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.
Tips for Students: Writing 4 Paragraph Essay Outline
If you are tasked with writing a four paragraph essay and you need to figure out a place to start why not start with the outline? The outline is a key component to writing any type of paper and figuring out how to structure your argument using an outline can save you quite a bit of time when it comes to writing the final draft.
When you are writing a four paragraph outline you will have either:
- Four paragraphs total to your essay which means one for the introduction and one for the conclusion with two paragraphs to make up the body of your text or
- Four paragraphs in the body of your paper alone with an additional paragraph for the introduction and one for the conclusion.
In any case your goal with the outline is to construct a rudimentary map of what your paper will look like. Your goal is to draft a quick summary of the paper including the main points you will present and the evidence you will use to support that point.
When you are writing an outline for your four paragraph essay you can use either bullet points or full sentences.
The bullet point outline consists of the heading and the subheadings. So for each paragraph you have a heading. Beneath the heading you would list the arguments you plan to make or the topic you plan to cover with all of the supporting evidence. These are listed in short bullet form and are often fragmented thoughts.
The full sentence outline consists of the headings and subheadings too. So for every paragraph you would have a heading. Beneath the headings you would write the arguments you are going to make or the topics you are going to cover with all supporting evidence. But the difference is that you write it out in a coherent sentence rather than in a fragmented sentence or thought. In this case the majority of your writing is done for you because you have the bulk of your material in the outline.
No matter which style you select your outline should be coherent enough that from it you can craft an excellent paper. You can of course play around with different styles and formats until you find something that works for you. There is no right or wrong way to draft your outline so do not worry about limiting yourself.