April's ACT Writing Scores are out today, three and a half weeks after the test.
My students' scores are trickling in.
As you look yours up, keep in mind:
1. ACT Writing scores have always been strangely low.
Whereas a 95th percentile score on English has typically been a 32, a 95th percentile score on the Essay has been a 27.
Moreover, Essay grading seemed to get even harder with the new prompts released this year.
In February, the Washington Post published the article “ACT essay scores are inexplicably low, causing uproar among college-bound students.”
Kids who routinely scored in the 30s for their Composite ACT were receiving marks in the low-20s on their Essay, leading many to write the ACT and ask for a re-grade.
Numerous students reported receiving higher scores on their re-grade, so consider that option if your April score seems unusually low.
2. Students: regardless of your score, stop now and think of THREE specific things you can do in your essays to make them better.
As Jim Rhone put it, "don’t wish it were easier; ask how YOU can be better."
How can you write a better ACT essay, regardless of the graders?
(1) Are you picking specific, persuasive details and exploring them in depth in your body paragraphs?
Just "any" example or thesis statement will not do - just as "just any" gift will not be special for your friend's birthday. You have to consider many thesis statements, many examples, and many gifts, doubting and mentally testing each one to see if truly is quality - and in the case of a thesis statement or example, truly persuasive.
(2) Did you practice multiple essays – say, one every week for the six weeks before the exam – so that you had become an instinctually well-oiled machine by the time you sat down for your official ACT Essay?
(3) Do you know your timing specifically and in depth, such that you know to spend, say,
8 minutes outlining the essay 5 minutes writing your Introduction 10 minutes each on two body paragraphs and 7 minutes on your Conclusion
and did you watch the clock attentively throughout the essay to ensure that you stayed on track?
(4) Did you take a DEEP inhale upon beginning each question throughout the test, and each sentence that you wrote, to ensure your brain had the oxygen it needed to keep you in an energized, calm, yet focused state across four-plus hours?
Type up a specific list of what you think must be KEY to writing a killer ACT Essay, (and email them to me), then practice them on practice essays – perhaps one each week – during the weeks leading up to your June 11 ACT..
3. Best advice for how to improve: (mostly) agree with one opinion, narrow the large topic down, and make your TRANSITIONS between points so obvious
You can work through Tom Clements' "How to Write a Killer ACT Essay." He has written the Erica Meltzer-esque go-to book for ACT and SAT Writing.
Second, Kristin Fracchia's "How I Got a Perfect 36 on the New ACT Essay" at offers fantastic advice (bold underlining is mine):
(1) "I highly recommend that [students] choose the option to agree with one of the given perspectives rather than choosing the option to present their own. It’s just too risky. The readers might not understand what you are trying to get at and you run the risk of going off topic...
If you are aiming for a top, top score, I suggest you choose the option to agree with one of the perspectives, but narrow your focus. The topics on the ACT are big ones and the perspectives are often all-encompassing...
The idea is to get essay graders to perk up a little bit [by focusing on a very specific but interesting aspect of the debate] when they read your thesis and then go into the body of your essay with a more positive attitude.
Remember that they are reading countless essays that have wishy-washy thesis statements or thesis statements that just repeat one of the perspectives verbatim. Make yours stand out."
(2) "Don’t make the graders work hard to follow your train of thought, but don’t be redundant either.
Your essay should be written in a very obvious 5-paragraph(-ish) structure. The five paragraphs aren’t important, maybe you have four or six, but what I mean is an essay that is very structured with an intro, supporting body paragraphs, and conclusion.
For a TOP score, though, make sure you use transitions between ideas liberally. You might think you are overdoing it, but remember, the graders are reading your essay quickly. Don’t assume they will work hard to connect the dots. Make it easy for them to do that. The Organization scoring domain is a pretty easy one to do well on if you follow the protocol, so make sure you nab your points here.
At the same time, take care to vary your phrasing when you are plugging in your requisite introductory and concluding sentences for each paragraph.
A dead-giveaway of weaker writing is introductory and concluding sentences that say exactly the same thing. So make sure to be varying your words constantly. This will help you score well both in Organization and in Language Use."
(3) Lastly, "Remember [your ACT Writing score] doesn’t affect your composite score and is really more of a bonus than anything when it comes to college admissions."