Other opposing perspective) - 5-7 sentences
    • Reason why it's true (with reasoning or examples for support)
    • Reason why it's not as true as your perspective (with reasoning or examples for support)
  • Body paragraph 3 (Your perspective) - 5-7 sentences
    • One last reason why your perspective is true (with reasoning or examples for support).
  • Conclusion (with your thesis restated) - 1-2 sentences

 

What’s Next?

Want to learn more about how to write a top-scoring ACT essay? Watch as I construct an ACT essay, step-by-step.

Looking to put the icing on your ACT essay cake? Check out our top 15 ACT Writing tips and strategies.

Wondering how much you have to write to do well on ACT Writing? Read this article on essay length and your ACT Writing score.

 

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Laura Staffaroni
About the Author

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.



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