Know Your Customers
After you finish taking the ACT, two “raters” will score
your essay. These raters are trained and certified specifically
for grading the ACT essay. Each rater is instructed to give every
essay a score on a scale of 1–6. The two grades are then added together
to make up your entire essay subscore, which will range from 2–12.
If the two raters come to wildly different scores for an essay,
like a 2 and a 5, a third rater will be brought in.
The essay-graders are your customers,
and you want to give them an essay that tastes just like what they’re
expecting. How are you supposed to know what they’re expecting? You
can learn exactly what ACT essay-raters expect by looking at the
actual ACT essay directions.
The ACT Essay Directions
Read the directions now and make sure you understand them:
In your essay, take a position
on this question. You may write about either one of the two points
of view given, or you may present a different point of view on this
question. Use specific reasons and examples to support your position.
We’ve expanded upon these directions and created a list
of Dos and Don’ts in order to make the rules of great ACT writing
easy to grasp:
|Write only on the given topic.
||Write on a topic that relates vaguely to the
|Take a clear position on the topic.
||Take a wishy-washy position or try to argue two
|Write persuasively to convince the rater.
||Write creatively or ornately just to show off.
|Include reasons and examples that support your
||Include examples not directly related
to your position.
|Write with correct grammar and spelling.
||Forget to proof your work for spelling
and grammar mistakes.
|Write as clearly as possible.
||Use too many fancy vocabulary words
or overly long sentences.
|Write specifically and concretely.
||Be vague or use generalizations.
|Write about five paragraphs.
||Put more importance on length than on quality.
|Write only on the given lined paper.
||Make your handwriting too large (or you’ll sacrifice
|Write as neatly as possible in print.
||Write in cursive. Print is much easier to read.
The Rater’s Instructions
The raters must refer to a set-in-stone list of criteria
when evaluating each essay and deciding what grade (1 through 6)
it deserves. We thought you might appreciate having the scoring
criteria spelled out and explained by the ACT right before your
very eyes. They address a student’s ability:
- To take and articulate a perspective on
- To maintain a clear focus on the perspective throughout
- To explain a position by using supportive evidence and
- To organize ideas logically
- To communicate clearly in writing
And here’s how they separate the good from the bad:
||Writers will show a clear understanding of
the purpose of the essay by articulating their perspective and developing
|Most generalizations will be developed with
specific examples to support the writer’s perspective.
|A clear focus will be maintained throughout
|The paper will show competent use of language.
|Although there may be some errors, these will
only occasionally distract the rater and will not interfere with
the rater’s ability to understand the writer’s meaning.
||Writers will not clearly articulate a perspective
on the issue.
|The writing will usually demonstrate some development
of ideas, but the development may be very general or repetitious.
|Most papers will maintain focus on the general
topic identified in the prompt, but they may not maintain focus
on the specific issue.
|Except for the weakest papers, the essay will
use a clear but simple organizational structure.
|The language will be understandable for the
most part, but errors will distract the rater and possibly interfere
Now you know your customers, and you know what they want.
We’ll spend the rest of this chapter teaching you precisely how
to give it to them.