When taking the ACT essay section, students have 45 minutes to write a well-reasoned argumentative essay about a given prompt. The new ACT Essay prompts tend to be about “debate” topics — two sides of an issue are presented, with no obviously “right” side. Oftentimes, these subjects carry implications for broader issues such as freedom or morality. Test-takers are expected to convey some stance on the issue and support their argument with relevant facts and analysis.
In addition to some of the more obvious categories, like grammar and structure, students’ essays are also evaluated on their mastery of the English language. One way to demonstrate such mastery is through the correct usage of advanced vocabulary words. Below are 50 above-average vocabulary words sorted by the contexts in which they could most easily be worked into an ACT essay.
Context 1: Factual Support For ACT Essay
These words can easily be used when stating facts and describing examples to support one’s argument. On ACT essays, common examples are trends or patterns of human behavior, current or past events, and large-scale laws or regulations.
- Antecedent – a precursor, or preceding event for something – N
- Bastion – an institution/place/person that strongly maintains particular principles, attitudes, or activities – N
- Bellwether – something that indicates a trend – N
- Burgeon – to begin to grow or increase rapidly – V
- Catalyst – an agent that provokes or triggers change – N
- Defunct – no longer in existence or functioning – Adj.
- Entrenched – characterized by something that is firmly established and difficult to change – Adj.
- Foster – to encourage the development of something – V
- Galvanize – to shock or excite someone into taking action – V
- Impetus – something that makes a process or activity happen or happen faster – N
- Inadvertent – accidental or unintentional – Adj.
- Incessant – never ending; continuing without pause – Adj.
- Inflame – to provoke or intensify strong feelings in someone – V
- Instill – to gradually but firmly establish an idea or attitude into a person’s mind – V
- Lucrative – having a large reward, monetary or otherwise – Adj.
- Myriad – countless or extremely large in number – Adj.
- Precipitate – to cause something to happen suddenly or unexpectedly – V
- Proponent – a person who advocates for something – N
- Resurgence – an increase or revival after a period of limited activity – N
- Revitalize – to give something new life and vitality – V
- Ubiquitous – characterized by being everywhere; widespread – Adj.
- Watershed – an event or period that marks a turning point – N
Context 2: Analysis
These words can often be used when describing common patterns between examples or casting some form of opinion or judgement.
- Anomaly – deviation from the norm – N
- Automaton – a mindless follower; someone who acts in a mechanical fashion – N
- Belie – to fail to give a true impression of something – V
- Cupidity – excessive greed – Adj.
- Debacle – a powerful failure; a fiasco – N
- Demagogue – a political leader or person who looks for support by appealing to prejudices instead of using rational arguments – N
- Deter – to discourage someone from doing something by making them doubt or fear the consequences – V
- Discredit – to harm the reputation or respect for someone – V
- Draconian – characterized by strict laws, rules and punishments – Adj.
- Duplicitous – deliberately deceitful in speech/behavior – Adj.
- Egregious – conspicuously bad; extremely evil; monstrous and outrageous – Adj.
- Exacerbate – to make a situation worse – V
- Ignominious – deserving or causing public disgrace or shame – Adj.
- Insidious – proceeding in a subtle way but with harmful effects – Adj.
- Myopic – short-sighted; not considering the long run – Adj.
- Pernicious – dangerous and harmful – Adj.
- Renegade – a person who betrays an organization, country, or set of principles – N
- Stigmatize – to describe or regard as worthy of disgrace or disapproval – V
- Superfluous – unnecessary – Adj.
- Venal – corrupt; susceptible to bribery – Adj.
- Virulent – extremely severe or harmful in its effects – Adj.
- Zealot – a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political, or other ideals – N
Context 3: Thesis and Argument
These words are appropriate for taking a stance on controversial topics, placing greater weight on one or the other end of the spectrum, usually touching on abstract concepts, and/or related to human nature or societal issues.
- Autonomy – independence or self governance; the right to make decisions for oneself – N
- Conundrum – a difficult problem with no easy solution – N
- Dichotomy – a division or contrast between two things that are presented as opposites or entirely different – N
- Disparity – a great difference between things – N
- Divisive – causing disagreement or hostility between people – Adj.
- Egalitarian – favoring social equality and equal rights – Adj.
Although it’s true that vocabulary is one of the lesser criteria by which students’ ACT essays are graded, the small boost it may give to a student’s score could be the difference between a good score and a great score. For those who are already confident in their ability to create and support a well-reasoned argument but still want to go the extra mile, having a few general-purpose, impressive-sounding vocabulary words up one’s sleeve is a great way to tack on even more points.
