Steps to a Strong Essay for Praxis I: Pre-Professional Skills Test Study Guide (page 2)
The prewriting—or planning—process is essential to developing a clear, organized essay. Because of the time limit, you may be tempted to skip the prewriting stage. However, the 5–10 minutes that you spend planning will be worth it. Prewriting consists of some quick, basic steps: carefully reading and understanding the writing prompt, formulating a thesis, brainstorming for examples that will support your thesis, and drafting an outline or basic structure for your essay.
Step 1—Create a Clear Thesis
To begin, carefully read the statement presented in the writing prompt. Make sure that you fully understand it. Then, decide what your position is: Do you agree or disagree with the statement? Consider to what extent you agree or disagree with the position: Are you in 100% agreement or do you only partly agree with the statement? Your answer to these questions will make up the main idea or thesis of your essay. It will form the foundation of your essay and will determine what kind of support, or examples, you will provide.
A strong thesis does not merely repeat or rephrase the question or prompt. It does not state how others might respond to it. Rather, it presents your point of view.
A thesis statement should:
- answer the question given in the writing prompt
- tell the reader what your subject is
- inform the reader what you think and feel about the subject
- use clear, active language
Don't waste time making your thesis statement a masterpiece. You will be able to grab the reader's attention by clearly stating your purpose in simple words
Consider the following prompt:
"Focusing on fashion and clothes can distract students from learning. School uniforms should be mandatory for all high-school students."
Discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with this opinion. Support your views with specific reasons and examples from your own experience, observations, or reading.
The following sentences are not thesis statements:
- Many private schools already require school uniforms.
- Some students prefer school uniforms, while others detest them.
- Why do schools use uniforms?
The following are thesis statements; they relate directly to the prompt:
- School uniforms discourage high-school students from learning responsibility and developing individuality.
- School uniforms are effective in creating a positive learning environment.
Remember that you can also impose some conditions on your answer. For example, if you disagree with mandatory school uniforms, you can still qualify your answer: "I disagree that students should be required to wear school uniforms, but I believe a dress code helps create an effective learning atmosphere."
Step 2—Brainstorm for Ideas
Your answer to the question in the writing prompt will form the argument that you present in your essay. Once you have decided what your position will be, you will begin to brainstorm—think up ideas—that support your thesis. For your PPST essay, try to generate about three to five reasons that back up your main idea.
Brainstorming is a prewriting process in which you imagine or write down any ideas that come to mind. To brainstorm effectively, do not judge your ideas initially—simply put them down on paper. If you are stuck for ideas, try these brainstorming strategies:
- Try the freewriting technique in which you write nonstop for two minutes. Keep your pen to paper and your hand moving. Doubtlessly, your ideas will emerge.
- List as many ideas as you can. Don't edit for grammar or structure; just write down whatever comes to mind.
- Now get selective. Choose three to five of your strongest ideas for your essay.
For example, here's how you might brainstorm supporting ideas for the writing prompt mentioned earlier:
Thesis: Mandatory school uniforms are not effective tools for creating a positive, learning environment.
- Uniforms don't give students the opportunity to make choices.
- Uniforms send a message to students that they cannot be trusted.
- Students find distractions in class even when they are wearing uniforms.
- Teenage years are a time of self-exploration.
- Learning isn't only something you read in a book—it's about finding out who you are.
- Students need to learn about making good choices.
- Personal experience—In my parochial high school, kids wore uniforms.
- Lack of trust—We couldn't be trusted to do even a simple thing like dressing ourselves.
- Found other ways to rebel—smoking, wearing makeup, dyeing our hair to attract attention
- Distractions in class other than clothes—note writing, gossip, cell phones
- Self-exploration—Clothes let teens try on different identities (sporty, punk, artistic).
- Learning about good choices—Introduce a forum for students where they can talk about making choices? Encourage kids to talk about how they present themselves when they wear different clothes; talk about choices teens make that can be dangerous; talk about choices adults face.
Step 3—Outline Your Essay
To make sure that your essay is well developed and organized, draft an outline. An outline will help you put your ideas into a logical order and identify any gaps in your supporting details. Essays follow a basic three-part structure:
- Introduction: Present your position to your readers. State your thesis.
- Body: Provide specific support for your thesis.
- Conclusion: Bring closure to your essay and restate your thesis.
Your PPST essay should follow this basic structure, too. Because the essay is short, plan on writing about five paragraphs, listing one point on your outline for each paragraph. The body of your essay will be broken down into three supporting ideas:
- Body: support 1
- Body: support 2
- Body: support 3
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