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.
The 5-paragraph essay is the most common academic task a student may face. You can meet it in such tests as TOEFL, IELTS, and the SAT.
Because the majority of these examinations restrict the student in time, you should be ready for the writing section. Try to memorize the structure of the 5-paragraph academic paper on any topic. It makes it possible to complete the assignments faster and efficiently. The best part of the five-paragraph essay is that it is rather flexible regarding the topic choice and various writing formats.
There are six basic types of five-paragraph academic papers. You should be aware of each type before facing your examination:
- Cause and Effect
- Compare and Contrast
All of these 5-paragraph essays should stick to the five paragraph structure!
Examples of Good Essay Topics
Try to choose the best topic from the pool of good topic ideas.
- Do we learn from other people's mistakes?
- Who is responsible for our destiny?
- Is it ethical to use animals for tests?
- What are the advantages of allowing same-sex marriage?
- How can the government minimize the criminal activity?
- Who must be punished to death?
- Is LSD that dangerous as most people think?
- Why should education become entirely free?
These are topics which students usually choose. There are much more topics on different academic disciplines so that you may come up with your own suggestions.
Writing Your Outline
Any academic 5-paragraph essay is limited to the following organization:
- Introduction paragraph with thesis
- Three body paragraphs
- Conclusion paragraph
- References page
Catch the eye of your reader with an effective introduction to your topic. Each paragraph of the body must contain a specific main point about the topic known as an argument. Sum up your writing in conclusion. The 5-paragraph essays usually start out very broad, get narrower, and end up broad as well.
- This paragraph should contain 3-5 sentences.
- This paragraph predetermines the entire structure.
- The first sentence is a hook sentence.
- The last sentence is your thesis statement.
- The hook of the paragraph may be a rhetorical question, shocking fact, joke, quote, or some real life experience.
E.g. If you want to talk about the topic of racial discrimination and human rights, you can start with something like: "Why should we treat people with the different color of skin worse? Don't they have the same two legs and two hands?"
There is no need to answer this question so that it can be defined as a rhetorical question. You may find examples of good introductions or even buy a custom 5-paragraph essay at professional writing companies.
Short Introduction of Supporting Arguments (up to three)
- Introduce your arguments in one paragraph (3 sentences). No need for details
- You may pretend that you're writing a video trailer when working on this part.
- Example: Establishing more organizations that defend the rights of minorities is one of the ways to resist racial discrimination.
- It is your strongest claim.
- The rest of the 5-paragraph essay should be based on your thesis statement.
- It is better to change thesis if you discover that your body paragraphs are not related to it.
Body Paragraphs (5-7 sentences each)
Involve 3-5 arguments to defend your thesis statement.
Stick to this general structure of the body paragraphs: Introduction sentence (1), Evidence/Arguments (3-5), Conclusion (1).
THE FORMAT FOR ALL BODY PARAGRAPHS REMAINS THE SAME
Check the order of your arguments:
- First body paragraph is dedicated to the most powerful point
- The second paragraph may contain the weakest point
- Leave another strong argument for the last body paragraph
Conclusion paragraph (up to 5 sentences):
- The last few sentences of this paragraph should reflect the nature of your entire text. Begin with the restated thesis.
- Recall all 3-5 supporting arguments. Paraphrase each main point to speed up the process.
- Avoid using citations in this paragraph.
- Join similar arguments together in one sentence.
The final stage is the so-called concluding paragraph hook. You may include it or not. It is a good idea to finish your writing with something your reader can't expect. Surprise the readers with the sudden question for continuous discussion or unknown fact.
In other words, put some sugar and spice to make the dish tastier. "Did you know that Oslo was called the most expensive city of the year?"
You can find more tips on the conclusion paragraph in this blog.
Overall Grading Rubric
Students write 5-paragraph essays to earn the highest grades. These grades are part of their final score per course. That is why it is important to know the grading rubric shared by your teacher in the syllabus.
- Focus: Did the writer prove his thesis effectively? Were all the objectives met successfully?
- Organization: What about the way 5-paragraph essay flows? Are there the smooth transitions between paragraphs? Are they logical? Did the author follow the outline and general writing standards?
- Conventions: Is there any wordiness in the text? Are there some grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors? Is the text easy to read?
- Style: Did the student use high-level vocabulary? Was he creative enough?
- Content: Was the student right when defending his arguments? Was his evidence logical and factual? Did he develop powerful, persuasive arguments?
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