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Pencil black on white 27x27 Feb 2016Sample Prompt

This sample prompt, Intelligent Machines, is representative of the prompts that will be used for the ACT writing test.

The test describes an issue and provides three different perspectives on the issue. You are asked to read and consider the issue and perspectives, state your own perspective on the issue, and analyze the relationship between your perspective and at least one other perspective on the issue. Your score will not be affected by the perspective you take on the issue.

Sample Prompt: 

Intelligent Machines

Many of the goods and services we depend on daily are now supplied by intelligent, automated machines rather than human beings. Robots build cars and other goods on assembly lines, where once there were human workers. Many of our phone conversations are now conducted not with people but with sophisticated technologies. We can now buy goods at a variety of stores without the help of a human cashier. Automation is generally seen as a sign of progress, but what is lost when we replace humans with machines? Given the accelerating variety and prevalence of intelligent machines, it is worth examining the implications and meaning of their presence in our lives.


Read and carefully consider these perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the increasing presence of intelligent machines. 

Perspective One Perspective Two Perspective Three
What we lose with the replacement of people by machines is some part of our own humanity. Even our mundane daily encounters no longer require from us basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for other people.  Machines are good at low-skill, repetitive jobs, and at high-speed, extremely precise jobs. In both cases they work better than humans. This efficiency leads to a more prosperous and progressive world for everyone.  Intelligent machines challenge our long-standing ideas about what humans are or can be. This is good because it pushes both humans and machines toward new, unimagined possibilities.


Sample Essays

Sample Essay 1 

Begin WRITING TEST Here for Score 1

Well Machines are good but they take people jobs like if they don’t know how to use it they get fired and they’ll find someone else and it’s more easyer with machines but sometimes they don’t need people because of this machines do there own job and there be many people that lack on there job but the intelligent machines sometimes may not work or they’ll brake easy and it’s waste of money on this machines and there really expensive to buy but they help alot at the same time it help alot but at the same time this intelligent machines work and some don’t work but many store buy them and end up broken or not working but many stores gets them and end up wasting money on this intelligent machines’ but how does it help us and the comunity because some people get fired because they do not need him because of this machines many people are losing job’s because of this machines.



Sample Essay 2

Begin WRITING TEST Here for Score 2

Should machines be used to do good and services instead humans? I believe they should not for many reasons. Machines can not be smart unless a human is controling it. So it would not matter if its an intelligent machine or not a human is still controlling it to do everything.

When using a machine it could easily malfunction and it could be hard to fix the problem or it will just take a while to fix it. If a human is taking over instead of the machine there may be fewer problems. Machines have so many problems that it would not be worth having.

Also, the more machines you have the less jobs there are for people because everyone thinks it would be better to have machines instead of people. When less people are out of work that means less money for those people and sometimes they will lose their homes or cars because they can not afford anything.

Sometimes working with machines can be very stressful because they may not work at times or they could be running extremely slow and won’t get anything done. Machines are not smart at all, only when people are controlling them they are but not all the time. It may seem smart but its really not.

In conclusion, I think machines should not be used to take over a human job because machines can not think only humans can think and make right or wrong decisions. Machines do not have brains, their not wired to think so why have them do stuff that we can do ourselves.

Scoring Explanations

Score Explanation - Score 1

Ideas and Analysis = 1
The absence of a thesis (an idea that the argument as a whole works to explore/explain/support) has a significant impact on the quality of this response. Without one, the writer’s intentions are difficult to discern. While the writer does generate a few ideas, he does not do so in service of an argumentative purpose. For example, the notion that people’s jobs are lost as a result of new technologies could be productive, but without a connection to a larger argument, this attempt at analysis accomplishes very little.

Development and Support = 1
There are few attempts to develop the ideas in this response. Rather, the essay consists largely of repeated points and unsupported claims. Many of the problems in this essay can be attributed to its poor development. Because ideas are not explained or illustrated, their relevance to the issue at hand and to a larger argument is often unclear.

