Essay Writing for Standardized Tests: Tips for Writing a Five Paragraph Essay
Most, if not all, high school and college standardized tests include a writing portion. Students are provided a writing prompt and must then write an essay on the topic. Writing for standardized tests can strike fear in the hearts and minds of students of all ages, but it doesn’t have to. If you know what to expect and understand how to write a five paragraph essay, you will be prepared to tackle any essay writing prompt.
Types of Essays on Standardized Tests
When you begin to write your essay for a standardized test, you must first decide what type of essay you are being asked to write. There are many different types of essays, including narrative, expository, argumentative, persuasive, comparative, literary, and so on. The type of essay will determine your topic and thesis. Essays for standardized tests are typically either persuasive, in which you will answer a question, or literary, in which you will write about something you read.
For standardized tests, students usually have to write a five paragraph essay, which should be 500 to 800 words long and include an introductory paragraph, three supporting paragraphs and a concluding paragraph.
The First Paragraph: The Introduction
The first paragraph will introduce your topic. The introduction is the most important paragraph because it provides direction for the entire essay. It also sets the tone, and you want to grab the reader’s attention with interest and clarity. The best way to tackle the introduction is to:
- Describe your main idea, or what the essay is about, in one sentence. You can usually use the essay writing prompt or question to form this sentence.
- Develop a thesis statement, or what you want to say about the main idea. When the writing prompt is a question, your thesis is typically the answer to the question.
- List three points or arguments that support your thesis in order of importance (one sentence for each).
Voila! You’ve just written your introductory paragraph.
The Second, Third and Fourth Paragraphs: Supporting Details
These three paragraphs form the body of the essay. They provide details, such as facts, quotes, examples and concrete statistics, for the three points in your introductory paragraph that support your thesis. Take the points you listed in your introduction and discuss each in one body paragraph. Here’s how:
- First, write a topic sentence that summarizes your point. This is the first sentence of your paragraph.
- Next, write your argument, or why you feel the topic sentence is true.
- Finally, present your evidence (facts, quotes, examples, and statistics) to support your argument.
Now you have a body paragraph. Repeat for points two and three. The best part about introducing your main points in the first paragraph is that it provides an outline for your body paragraphs and eliminates the need to write in transitions between paragraphs.
The Fifth Paragraph: The Conclusion
The concluding paragraph must summarize the essay. This is often the most difficult paragraph to write. In your conclusion, you should restate the thesis and connect it with the body of the essay in a sentence that explains how each point supports the thesis. Your final sentence should uphold your main idea in a clear and compelling manner. Be sure you do not present any new information in the conclusion.
When writing an essay for a standardized test, outline your essay and get through each paragraph as quickly as possible. Think of it as a rough draft. When your time is up, a complete essay will score more points than an incomplete essay because the evaluator is expecting a beginning, middle and an end.
If you have time to review your essay before your time is up, by all means do so! Make any revisions that you think will enhance your “rough draft” and be sure to check for any grammatical errors or misspellings.
Online instruction like the Time4Writing essay writing courses for elementary, middle and high school students can help children prepare for state and college-entrance standardized writing tests. These interactive writing classes build basic writing skills, explain essay types and structure, and teach students how to organize their ideas.
For general tips on test preparation and details about each state’s standardized tests, please visit our standardized test overview page.
Standardized tests aren’t fun, but you can’t avoid them. When you’re in school, there will always be a standardized test to take, and passing is mandatory. These tests can be intimidating, and they’re not always easy. If you have difficulty with writing in particular, the essay sections can be challenging. You don’t have to stress yourself out with worry about passing grades, however. With a little preparation, you’ll be able to write a passing five-paragraph essay with ease.
If you’re taking a standardized test in the near future, it’s a good idea to practice writing at least one essay by using a writing prompt. If your teacher doesn’t give you sample questions, ask for them, and show your practice essay to your teacher for feedback on how you can improve before your test. Here are the basics of writing a five-paragraph essay.
Paragraph One: The Introduction
When reading the essay prompt, identify exactly what the question that you need to answer in your essay is. For the first sentence of your introduction, describe the topic in a way that will grab the reader’s attention. You should then write three sentences, each describing one of your three points about the topic that you’ll discuss. Your final sentence should sum up exactly what your answer to the question is. The rest of the essay is going to be supporting that thesis statement and proving your opinion (using the three points you mentioned already).
Paragraphs Two, Three, and Four: The Supporting Details
After your introduction, it’s time to explain to the reader why your thesis statement (what you believe is the answer to the question) is true. For each of these three paragraphs, you can follow a simple pattern for discussing the supporting details.
Proving Your Points
At the beginning of the paragraph, your first sentence should be a statement that is a summary of your point. Your next sentence should say why it is true. The rest of the paragraph should provide evidence to support your point. Evidence might be statistics, quotes from a reading, or anything else that demonstrates why your point is true.
Paragraph Five: The Conclusion
The conclusion of your essay should restate (not in exact words) your thesis statement. You should then reiterate your supporting details and how they prove your thesis. Your final sentence should briefly and confidently reassert your point. In your conclusion, do not give any new evidence that you didn’t discuss before. It is only a review of your essay.
Writing an Outline
During a standardized test, you usually do not have time to write a detailed outline or to go back and make major revisions. If it’s helpful to you, you can sketch a brief outline to follow. The outline should contain your thesis statement/the point you want to prove, and it should list the three supporting details you’ll present. Write no more than one sentence about each, so you can make sure you have time to flesh out the details in your actual essay. Your outline will not be graded.
Elain Valentine is a college student and writing tutor who understands how to write great essays. She loves to blog about everything from literary education to the best grammar checkers available.
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