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.
Writing assignment series
The Five Paragraph Essay
The five paragraph essay measures a student's basic writing skills,
and is often a timed exercise.
Use this Guide to help you practice and succeed at this form of writing.
Getting started means getting organized:
Analyze the assignment; determine what is required.
With a highlighter, note important words that define the topic.
Then organize your plan
For example, you have been given this writing prompt:
You have a present that was really memorable. It could have been given for an important occasion or just for no reason at all. Tell us about the present and why it was memorable. Include the reason it was given, a description of it, and how you felt when you got it.
The objective is to write a narrative essay about this present you were given
The subject is a memorable present
The three main subtopics are:
- the reason it was given
- a description of it
- and how you felt when you got it
Outline your five paragraph essay; include these elements:Introductory Paragraph
General Topic Sentence: memorable present
- Subtopic One: the reason it was given
- Subtopic Two: a description of it
- Subtopic Three: how you felt when you got it
First Supporting Paragraph
- Restate Subtopic One
- Supporting Details or Examples
Second Supporting Paragraph
- Restate Subtopic Two
- Supporting Details or Examples
Third Supporting Paragraph
- Restate Subtopic Three
- Supporting Details or Examples
Closing or Summary Paragraph
- Synthesis and conclusion of the thesis
- Rephrasing main topic and subtopics.
Write the essay!
Think small; build the full essay gradually.
Divide your essay into sections and develop each piece separately and incrementally.
The Introductory Paragraph
- The opening paragraph sets the tone
It not only introduces the topic, but where you are going with it (the thesis). If you do a good job in the opening, you will draw your reader into your "experience." Put effort up front, and you will reap rewards.
- Write in the active voice
It is much more powerful. Do that for each sentence in the introductory essay. Unless you are writing a personal narrative, do not use the pronoun "I."
- Varying sentence structure
Review to avoid the same dull pattern of always starting with the subject of the sentence.
- Brainstorm to find the best supporting ideas
The best supporting ideas are the ones about which you have some knowledge. If you do not know about them, you cannot do a good job writing about them. Don't weaken the essay with ineffective argument.
- Practice writing introductory paragraphs on various topics
Even if you do not use them, they can be compared with the type of writing you are doing now. It is rewarding to see a pattern of progress.
- Write a transition to establish the sub-topic
Each paragraph has to flow, one to the next.
- Write the topic sentence
The transition can be included in the topic sentence.
- Supporting ideas, examples, details must be specific to the sub-topic
The tendency in supporting paragraphs is to put in just about anything.
Avoid this: the work you have made above with details and examples will help you keep focused.
- Vary sentence structure
Avoid repetitious pronouns and lists
Avoid beginning sentences the same way (subject + verb + direct object).
The Ending or Summary Paragraph
This is a difficult paragraph to write effectively.
You cannot assume that the reader sees your point
- Restate the introductory thesis/paragraph with originality
Do not simply copy the first paragraph
- Summarize your argument with some degree of authority
this paragraph should leave your reader with no doubt as to your position or conclusion of logic
- Be powerful as this is the last thought that you are leaving with the reader.
Edit and revise your essay
Check your spelling and grammar
Subjects and verbs agree, and verb tenses are consistent
Examine your whole essay for logic
Thought builds and flows?
Avoid gaps in logic, or too much detail.
Review individual sentences
- Use active verbs to be more descriptive
Avoid passive constructions and the verb "to be"
- Use transitional words and phrases
Avoid sentences beginning with pronouns, constructions as "There are....,"
Example: "There is a need to proofread all works" becomes "Proofreading is a must."
- Be concise
though vary the length and structure of sentences
Ask a knowledgeable friend to review and comment on your essay
and to repeat back what you are trying to say. You may be surprised.