Organization = 1
This response is not organized around a central idea, and movement from one idea to the next does not follow a clear logic. While the response begins and ends with the idea that people may lose their jobs because of machines, the essay as a whole does not assume a discernable structure, due in part to the absence of grouped ideas. Transitions do not help the reader determine relationships among ideas; instead, transitional devices and phrases seem only to conjoin unrelated thoughts.

Language Use = 1
This response fails to demonstrate skill in using language to convey a written argument. Pervasive errors in usage, punctuation, and mechanics interfere with clarity. Word choice is limited and repetitious, which often impedes understanding of meaning and intent. While the reader can grasp a handful of phrases and sentiments, impaired language makes this argument difficult to comprehend.



Scoring Explanation - Score 2

Ideas and Analysis = 2
A narrow scope inhibits the writer’s ability to explore multiple perspectives on the issue at hand. While the writer does attempt to advance a perspective, its relationship to the given perspectives on the issue is not fully clear. Rather than considering potential effects of sophisticated technologies, the writer simply generates three reasons why machines should not replace humans. These reasons are only loosely related to one another and forge only a weak connection with the given issue and its perspectives. All told, this approach reflects little clarity in thought and purpose.

Development and Support = 2
Thin, circular development fails to fully clarify the meaning and relevance of this argument. In the first body paragraph, the writer asserts that machines constantly break down and offers only an unexamined comparison between humans and machines as support—machines break down, but humans do not. In essence, this claim is repeated rather than developed. Likewise, the second body paragraph makes a reasonable but unsupported claim, and the third body paragraph repeats the writer’s first reason before returning to an idea presented in the introduction. As a result, weak ideas and analysis are not strengthened by way of development and support.

Organization = 2
Paragraphing reveals an attempt to provide an essay structure, but the paragraphs do not consistently group ideas. The opening paragraph raises a point that could serve as a controlling idea (machines are not intelligent; intelligent humans control them), but this point is ignored until it appears later in the paper when the writer recasts it as a reason why machines cause stress. The final body paragraph addresses two seemingly unrelated ideas without establishing a clear relationship between them. While the writer uses transitions to help move the reader through the response, these transitions do not succeed in connecting ideas.

Language Use = 2
Imprecise word choice and unclear sentence structures sometimes impede understanding (e.g., When less people are out of work that means less money for those peopleMachines can not be smart unless a human is controlling it. So it would not matter if its an intelligent machine). Additionally, basic usage errors pose a distraction for the reader. On balance, the response reveals inconsistent language control and a weak ability to convey ideas in an argumentative essay.

Sample Essays

Sample Essay 3


    Machines have taken a huge role in our day-to-day lives. They can either effect us in a good way or in a bad way. Granted, machines have impacted many people in the workplace but they help us finish the jobs. There are many ups and downs to the development of machines.

    Some people have become so dependent on machines they start to lose their “humanity”. Machines can take away the personal aspect of life. For example, we lose basic courtesy, respect, and tolerance for people due to using machines so much. Some machines that could make that happen are; cellphones, computers, and video games. When people purchase one of these machines they usually are on it and depend on it all the time. Due to the lack of self-motivation through machines we could lose our common courtesy.

    In the workplace, machines have effected jobs dramatically. They can perform at low-skill repetitive jobs and at high-speed precise jobs. They mostly are better than humans because they are more precise within their work and they are less likely to produce an error. Although machines do help the workplace, they can also harm it as well. By the advancement of so many machines, an abundance of people are losing their jobs due to them. Machines can have a positive and negative effect in the workplace.

    Although machines have a good amount of drawbacks, they also have a positive amount on us today. Due to the advancement of machines people are starting to push themselves to a whole new level. People are becoming more educated and precise in the workplace. Also, many people are starting to study machines and enter new, unimagined possibilties into the world! Machines can change the world in a positive way as well as a negative way.