To learn more about the ACT test, check out these CollegeVine posts:
Angela is a student at Cornell College of Engineering. At CollegeVine, she works primarily as ACT Verbal Division Manager. She enjoys teaching a variety of subjects and helping students realize their dreams.
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Argumentative essays often strike fear deep into the heart of even the most dedicated students; there really is no need. Let’s face it, we all like a good argument every now and again! Everyone’s at it: politicians, news broadcasters, lawyers, and solicitors… even that noisy couple next door who can’t seem to agree on whose turn it is to take the garbage out! But topping the list of supporters of the argumentative form simply has to be teachers and professors. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, the chances are that, at some point during the school year, you will be asked to write an argumentative essay.
Well, fear not, our essay editors have put together just the guide for you, and in a few minutes’ time, you will have the confidence and knowledge to go forth and argue!
So what exactly is an argumentative essay and how angry do I need to be?
It’s a harsh fact of life that human beings do not always agree. Even the most educated, wise and honest members of society suffer from differences of opinion every now and again, and there really is nothing wrong with that. Argumentative essays are important in the land of academia because they offer students an opportunity to develop an argument that is presented in a measured and considered manner. When you write an argumentative essay, you are not angry; in fact, it’s the complete opposite. You are putting forward your opinions in a calm manner that is aimed at convincing others to adopt your stance.
What Should I Argue About?
Quite often your professor will allow you to choose your own topic for your argumentative essays. If so, this is good news, and you will shortly see why. The most important thing you need when composing your essay is the desire to win. Your main objective is to change the opinion of the reader and, to do this, you need to be very, very convincing. To be convincing, you need to be knowledgeable. For this reason, you should have two things in mind when selecting a topic:
- It must be possible to actually win the argument in the first place. It doesn’t matter how strongly you feel about something, if you address issues that are highly contentious then you will find it very hard to emerge the victor. Try and stay away from topics like abortion, capital punishment, stem cell research etc. because your teacher will probably have come across essays on these topics a million times before and you will find it difficult to present new arguments.
- You need to know your stuff. To write a strong argument, you need to have the knowledge required to present all the facts and address all the pros and cons. If you have never tried water skiing, then you are not qualified to write argumentative essays that claim water skiing is the best possible form of getting fit. Choose a topic that you are an expert in and, preferably, one that you find interesting.
I Have a Topic, Now What?
There are several steps to writing great argumentative essays:
I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed! -William Shakespeare
Yes, dull as it is, you need to read, read and read some more. To write effective argumentative essays, you need an advanced knowledge of the subject matter because, if you don’t know all the facts, you risk looking like a fool. For some great tips on researching papers, see our free tips for essay writing.
State Your Proposition.
Before you start writing you need to have a focus. The best way to achieve this is to define a short proposition or thesis statement. This is important as it will help you to concentrate on the topic in a productive manner. You may find that your proposition changes as your thought process develops; this is completely normal. Just ensure that you revise your proposition as you progress to ensure that it adequately reflects your thinking.
You should always ensure that your statement makes a debatable assertion. A proposition that states something like “social network sites should be banned,” is far too weak and broad and it doesn’t really inform the reader of what the essay will cover. Stay away from vague generalizations and try and be as precise as possible. For example, you may wish to revise the statement as follows: “Use of social network sites during classroom hours should be banned because they prevent students from concentrating.” Now the reader will know what to expect from the essay and will have a good understanding of the main points of the argument.
Think about the opposition.
The key to writing a good argumentative essay is to remember that someone, somewhere will disagree with your opinion. If not, then there’s no need for the essay in the first place. Your objective when writing argumentative essays is to anticipate what someone who is opposed to your argument may say, and to subsequently counter and overcome their objections. Ask the following:
- Who may disagree with me?
- What points will they disagree with?
- How strong will the opposition be?
- How can I refute their opinions?
- Which points are the most debatable?
By asking questions such as these, you can really understand whether you have a chance of winning the argument and can anticipate the crucial points that could determine your success or failure.
Structure Your Argument.
Think of your essay in terms of paragraphs, with each paragraph addressing a separate element of the argument. A useful structure may look like this:
- Introduction. Set up and establish your proposition. Try and make it interesting and draw the reader into reading your argument.
- Background. Provide a brief background of the topic under discussion. Explain key theories and terms.
- Supporting evidence paragraphs. Create one or more paragraphs that present your argument and supports it using the information you have found during the research process.
- Counterargument paragraphs. Create one or more paragraphs that address potential opposing views to the arguments you have given. Refute these arguments using hard facts.
- Conclusion. Sum up your argument and assert that you have achieved your objective of successfully arguing the facts.
One final point, argumentative essays do not need to be boring. Choose a topic that you’re interested in, and you may just find that writing essays can actually be fun!
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