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.
Have you ever made an awesome chocolate cake without looking at a recipe first? Unless you are an extremely talented baker, most likely the answer is “no.” Just one cup of flour too many and your chocolate dessert will be a chocolate mess!
The same goes for writing a 5-paragraph essay. If you are an extremely talented writer, you may be able to intuitively create a compelling essay with all the components needed to be both persuasive and easy to swallow…or follow.
However, if writing doesn’t come easily to you, you can benefit from creating a 5-paragraph essay outline before jumping into your writing assignment. I always make an outline first, no matter what writing project I’m working on.
There are endless, different ways to write a compelling essay. But, if your teacher is demanding that you sum up your argument in five succinct paragraphs, follow this easy tutorial on how to create a 5-paragraph essay outline.
Structure of the 5-Paragraph Essay Outline
The 5-paragraph essay is made of…you guessed it…five paragraphs. Each paragraph serves a specific purpose:
- Paragraph 1: Amazing introduction (hook) and the all-important thesis statement
- Paragraph 2: Argument A and supporting facts or quotes
- Paragraph 3: Argument B and supporting facts or quotes
- Paragraph 4: Argument C and supporting facts or quotes
- Paragraph 5: Conclusion, made up of your restated thesis and the broader significance of your argument
Here’s how this outline would look if you sketched it out:
A Note on Formatting Your 5-Paragraph Essay Outline
Now, I’m not saying that you must put your outline into a diagram like the one above—using a simple pen and paper or word processor will suffice. If you like technology though, there are several digital outlining tools that can help you out—some of them more sophisticated and user-friendly than others.
It’s not really about making a perfect 5-paragraph essay outline, rather, it’s about developing an outline that makes the most sense to you. An outline ensures that you have the necessary components to write an awesome essay.
Without further delay, let’s jump into more detail about each of the outline components.
Step One: Identify Your Topic
First we need a topic. Typically, your instructor will give you a subject to write about, or at least parameters for a topic. Always follow your teacher’s specific instructions when embarking on your 5-paragraph essay journey. After all, you don’t want the wrath of your instructor to come down upon you for completely ignoring instructions.
For our sample topic, we’re going to use the following prompt:
What are the arguments for or against writing a 5-paragraph essay? Should teachers continue requesting this writing method from students?
Step Two: Take a Stance on Your Topic
We need to take a stance for or against teachers asking students to write 5-paragraph essays, so we can argue for or against it in our thesis statement.
Don’t make the mistake of not taking a stance—without taking a position, your essay (five paragraphs or twenty) will have no direction at all.
When deciding on your position, you have to choose one that can be backed with valid and supportable arguments, either from your research or from the course materials provided in your class.
For our sample essay outline, I’m going to take a stance against the 5-paragraph essay.
Step Three: Write a Clear Thesis Statement
Based on my chosen stance against 5-paragraph essays, my thesis statement will be “Teachers should stop teaching students to write 5-paragraph essays.”
Notice the word “should” in the thesis statement? More power can be added to your position by creating a statement about what should or shouldn’t be done. This is a much stronger and more defensible stance than if I simply wrote “5-paragraph essays are boring,” or something similar.
Step Four: Develop Three Arguments to Underscore Your Thesis
Now you need to come up with three arguments that will back your thesis statement. Here are mine:
The 5-paragraph essay is too basic.
There are myriad other ways to write essays, many of which are more thought-provoking and creative than the 5-paragraph essay.
The 5-paragraph essay does not allow for analytical thinking, rather, it confines students to following a restrictive formula
Step Five: Develop Three Supports for Each of Your Arguments
Your evidence, or supports, should include facts, quotes, and data that substantiate your thesis. This is a great place to include quotes directly from your research sources.
For example, to support argument A (“The 5-paragraph essay is too basic”), I might offer the following evidence:
Similarly, in regards to argument C (“The 5-paragraph essay does not allow for analytical thinking, rather, it confines students to following a restrictive formula”), I might support it with this quote:
- Support 1C: According to an article in Education Week, “There is a consensus among college writing professors that ‘students are coming [to college] prepared to do five-paragraph themes and arguments but [are] radically unprepared in thinking analytically.’”
Remember, for the 5-paragraph essay structure, you typically need to come up with three supports for each of your three arguments. In our example, I only show three of the total nine supports needed to round out the argument.
Step Six: Develop Your Intro Hook
Once you have your thesis and arguments sorted, you can work on developing your introduction. (*Hint* it’s an exercise in futility to develop your introduction first, because you won’t really know what you’re introducing yet.)
Your intro should start with an interesting “hook” that will draw the reader into your paper.
For example, my hook could be, “English teachers across the nation have been teaching students to become ineffective writers.” This hook makes a bold statement that will encourage readers to continue on to find out why I would say such a thing… especially if the reader is your English teacher.
Step Seven: Develop Your Conclusion
After you have your paper outlined, figuring out a concluding paragraph should be a breeze. In a traditional 5-paragraph essay, the first step in writing your conclusion is to restate your thesis using different words.
For example, I might write, “The 5-paragraph essay is an outdated and useless writing tool that should be phased out of the classroom.”
To close out the paper, I would open a discussion on the broader significance of this argument. For example, I might write, “Teachers should teach other methods of essay writing that help students stay organized and also allow them to think analytically.”
Now that you’ve established all the components of your 5-paragraph essay outline, you’ll need to actually sit down, avoid social media for a while (I know, it’s hard), and write your 5-paragraph essay. Believe me, it will be much easier to do now that your thoughts are organized and you have somewhere to start.
Ask any writer. There is nothing more frightening than the pure white of an empty page. An outline is a great remedy for this.
Oh, and a couple more things:
As you start writing, you’ll want to be sure to connect all the pieces of your essay together with strong transition sentences. Don’t just line up the notes from your outline and call it done.
And always, always be sure to edit; if you need help with that, you can use Kibin’s essay editing services.
Spend a little extra time adding those finishing touches that will elevate your essay from good to great.
How about you? Do you work from an outline? Or are you more accustomed to writing by the seat of your pants? Let us know in the comments.
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