    In conclusion, machines effect the lives of everybody in our world today. Whether they effect us in our home or on the job they continue to change people’s outlook on trying new ideas. The development of machines has its ups and downs. For example, they motivate people to work harder in order to compete with them. Although, they can demolish our common courtesy, machines play a huge role in technology today and will continue to shape the world’s future.


Sample Essay 4

    As modern civilized society progresses into the future, the less civilized we have become. Though machines may benefit our society and growth, they also have important draw-backs. In relying on machines as employees, many human employees suffer negative economic consequences. Robots built entirely for the purpose of bringing the future of tomorrow into the present of today also eliminate opportunities of human-to-human interactions.

    As the dream of tomorrow’s future becomes ever closer, machines have become more refined and civilized where as humans have lost the ability to display even the most basic courtesy let alone show mutual respect to one another. A variety of machines such as self-checkouts can perform simple tasks. These usually offer convenience and time to their users, but the effect is lost opportunity for the human being to engage in civilized interaction. The more these opportunities disappear, the less understanding and respect we have for one another. Convenience also is taking on greater importance. As machines evolve and we devolve, there seems to be a greater push for machines to become more innovative and precise, enabling their users to have everything at their finger tips. “Smart” phones, for example, have made it very easy to participate in “social networking” which has led people to believe they are being more social. But because interactions that require some “soul connection” are becoming harder and harder, this “social networking” seems to de-socialize us as people.

    Machines are increasingly popular in the workplace. Though there are financial benefits to machine labor, they are restricted to a handful of people. And there are no benefits to those who lose their jobs. The increased job loss will effect the overall economy, but it will also create more tension between people in society and mean more de-socialization. Even though society itself has also benefited from advances in technology (from indoor plumbing to instant communication), pursuing it too hard leads to an obsession that is harming humanity.

    With more and more machines “making our lives easier” and promoting “progress,” there seems to be a decline of growth in humanity. The role of machines should maintain a focus on those that are used to “help” us as a whole, not “do” for us as individuals. Though machine have displayed superb ability for bringing us into the future, the loss of human jobs as well as ettiquitte should not be swept aside. Too much of a good thing can in the end become bad.

Scoring Explanation

Score Explanation - Score 3

Ideas and Analysis = 3
It is clear that the student tried to generate a main idea—the introductory paragraph offers a thesis statement that indicates what the essay will be about: ups and downs to the development of machines. This idea, however, is imprecise and does not lend itself readily to exploration or debate. As such, the writer’s thesis provides a sense of clarity and direction but is only somewhat productive for argument. Analysis is simplistic. The writer does not critique, interrogate, or engage the perspectives; instead, he merely affirms the claims they put forth. Though the writer attempts to draw additional meaning from these perspectives by positioning and evaluating them in a number of contexts—benefits and drawbacks of machines in the workplace, for example—these analyses do not produce a discussion of further implications or underlying assumptions.

Development and Support = 3
The overly general quality of the argument as a whole is mirrored by the development of its points. While there are relevant extensions within each paragraph, many of the writer’s ideas are left to speak for themselves; that is, the writer fails to articulate and support a larger rationale for the argument he wishes to make. Potentially productive ideas—consequences for workers, for example—are asserted but not explored. Though illustration largely clarifies the writer’s ideas, this argument’s significance is left to the reader to infer—why is it important to understand the benefits and drawbacks of intelligent machines? What is the larger point?

Organization = 3
The five-paragraph approach brings order to the writer’s ideas; however, an overdependence on this structure limits its overall effect. Even though the response is organized around the idea of benefits and drawbacks, paragraphs are largely disconnected from one another. As such, important connections—between stated pros and cons in the workplace vs. our personal lives, for example, or between the discussion of pros and cons and a larger controlling purpose—fail to emerge. Without these connections, the organizational principle that guides this response is not wholly productive.

