A Sample ACT Essay—Up Close
A Sample ACT Essay—Up Close
Here’s the sample prompt again:

Many successful adults recall a time in their life when they were considered a failure at one pursuit or another. Some of these people feel strongly that their previous failures taught them valuable lessons and led to their later successes. Others maintain that they went on to achieve success for entirely different reasons. In your opinion, can failure lead to success? Or is failure simply its own experience?


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.

Below is our example of the “6” essay. As you read, note that we have marked certain sentences and paragraphs to illustrate where and how the essay abides by our Universal ACT Essay Template.
A “6” Essay

Learning the lessons taught by failure is a sure route to success. (THESIS STATEMENT) The United States of America can be seen as a success that emerged from failure: by learning from the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, the founding fathers were able to create the Constitution, the document on which America is built. (BEST SUPPORTING EXAMPLE [#1]) Google Inc., the popular Internet search engine, is another example of a success that arose from learning from failure, though in this case Google learned from the failures of its competitors. (NEXT BEST SUPPORTING EXAMPLE [#2]) Another example that shows how success can arise from failure is the story of Rod Johnson, who started a recruiting firm that rose out of the ashes of Johnson’s personal experience of being laid off. (NEXT BEST SUPPORTING EXAMPLE [#3])

The United States, the first great democracy of the modern world, is also one of the best examples of a success achieved by studying and learning from earlier failures. (TOPIC SENTENCE FOR EXAMPLE #1) After just five years of living under the Articles of Confederation, which established the United States of America as a single country for the first time, the states realized that they needed a new document and a stronger government. In 1786, the Annapolis convention was convened. The result, three years later, was the Constitution, which created a more powerful central government while also maintaining the integrity of the states. By learning from the failure of the Articles, the founding fathers created the pivotal document of a country that has become both the most powerful country in the world and a beacon of democracy. (FOUR DEVELOPMENT SENTENCES TO SUPPORT EXAMPLE #1)

Unlike the United States, which had its fair share of ups and downs over the years, the Internet search engine company, Google Inc., has suffered few setbacks since it went into business in the late 1990s. (TOPIC SENTENCE FOR EXAMPLE #2) Google has succeeded by studying the failures of other companies in order to help it innovate its technology and business model. Google identified and solved the problem of assessing the quality of search results by using the number of links pointing to a page as an indicator of the number of people who find the page valuable. Suddenly, Google’s search results became far more accurate and reliable than those from other companies, and now Google’s dominance in the field of Internet search is almost absolute. (THREE DEVELOPMENT SENTENCES TO SUPPORT EXAMPLE #2)

The example of Rod Johnson’s success as an entrepreneur in the recruiting field also shows how effective learning from mistakes and failure can be. (TOPIC SENTENCE FOR EXAMPLE #3) Rather than accept his failure after being laid off, Johnson decided to study it. After a month of research, Johnson realized that his failure to find a new job resulted primarily from the inefficiency of the local job placement agencies, not from his own deficiencies. A month later, Johnson created Johnson Staffing to correct this weakness in the job placement sector. Today Johnson Staffing is the largest job placement agency in South Carolina, and is in the process of expanding into a national corporation. (FOUR DEVELOPMENT SENTENCES TO SUPPORT EXAMPLE #3)

Failure is often seen as embarrassing, something to be denied and hidden. But as the examples of the U.S. Constitution, Google, and Rod Johnson prove, if an individual, organization, or even a nation is strong enough to face and study its failure, then that failure can become a powerful teacher. (THESIS STATEMENT REPHRASED IN BROADER WAY THAT PUSHES IT FURTHER) The examples of history and business demonstrate that failure can be the best catalyst of success, but only if people have the courage to face it head on.

Why This Essay Deserves a “6”
First, we need to assess whether this essay contains the four essential ingredients of a great ACT essay. Here they are, just to refresh your memory:
  1. Positioning. The strength and clarity of the position on the given topic
  2. Examples. The relevance and development of the examples used to support the argument
  3. Organization. The organization of each paragraph and of the essay overall
  4. Command of Language. Sentence construction, grammar, and word choice
This essay serves up all four ACT essay ingredients. It takes a strong and clear stance on the topic in the first sentence and sticks to it from start to finish. It uses three examples from a diverse array of disciplines—Internet technology to history and politics to a profile of an entrepreneur—and it never veers from using these examples to support the thesis statement’s position. The organization of the essay follows our Universal ACT Essay Template perfectly, both at the paragraph level (topic sentences and development sentences) and at the overall essay level (intro, three meaty example paragraphs, a strong conclusion). The command of language remains solid throughout. The writer does not take risks with unfamiliar vocabulary but instead chooses a few out of the ordinary words like beacon, deficiencies, and innovate that spread just the right amount of special sauce throughout the essay. Sentence structure varies often, making the entire essay more interesting and engaging to the rater. Finally, no significant grammar errors disrupt the overall excellence of this ACT essay.
Here’s a quick-reference chart that takes a closer look at this “6” essay based on the ACT’s evaluation criteria for raters and based on our Universal ACT Essay Template.
Takes and articulates a perspective on an issue YES
Maintains a clear focus on the perspective throughout the essay YES
Explains a position by using supportive evidence and logical reasoning YES
Organizes ideas logically YES
Communicates clearly in writing YES
Thesis statement in first sentence of paragraph 1 YES
Three examples listed in paragraph 1 in order from best to worst YES
Topic Sentence for example in Paragraph 2 YES
3-4 development sentences to support Paragraph 2’s example YES
Topic Sentence for example in Paragraph 3 YES
3-4 development sentences to support Paragraph 3’s example YES
Topic Sentence for example in Paragraph 4 YES
3-4 development sentences to support Paragraph 4’s example YES
Conclusion paragraph contains rephrased thesis statement YES
About 15 sentences total YES
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