The ONLY Three Answers Possible

Jan 3, 2013 by

Did you know that there are ONLY three possible answers that you can give to the ACT Essay prompt? Knowing this dramatically simplifies the way you think about your answer and construct your thesis. It’s easy!

First of all, ALL of the ACT Essay questions are simple “yes” or “no” questions. Like this one, for example:

“In your opinion, should students be allowed to give gifts to teachers?”

Right away, you know you can answer this question with a yes or a no. But there’s a third kind of answer as well. I call it the, “Yes, but…” answer.

So here are your three possible answers:

1. “Yes”
2. “No”
3. “Yes, but…”

If you are answering “yes,” then you’ll say something like, “Students should be allowed to give gifts to teachers because…”

If you are answering “no,” then just as obviously your essay will take on the tone of, “Students should not be allowed to give gifts to teachers because…”

But what’s that third answer? What does “Yes, but…” mean? It is called, technically speaking, a qualification. It means you’re partially agreeing with the statement, but you’d like to add your own little rule to the equation to confine the answer to certain situations. Here are some sample “Yes, but…” responses to this questions:

• Yes, but gifts should only be given before Christmas time.
• Yes, but gifts should only be given at the end of the year, after grades are completed.
• Yes, but gives should not be given if the teacher is also a coach of a sport that student is involved in.
• Yes, but no food items may be given as gifts.

Do you see how that works? Instead of fully agreeing with an answer, you are only partially agreeing with it, adding in your own limitation to the decision.

So which answer does ACT want to hear?

ACT doesn’t care what position you take. Remember that it’s not about what your opinion is; it’s about how you defend and explain that opinion.

That being said, I will add that it is slightly easier to just give a “yes” or a “no” type of answer. This is because those are more straight forward, and you’re only required to argue the entirety of a particular side against another clear cut side. When you add your own qualifying “Yes, but…” statement into the mix, it means that you are making the argument more complex. More complex is good, but it is not automatically better. It means that you have to make sure you’re a good thinker and writer who can clearly point out the significant aspects of the perspective you’re asking.

Okay, now here’s your chance to practice. For each of the following ACT-like questions, write down a “yes,” a “no,” and a “yes, but…” response!

• Should schools allow food items to be brought into classrooms?
• Should parents have a say in what content is taught in a curriculum?
• Should English classes read less novels and more digital articles?
• Should schools teach students about money?

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