Want to learn a bit more about ACT writing?
Every cooking competition has some serious guidelines that must be followed before you even think about game strategy. For Iron Chef, all cooking must be done in Kitchen Stadium (test room, check), you as the Challenger chef have a fixed time to prepare the meal/essay (30 minute writing time, check), all dishes must incorporate the Secret Ingredient (prompt, we have your back on this one—think of Shmoop as your sous chef extraordinaire!), and there are judges that well…judge (ACT test graders, watch out!). Before you head into the kitchen, let's review the specifics of this challenge.
Ah, Chef, it is time to reveal the Secret Ingredient in this writing challenge: the prompt. The ACT essay prompt is supposed to be "high school specific." That’s test-speak for “the prompt will give you a debated topic that is typically geared toward, or concerned with, people your age.” You will have to pick a side and argue your point thoroughly and with plenty of supporting examples.
In the words of the ACT, here are the directions:
Up to the challenge? No need to fret, we will help you dice these instructions into important pieces that you will use to prepare your next mind-blowing meal.
Here's a sample prompt to taste:
ACT prompts will always give a couple of starter examples along with the central debate (like eradicating cliques versus allowing for individuality), but keep in mind that these are just meant to get you thinking about the debate. The examples you will present in your essay can use these general topics but should be much more specific.
The second paragraph of the prompt—the part that begins "In your essay, take a position on this question"—will be the same in every single ACT essay. Sweet! The first thing you should do is pick a side, any side. You can take one of the two positions mentioned in the prompt (school uniforms: yay!, or school uniforms: boo!). In rare instances, you can present a third option to the debate, but we will discuss this later.
You'll need to use specific examples and reasons to support your position. Maybe you think uniforms in public schools are a swell idea that will keep you from agonizing over your wardrobe every morning, so you argue that uniforms will prevent students from wasting precious time that could be used to study. Or that school uniforms are a great way to eliminate the jealousy and other bad feelings that might crop up if half the class can afford Manolo Blahnik and the other half can't.
On the other hand, if the idea of wearing the same clothes to school for four years makes you clutch in panic at your favorite sweatshirt/jeans/baseball hat, write about why, specifically, school uniforms would stifle your unique personality. It's not enough to say, "I think___," although that's a good start. Citing the First Amendment (freedom of speech and expression) might work well here. Articulate the "why" of your argument and be super specific when you do.
You support school uniforms because gang violence is a problem at your school and uniforms would prevent students from wearing their gang colors? Perfect.
You think school uniforms are an awful idea because the way you dress is an expression of who you are, and high school is hard enough without taking that away? Nice.
Write down examples. Write down as many as you can. Just make sure that they are relevant, intellectual, and strong. Check out Shmoop's College Writing Lab for tips on how to cook up juicy anecdotes and specific examples.
Okay, we've established that you have to first pick a side when answering an ACT writing prompt. Now, let's discuss what you are being tested on and what skillz you should show off because, let's face it, you have a lot to show off. Shake it.
Free excerpts from Shmoop's online ACT subject material: