It might be easy to get someone’s attention if you could shout, do a dance, show pictures, or just punch them in the face. But on the ACT Writing, all you get are words. How do you get a reader’s attention from the get-go?
Students often know that an introduction should “get attention” from the reader; but students also know that whoever is reader whatever they write – whether a paper in class or essay for ACT – the teacher or grader must read it. So no matter how terrible a job they do at starting off their essays, students know the rest of the essay will get read.
You have to also remember that the graders who score the ACT Writings are, in all likelihood, bored to tears with essay after essay of the same old, same old introductions. You can’t imagine how refreshing it must be for a judge to read a good introduction – you know, an introduction that actually captures their attention and makes them want to read more.
What MOST Students Do (but you shouldn’t)
Most students take their topic and just state random, boring information about it until they feel like they’ve done enough to move on to their thesis. What a terrible idea! Take, for example, a prompt about what to feed students in the school cafeteria. So many students might just start by listing some of the most obvious things about the topic that pop into their head:
“Schools feed students cheap food that probably is mostly leftovers from the day before.”
“Lunch ladies are either the nicest or the meanest people you can meet.”
“Since the beginning of education, it has been a struggle to decide what to feed students.”
Snooze fest! Nothing new, meaningful, or enticing is said here. Now, imagine an ACT grader reading essay after essay after essay that starts the same way. Can you see how easily a lackluster introduction gets you the “average” label and an average score? I, personally, would tune out after reading just one lame introduction.
What GOOD Writers Do
Here’s the trick that most students don’t know when it comes to getting attention: actually say something interesting. I know, it’s that simple! Well, it’s easier said than done, so here’s some more specific advice on how you can do that:
1. Tell a story: Stories work really, really well for getting attention. Don’t just tell any story, though. Tell a story that’s actually fun to read and meaningfully related to your essay’s main idea. You can tell a personal story, a friend’s story, a historical story, or a story from literature. You don’t have to write a novel; 2 or 3 sentences will cut it.
2. Ask a question: Questions cause us to start thinking automatically for an answer. But DO NOT ask LAME questions. Most questions are lame. You must start with a question that really gets the audience thinking about.
Let’s say that we’re writing about spiders. Compare these questions:
LAME: “Have you ever seen a spider in your house?”
INTERESTING: “When was the last time you ate your children for breakfast?”
3. Shocking/Interesting Statements: Give facts you know to be true about life, the world, or even about yourself. Make your reader laugh, cry, or just squirm in their seat.
Let’s say that we’re writing about banning books:
LAME: “Lots of people read books all the time.”
INTERESTING: “My favorite book when I was 12 years old contained violence, rape, cussing, and sex.”
There are tons of ways to get someone’s attention. The truth is that all you have to be is original. It’s far, far too easy to say something that other students are also going to say. Take a moment, and think about a story, question, or shocking statement that will help you get attention and stand out from the pack.