While some complain bitterly about the presence of essays on the SAT and ACT, others try to derive value from the whys and hows of the assignments. I stand with those latter, more pragmatic sorts that see these college admissions tests as indicators of the skills and qualities colleges want in their students. Based on how much the test makers have been focusing on their respective writing assignments, colleges care quite a bit about certain types of writing skills.
Before this year’s changes, the SAT and ACT essays were scored using very similar rubrics and grading processes. However, the ACT score report added a measure of feedback through stock essay comments based on the rubric. If you analyzed those comments, you could see what skills identified exceptional writing. You could even, were you so inclined, implement those lessons and thus improve your argumentative writing.
The Enhanced ACT Writing Prompt appears to add new levels of complexity to the scoring process by splitting the rubric into four distinct domains. However, ACT has actually provided valuable clarity regarding the pillars of persuasive writing. Let’s reverse-engineer the attributes of exception writing by examining this new rubric:
IDEAS AND ANALYSIS
Scores in this domain reflect the ability to generate productive ideas and engage critically with multiple perspectives on the given issue.
- Does your thesis reflect little clarity, clarity, or clarity and precision?
- Is context for analysis of the issue limited, relevant, or thoughtful?
- Are multiple perspectives engaged with weakly, adequately, or critically?
- Are implications, complexities, and tensions ignored, recognized, or examined?
TAKEAWAY: Above all else, take a clear position on the issue at hand and make sure your reader knows exactly what that position is. The most persuasive writing addresses the complexity of an issue rather than pretending that an argument is one-sided.
DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT
Scores in this domain reflect the ability to discuss ideas, offer rationale, and bolster an argument.
- Is development of ideas weak, simplistic, clear, or insightful?
- Is support for claims lacking, general, or specific?
- Are reasoning and illustration inadequate, acceptable, or rich?
TAKEAWAY: The persuasive part of persuasive writing comes down to making claims supported by credible reasoning and evidence. Always include factual, social, and experiential evidence in your arguments, even if you have to make something up!
Scores in this domain reflect the ability to organize ideas with clarity and purpose.
- Is organizational strategy missing, basic, or skillful?
- Is sequencing and grouping of ideas inconsistent, logical, or effective?
- Are transitions between and within paragraphs missing, adequate, or helpful?
TAKEAWAY: Well-written essays deliver exceptional organization with clear, effective introductions and conclusions. Maintain focus from beginning to end and include clear transitions from point to point and paragraph to paragraph. If your paragraphs can be reordered with no discernible impact on your message, you probably aren’t including effective transitions!
Scores in this domain reflect the ability to use written language to convey arguments with clarity.
- Is word choice rudimentary, general or precise?
- Are sentence structures unclear, clear, or varied?
- Are style, voice, and tone inconsistent, appropriate, or purposeful?
- Are errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics pervasive, present, or minimal?
TAKEAWAY: Readers pay close attention to what you say, but also care about how you say it. Students can earn terrific scores by focusing on the previous points but cannot attain the highest percentiles without remarkable eloquence. Vocabulary, sentence structure, and grammar all matter.