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ACT essay prompts

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Hi! I haven't been around here very much, but our family has scaled back some of our out-of-the-home activities, so I am freed up for some good discussion forum encouragement! I have turned to this community many times in the past for curriculum advice. :)


My son is preparing for the ACT (older sisters took the SAT), and I'm noticing that the sample essay prompts in study materials are all about issues in traditional schools. Has anyone else noticed this, or can you give me examples of ACT essay topics that your student has faced that support or refute my suspicion? I don't remember the sample SAT prompts having such a narrow focus...


I won't type out the entire essay prompts. The subjects deal with:

  • Should teenagers be required to maintain a "C" average in school before receiving a driver's license?
  • Educators debate whether performing several tasks at the same time is too distracting when students are doing homework. Is it?
  • Who is primarily responsible for students' success in school--teachers or students themselves?
  • Some teachers support a policy that would require television channels to devote at least 20 percent of their programming to educational shows.
  • Some high schools have considered creating separate classrooms for male and female students in subjects such as math and science.
  • Should high schools require students to complete a certain number of hours of community service?
  • Should high school be extended to five years?

What do you think?



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Yes, this was our take too. In fact, my son had a higher score on the SAT writing portion than the ACT. I am not sure if the prompt was entirely to blame. The SAT writing portion is given at the beginning of the testing period whereas the optional ACT prompt comes at the end--when he was so hungry that he could have eaten his test booklet and pencils.

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The ACT prompts are supposed to be about issues relevant to teens and they are most often related to schools. I find many homeschoolers do just fine with the ACT prompts - as long as you have some general awareness to know the basic vocabulary of the question (dress codes, curfew, etc.) it shouldn't be a problem. Sometimes what sounds like it is about school really is a broader question so the student shouldn't worry about not having school specific knowledge. For example a recent ACT prompt asked about factories polluting near a school. Keep in mind that what the position the student takes does not matter. The facts they cite don't even have to be true. As long as they can understand the question and take a pro or con position and justify their answer that's good enough. The SAT prompts tend to be more traditional quote response, but they can always throw a curve ball in there too. Here's a controversial question from 2011 - this would probably be harder for some homeschoolers than the school related questions.

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Ah, yes, I remember the news about the reality tv program SAT prompt. Well, I think I'll make sure he understands definitions of: curfew, tenure, textbooks ;) etc., and focus on the actual writing skills. He's competed in debate, so the skills of taking a stand and defending it are developed pretty well. Thanks for your input, ladies!

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One thing to note - While I do believe the ACT folks want you to generally choose a "side," and defend it, I believe the expectation is that you will still acknowledge the other side's POV and delineate at least one salient point on that other side. We often found these prompts to contain a component of infringing on one's individual rights v. the overall "good" of the community. I seem to recall that as a recurring pattern. The SAT folks do NOT want you to argue the other side.


My ds also did better on the SAT writing prompt than he did on the ACT writing prompt.

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My ds took the April 13 ACT. His writing prompt had something to do with pollution, so there might be an occasional question that isn't high school related. Although pollution is not something we have spent a lot of time on in our home school.

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