What the graders are grading the ACT essay

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If you think you have a tough job writing an essay in only 30 minutes, have some sympathy for the graders. They have to grade each essay in a matter of minutes. Imagine how you would feel if you spent an entire day grading thousands of essays on the same topic. By essay number 50 or so, you probably wouldn't care much if a student used "except" instead of "accept."

ACT graders focus on the big picture. Your essay will be read by two graders, each of whom will assign it a score from 1 to 6 (for a total essay score from 2 to 12) based on how closely it adheres to the standards below. The essays are graded holistically, meaning the graders don't keep track of all the good things and bad things in an essay on a checklist or score sheet. Each reader simply reads the entire essay, and based on his or her overall impressions of the essay assigns it a grade.

ACT Graders vs. English Teachers

The graders who grade for ACT aren't like your English teachers. They don't have the time to focus on the little details of each essay, and frankly, they don't care about your grade the way your English teacher does. So, don't sweat the small stuff. Focus on the big picture for the ACT: good thesis, organization, strong examples, and neatness.

According to the ACT guidelines, essay graders will base your score on your ability to do the following:

1. Take a position on the prompt To score well on the ACT essay, you need a clear thesis statement. Essay graders will look for one when determining your score.

2. Maintain focus on topic Once you come up with a thesis, stick to it. Avoid digressions in your essay—or even worse, changing or countering your thesis halfway through the paper.

3. Support your ideas Good essays support their thesis statements with supporting examples. There is no magic number of examples. However, you do need to show that you understand the issue in the prompt, that you have a position on that issue, that you have a reason for that position, and that you can support that reason with evidence. You have to address the other side of the issue, but you don't want to argue it as strongly as your own side. Address the other issues and then point out why your examples are better.

4. Organize your ideas This is one of the most important criteria. You must write an organized essay, meaning it needs to contain an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

5. Use language clearly and effectively The graders will look at stylistic issues, but those issues are not as important as the issues above. As a rule of thumb, graders will take issue with your grammar and language only if it detracts from their ability to identify the previous criteria.

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