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.
Latest posts by Angela Yang (see all)
Related CollegeVine Blog Posts
It’s not easy trying to write an essay in a language that is not your native tongue. If you’re planning on studying abroad in an English-speaking country, you’re going to have to get used to completing assignments in English. When writing an essay, you’ll use different terminology than you would if you were speaking with your friends or your classmates. We’ve put together a list of some of the most impressive words you can include in your essay writing in English. Take a look and see how many you can use.
A term used by academics. Put this word at the beginning of a sentence and no one will ever question whether your point is correct or not. It is a way to let people know you are 100% sure of what you are saying.
Example: Indeed, Shakespeare was one of the most famous writers of his time.
For every argument you make in an essay, the opposite arguments must also be made so you can prove that your side of the argument is more correct. This is where the word nonetheless comes in. It says that in spite of the opposite argument, the point of your essay is still valid.
Example: Their donation was quite small. Nonetheless, it was for a worthy cause.
Short, but elegant. This means “as a result of,” or “due to this.” Thus is a great word that can be used to begin your concluding sentence.
Example: I crossed the finish line first, thus becoming the winner.
This word is perfect for combining ideas; furthermore lets people know that you are adding more information to a sentence without sounding too boring about it.
Example: Paris is a great place to visit because of its scenery. Furthermore, it has beautiful summers.”
An anomaly is something that stands out from the rest of your argument. If you have a series of results, or a list of objects, and a particular result does not fit in with the rest, then this is an anomaly.
Example: All of the results fit my theory, except for one anomaly, which appears to disagree.
The “must-have” word of any academic essay. If your essay has an argument, how did you get to it? Whether you read a few books, or conducted an extensive set of interviews and studies, the way you form your argument sounds instantly smarter by calling it your methodology.
Example: The methodology I used for this essay was complicated yet revealing.
To agree with, or to be of the same opinion. This can be very useful in an essay when going through the opinions of other researchers and/or academics.
Example: A selection of academics concur that the results show and increase in city pollution.
Have any other words that didn’t make our list? Share them in the comment section below!
Michael Pearl (7 Posts)
Share this with your friends
Michael Pearl (7 Posts)