Language Use = 3
The use of language is basic. The writer’s ideas are expressed with general clarity; however, language problems help account for the fuzzy sense of argumentative purpose. Occasional imprecision (Machines have taken a huge roleDue to the lack of self-motivation through machines), limited vocabulary, and clunky sentences indicate only developing skill in this domain.

Score Explanation - Score 4

Ideas and Analysis = 4
The writer advances a clear thesis by engaging with multiple perspectives. Evaluation of these perspectives follows a pattern of concession and critique: We may concede that machines spur progress (as Perspective 2 believes) and that new technologies drive the way we imagine the future (Perspective 3), but we must also recognize that our obsession with the convenience technology affords has a dehumanizing effect (Perspective 1). In this way, the writer has evaluated a number of assumptions that underlie the given perspectives, and has recognized the complexities that arise in doing so. It is worth noting, too, that the writer does not make explicit mention of the given perspectives. Nevertheless, their ideas clearly join the writer’s own in the analysis that drives this argument.

Development and Support = 4
Lines of clear reasoning run through the argument, strengthening and supporting its thesis. There are two essential components to the writer’s point that human-to-machine interaction is detrimental to society, and each one receives elaboration. The writer extends analysis by reasoning through a number of factors that complicate prevailing ideas about new technologies. For example, the writer discusses the idea that social networking encourages more social activity, and then complicates this notion by questioning whether the nature of the interactions on social media is truly social. Throughout the response, the writer remains focused on consequences that come from machines receiving more attention than humans. In this way, her ideas and their intended effect become clear to the reader.

Organization = 4
The writer employs a clear organizational strategy. The introduction identifies two main considerations for analysis—benefits of intelligent machines and social and economic consequences. Through a discussion of these particular considerations, the writer’s larger purpose—to argue that machines should play only a limited role in our lives—emerges. Transitions connect ideas, particularly within paragraphs (Convenience also is taking on greater importanceEven though society itself has also benefitted).

Language Use = 4
The writer’s facility with language contributes to the clarity of the overall argument. Word choices such as civilized and social networking (alongside de-socialize) emphasize the writer’s thesis, creating a consistent reference to it without simple repetition. Variety in sentence structure increases reading interest, and ironic turns of phrase such as bringing the future of tomorrow into the present of today underscore the writer’s main critique.


Sample Essays

Sample Essay 5


    It is no secret that today’s workforce no longer consists entirely of people. Rather, machines are being developed to complete many of the tasks which humans have traditionally done. This can greatly increase productivity and efficiency of simple, repetitive tasks. Many people view this as a great positive and point out that it leads to a more uniform and less expensive product which is better for everyone. However, some people are more wary of this popular trend of automating the workforce and question whether this progress is truely positive. Their concerns, though, are outweighed by the benefits these machines offer.

    It is the popular view among companies which are moving toward automation that robots can do many tasks better than humans. For example, in the automotive industry, most of a car’s individual components are manufactured by pre-programmed robots which have much greater and more precise output than would be possible for a human. In addition, robots cut down the cost of production by a considerable amount. If a company hires an employee to complete a simple task for $50,000 per year but could instead buy a machine for a one time purchase of $30,000, it is far more cost effective to buy the machine. Lower cost of production means that the goods produced can now be sold at a lower pricepoint which passes the savings on to the consumer. Companies producing goods rightly contend that the use of machines to complete low-skill jobs has only positive impact for everyone.

    Beyond these benefits for industry, some believe that machines will shape the future for the human race. Innovation and invention of new more intelligent machines can push us as humans toward new, unimagined possibilities. For example, before the first airplane was invented, people could only dream of human flight, but at the moment of takeoff, a whole new world of unimaginable possibilities was suddenly within our grasp. Through even just that one invention, an entire multi-billion dollar a year industry was born, and our lives improved and advanced in a multitude of ways. Who can know what great advancements may be brought about by a more intelligent machine than what we possess today? The possibilities are endless.

