The MuchSmarter Blog

How to Approach the New ACT Essay

Tom Schecter
November 18, 2015

Those of you who have taken an ACT already this fall may have noticed that the essay format looks a little different than it did in any of your practice books.

First, instead of incredibly boring (yeah, I said it) issue-based questions like “Should there be a dress code in all high schools?” or “Should there be a minimum GPA requirement for students to get driver’s licenses?” the new ACT essay is going to ask more philosophical questions about big-picture issues.

Then they really switch it up by offering three different sample answers—they call them “three different perspectives”—and ask you to evaluate all of them in your essay on your way to answering your question.

This is a totally different assignment now. And that’s fine. Beyond the obvious “Follow the Directions!” instruction I’m obviously going to give you below, let’s remember that this is still a timed essay, and that there are a few big-picture things we don’t ever want to forget when we write timed essays:

  1. Take a clear position, and stick to it. Don’t waffle. Don’t equivocate. Don’t play both sides. Make up your mind early and spend as much time and lead as you can on evidence for why your answer is correct.
  2. Make sure your reasoning is solid. Within your body paragraphs, don’t skip any logical steps between your evidence and why your evidence makes you right. Don’t assume your audience is going to automatically understand what you’re thinking just because you do!
  3. Use your outlining time to plan. Don’t go off the top of your head. Even I don’t go off the top of my head. Have an idea of what you want to say before you start writing.
  4. Don’t try to be a hero. No $10 words. No reaching for greatness. You have, like, twenty minutes! Write simply and clearly, the way you would speak.

 Now…let’s look at this thing. Here's their directions to you:

“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.

In the end, very little has changed.

 I suggest you devote one body paragraph to talking about the three prompted perspectives—but not until after you’ve already answered the question for yourself and explained your argument.

The essay should look like this:

–       Intro: ANSWER THE QUESTION FOR YOURSELF, and give the big reason why.

–       Body Paragraphs 1 and 2: Evidence to support your argument

–       Body Paragraph 3: Now, talk about the three prompted perspectives and their strengths and weaknesses.

–       Conclusion: Talk about which of the prompted perspectives your argument agrees with most closely, and restate your thesis.

Are there other ways to organize this essay? Sure. You could, for example, use three body paragraphs to analyze the three prompted perspectives and use your evidence while you react to the prompts.

If you guys have more questions about this essay, or just want to get better at writing in general, drop me a line at and I will, as always, do my best to help!

Talk to you soon! TS

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