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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Top tips for writing better essays
An essay is a short piece of non-fiction about a particular topic. It’s a common assignment in school and university, so you’ve probably already written a few. Essays can take many different forms. Narrative essays tell a story, while persuasive essays make an argument. Exploratory essays pursue an idea. No matter what kind of essay you’re writing, the principles below will help you connect with your readers.
1 Know your purpose
If you’re writing in response to an assignment, make sure you understand what you are being asked to write about. If you’re writing for another reason, it’s just as important to understand your goals. Whether you want to share information or an experience or get readers to change their minds, your purpose will determine the choices you make in your essay.
2 Understand your audience
The more you know about who will be reading your essay, the better. Readers who are experts on your topic will already have some background knowledge. Readers who are your age will be familiar with the same films and songs you’re likely to mention. The less you know about your audience, the more you’ll need to define your terms and provide context for your examples.
3 Brainstorm about your topic
Jot down everything you can think of related to the subject you’re going to write about. Some people make lists, while others draw diagrams or maps. The point is to quickly note lots of ideas in order to get started. If you don’t have any ideas, open a newspaper, turn on the television, or just look around. Chances are you’ll see something that suggests a topic.
4 Decide on a thesis
Your thesis is the claim you’re going to make about your topic. Consult the notes you made when you brainstormed to figure out what you want to say. Turn that idea into a complete sentence that makes a claim and includes your explanation or reason for that claim. Be prepared to change your thesis a bit as you work out your reasons and ideas.
5 Develop your essay
Now that you have a thesis, you need evidence to support your claim. Start by listing your reasons for believing what you do. Research what you need to; statistics and quotations will help you make your point. Personal stories also make good, unique examples that no one else could provide.
6 Create an essay structure
Organize your essay according to your purpose. If you’re writing a narrative, you’ll probably arrange your material in chronological order. Consider using flashbacks to create tension. For an argument, you might list your reasons in order of importance. Every essay has a beginning, middle, and end, but not every essay requires a formal introduction or conclusion.
Read more about structuring your writing.
7 Connect your ideas
Readers need a road map through your essay. Employ transitions to help them move from one idea to the next. Transitions are often individual words such as ‘then’, ‘but’, or ‘therefore’. Also, consider headings and repetition, devices that can also create good transitions.
Read more about cohesion in writing.
8 Choose memorable language
Use concrete, specific words. Write about a ‘bird’ and your reader won’t know whether it’s large, small, friendly, mean, or if it can even fly. Write about a ‘red tailed hawk’ and your reader will have a clear picture. Concrete words help the reader better understand what you want to communicate.
Read more about word choice.
9 Invent a strong title
People are busy and nobody has to read your essay. Write a title that makes them want to read it. You can get readers’ attention with an intriguing question or clever phrase, but make sure your title clearly conveys your essay topic. A simple subtitle will help you do this. Your title should also be searchable, since so many publications now appear online.
10 Edit and proofread your essay
Carefully check your work for errors. First, read your essay aloud. If anything sounds awkward, revise until you like the way it sounds. Second, make sure your grammar, punctuation, and spelling are all correct. When you think your essay is perfect, have a friend check it again.
Read more aboutwriting essays.
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