    There are those who are less enthusiastic about all this progress and advancement. They argue that by not having to interact with fellow humans, we no longer are required to be courteous and have tolerance for others. While this may be true, this is a minor cost for a major increase in efficiency. Take the example of self checkout systems in grocery stores. Self checkout permits consumers to procure their goods and get out of the store quickly. This might seem like a small time-saver, but considering how often this experience is repeated reveals a cumulative effect. Across time, consumers end up saving hours, which improves the efficiency of their daily lives, allowing them to spend time on things that are of greater interest and meaning to them.

    Whether humans like it or not, machines are becoming more and popular in the workplace and are decreasing the need for humans to work those jobs. This can lead to advancement of society, a greater end product or service, and even a lower consumer cost of goods. Many people are frightened of change, but unfortunately for them, the past is gone and now we must look to the future.


Sample Essay 6

    Advances in technology have become so widely accepted in today’s culture that very few people are willing to pause to consider the consequences. People get so excited about what new technologies can offer that they forget to question whether there might be any negative effects. Without caution and deliberation, replacing the natural with the mechanical would undoubtedly be disasterous.

    The economic implications of the potential mechanical takeover alone should be enough to dissuade anyone from moving too fast. In the event the robots are more widely used in the workplace, humans would surely be replaced. At first, businesses would benefit from the efficiency of robots, but eventually a depressed job market would lead to a population that struggles just to feed themselves and their families, let alone purchase the products these robots make. In the long run, society will suffer if it does not take care to prevent the economic consequences of giving everything over to machines.

    Our careless use of automation has already taken a toll on our culture. People have been interacting with automation in nearly every aspect of their lives, whether it be shopping, banking, or the use of a telephone. The effect of this is obvious: basic respect for our fellow man is all but absent today because of increased interaction with automation. Why treat a machine with kindness? It suffers no emotional or psychological damage. In a culture saturated with automation, we get used to treating machines rudely, and we begin to treat each other rudely. This of course leads to all sorts of issues, like intolerence and incivility, and in the long run, results in the complete degradation of culture.

    Even in the face of these obstacles, some people argue that the increasing intelligence of today’s machines is a good thing. After all, machine power can decrease the human work load. Computer processers double in power and ability every year. Computers are projected to reach human intelligence by as soon as 2025. The implications of this shift are unknown, but one thing is for certain. We are moving into this change too fast to anticipate and prevent damage to the human species. We are approaching this change too quickly for any sort of safety net to be built. Because of this, it is important that we as a species slow down our technological development so that we might consider all the implications of a change this big. We must figure out how to handle negative societal and cultural consequences before we embrace total integration of automated, intelligent machines.

    Decreasing the speed with which we incorporate mechanical influence is important because of the potential dangers that lurk in blind acceptance. Not only does the preference of the mechanical over the natural interfere with the job market and the economy, but its use also has the potential to seriously degrade our culture as a whole. In combination with the uncertainty surrounding the increasing intelligence of machines, it is most assuredly better for the human species that technological progress be slowed so that we can, if necessary, prevent additional damage.

Scoring Explanation

Score Explanation - Score 5

Ideas and Analysis = 5
This argument engages productively with multiple perspectives. By viewing each perspective through the lens of a particular ideology, the writer establishes and employs a thoughtful context for analysis. Within this context, the writer articulates and addresses implications that range from benefits for industry to efficiencies for consumers. Competing views are also evaluated within this framework of capitalist ideals. The writer grants that intelligent machines reduce human interactions in places like the grocery store but argues that this is a good thing, as it allows for a more efficient experience for the consumer. In this way, the writer has addressed two values in tension, and an evaluation of the conflict serves to advance the argument.

