Domain 4: Language Use
The final area in which the essay readers will evaluate your work concerns the actual words you use and how you use them. It’s not about how many “million-dollar” words you can write, but how adept you are at using the appropriate word for each purpose.
Words to Enhance
Just sticking a long or complicated-sounding word in a sentence is not necessarily a positive thing. Every word you use should further the impact of your argument. If it doesn’t, choose another word.
Besides furthering your argument, your choice of words should always do one more thing: make the argument absolutely clear to the reader. Use words that cannot easily be misunderstood and say exactly what you mean. A tip: If you find yourself stressing over a word (thinking you can find a better one), draw a light circle around that word and come back to it during your review. Sometimes the perfect word will come to you a few minutes later as you reread. This is also a good way to keep your thoughts moving and not get sidetracked from your overall purpose.
Style and Register
Your ACT test essay should not be an example of how you would argue with your friends in a casual setting. It should be a formal, academic essay, using proper English and avoiding the more casual aspects of the language, such as contractions, pop culture expressions, and slang. Write as if you were speaking to a professor you did not know and trying to make a good impression.
Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics
While one or two errors along these lines will not affect your score, many errors will impact it. Be sure you know the grammar, usage, and punctuation rules, and that you check for errors in them as you review. Prior to testing, it’s not a bad idea to review things that give many people trouble, such as confusing words (accept/except) and use of a semicolon (;). There are many online sites containing quick practice on these things.
Tips and Tricks
Any writing task is easier if you have spent time reading the writing of others. When you read pieces written by good writers, you learn how they go about creating a masterful argument. Be sure to look for examples of the tasks mentioned in the domains as you read and think about how you can incorporate them into your own writing.
Practice making a writing plan. Even if you don’t finish a complete essay each time, practice taking a prompt and planning an essay addressing that prompt. Limit your planning time to 5 minutes or less, simply sketching it out on scrap paper. This is about the time limit you’ll need to set for planning during the ACT test essay.
In addition to practicing the entire essay process, practice reviewing your own work. Find some of those old essays from school to use for a new purpose! Again, limit yourself to 5 minutes for this, in preparation for the test’s actual time limit. On test day, no one will tell you to save 5 minutes at the end of the allotted time, to review, but you should do this. Practice making quick work of the review process. You won’t have time to make major changes, but catching a mistake here and there could help boost your score.