The Importance of Language in the ACT Essay

Language is very important when it comes to the ACT essay

Flickr user Thomas Huston

Given the nature of an essay, it should come as no surprise that language—how things are written—is essential. This is especially true for the ACT optional writing test, as you’re receiving an important grade for your hard work.

Since there are time constraints, many students focus more on getting their words on the page rather than how those words can come across, but this can cost them in the long run.

Here are some important tips to keep in mind.

Formal & Scholarly

ACT essays are an academic medium, which means students should avoid informal language. Tips for the writing section such as “avoid chat-speak, slang, and pop culture references” might be no-brainers, but what about “avoid using contractions”?

Contractions (don’t instead of do not, won’t instead of will not) are a type of informal language so ingrained in our minds that we don’t tend to think of them as we write. In an essay, avoid contractions and just write out the more formal version. It sounds more academic and ups your word count.

Vocabulary and Language

Crack open a dictionary and keep a thesaurus close at hand while studying for the ACT. Vocabulary is an important element (for the ACT and SAT), both for the rest of the test and the essay itself. Different words have different connotations, even if they have the same meanings. For example: Cheap and frugal both mean the same thing—saving money—but have two different connotations. Cheap implies greed, while frugal implies self-discipline.

While it’s great to sprinkle in a few “big words” here and there, going overboard can be dangerous. If you use every single chance you have to show off your impressive lexicon, it’ll come off as either pretentious or trying too hard. Another danger is if you toss around words without fully knowing what they mean or imply.

Find a balance between flaunting your vocab and using words where they really count.

Third Person

In college app essays you’re encouraged to write in the first person, or using “I” to describe things. When it comes to ACT academic essays, you should use third person instead. No “I”, no “me, no “my”. Take a step back and view things from a more scholarly perspective. Objectivity is key, this is not the place to get personal.

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