Development and Support = 5
The essay is focused on its purpose throughout; the entire response works in service of the larger argument. The reasoning and illustration in each body paragraph function to deepen understanding of why the writer believes that the benefits of intelligent machines outweigh potential drawbacks. In using hypotheticals to explain her thinking, the writer responds to anticipated questions. For example, when she claims that robots cut down the cost of production by a considerable amount, she answers the question of how with an example that illustrates the difference between the ongoing salary of a regular employee and the one-time cost of a machine. She extends the idea further by noting that decreased cost of production means that the goods produced can now be sold at a lower pricepoint which passes the savings on the consumer, making clear the larger significance of this point. This careful thought process makes for a compelling, well-developed argument.

Organization = 5
The writer employs a productive organizational strategy. The introduction presents a roadmap for discussion, and this outline serves as a unifying force for the argument. The argument progresses logically: the writer first establishes benefits of the increasing presence of intelligent machines and then attempts to strengthen her case by acknowledging and rebutting a counterargument. Transitions are used when necessary and appropriate, making the connections among ideas readily apparent and contributing to a smooth, pleasurable read.

Language Use = 5
This response exhibits several markers of advanced language use. Word choice and sentence structures are precise and diverse, and are used to communicate complex ideas with relative concision. A formal, academic tone demonstrates strong comprehension of the rhetorical situation and works in service of the writer’s measured argument.

Score Explanation - Score 6

Ideas and Analysis = 6
By framing the issue as a matter of reckless technological abandon, the writer establishes an insightful context for analysis of the issue and its perspectives. This context informs a nuanced, precise thesis: Though we are inclined to welcome technological advancement with open arms, “the potential dangers that lurk in blind acceptance” necessitate “caution and deliberation” as we determine how to make use of intelligent machines. In advancing this thesis, the writer examines the economic and cultural implications of moving too quickly into the age of automation. In doing so, the writer has generated an argument that critically engages with multiple perspectives on this issue.

Development and Support = 6
An integrated line of reasoning and illustration effectively conveys the argument’s significance by exploring the economic and cultural implications of the mindless incorporation of intelligent machines. Hypothetical examples (In the event the robots are more widely used in the workplace) and skillful reasoning (The implications of this shift are unknown, but one thing is for certain. We are moving into this change too fast to anticipate and prevent damage to the human species) develop and support the thesis by drawing out and making persuasive its meaning and importance. The final body paragraph complicates the argument by conceding both the benefits of machine power and the unprecedented sophistication of modern technologies, using these concessions to reinforce the call for moderation and deliberation—as we reach new technological heights, it is even more important that we “figure out how to handle” potential unintended consequences.

Organization = 6
As with its development and support, a persistent focus on exploring the thesis benefits the organization of this response. This skillful strategy is driven by its controlling idea, which shapes the argument as it progresses logically from a discussion of future economic implications to a treatment of present-day cultural conditions to an examination of opposing viewpoints. Effective transitions between paragraphs reflect this organizing principle (The economic implications of the potential mechanical takeover; Our careless use of automation has already taken a toll on our culture; Even in the face of these obstacles, some people argue that the increasing intelligence of today’s machines is a good thing), while transitions within paragraphs serve to clarify and strengthen the writer’s reasoning (At first, but eventually, This of course, After all). All told, this strategy increases the effectiveness of the argument.

Language Use = 6
Precise vocabulary (societal and cultural consequences, intolerence and incivility, emotional or psychological damage) and a variety of clear sentence structures reflect advanced skill in the use of language. So too does the prose itself, which is largely free of errors. Of particular note are the writer’s strategic stylistic choices. Words like degrade, depressed, and damage work to establish a sense of alarm or dread, which underscores the writer’s call for consideration of the potential consequences she perceives. In the final body paragraph, the writer uses repetitive sentence constructions (We are, We are, We must) as the argument moves into its call for action. These rhetorical flourishes work to clarify the thesis and make persuasive its implications, thus enhancing the argument.

Sample Essays

Sample Essays

Sample Essays