You get only 30 minutes to write an entire argument. That sucks. It’s like trying to untie a tricky knot with a time limit and your future depending on your success. You know you can do it, but the added pressure makes this task a lot less satisfying.
Here’s one easy trick that you can do to maximize the short time you’re given for this ACT essay: make decisions about your essay in advance. Yes, you can actually plan your essay before you even show up to take the test.
You can’t write the whole thing ahead of time. You have no way of knowing what the prompt will ask you to write about. BUT there are a number of things that you can decide before you show up. The advantage is that the fewer decisions you have to make during the essay writing time, the less stress you’ll have and more thought you can put into the essay.
1. Decide how many paragraphs you want to write. You know you need an Introduction, a Conclusion, and at least two body paragraphs. You the minimum you need is four total paragraphs. If you’re a slow writer, it’s probably better to write just four good paragraphs. If you feel confident in your writing speed, however, feel free to write five or even six paragraphs. It is always better to have fewer good paragraphs than more paragraphs of lesser quality.
2. Decide what Attention-Getter you’ll use. There are several different types of attention getters you can use for any essay (Personal Story, Imagine If, News Story, Metaphor, Context, etc.) But why spend your time deciding which method will be best, and then struggle to come up with an example for that method? Just decide which attention-getter you’ll use ahead of time, and stick to it. For me, I always knew that I could come up with a personal story that connected to the topic pretty quickly. So when I wanted to start my essays, all I had to do was select a story and write it down. Boom – it became easy to start my essays.
3. Use Formulas and Structures. High school writers hate hearing this, but hey, it works. This doesn’t mean you have to be predictable, but it does mean that you shouldn’t be struggling with what to say next. Here are a few areas where formulas and structures can be a big help:
• The introduction structure
• The conclusion’s structure
• Body paragraph structure
• Counterargument inclusions and phrasings
• Thesis statement formulas
Well gee, now that I think about it, this list of 5 things is your whole paper. Refer to these specific articles to find what structures and formulas might just be right for you. Once you learn them, your essay becomes something more of a fill-in-the-blank task than a confusing open-ended one.
4. Plan how much time you’ll devote to each task. Get a clock going in your head and make a schedule for how you’ll spend every precious second of that 30 minutes. You don’t want to be wondering, “Should I make an outline or just start?” “Should I write another paragraph or just get to the conclusion?” “Should I edit what I have or add more?” These are decisions that just take time. Plan out minute-by-minute how to get your essay done!
Every second counts on this difficult task. ACT makes the essay 30 minutes simply because it is a challenging task and only the top students can do it well. If you spend less time making decisions and more time executing those decisions, then you’re going to be setting yourself up for success.