Writing - Outlining the Essay for CBEST Exam Study Guide

Updated on Mar 29, 2011

You will be required to write two essays during your test time. One essay may be a persuasive essay, and the other a narrative. The persuasive essay question will ask your opinion, usually on a current or well-known issue. You will need to convince the reader of your side of the issue. The narrative essay question will often concern a person or event in your life that has influenced you in some way. You will need to communicate your experience to the reader in such a way that the reader will be able to understand and appreciate your experience. The evaluators are not concerned about whether or not the facts are correct—they are solely judging your writing ability.

Unlike math, writing is flexible. There are many different ways to convey the same meaning. You can pass the test with any logical arrangement of paragraphs and ideas that are "clearly communicated." Most CBEST and English instructors recommend a five-paragraph essay, which is a standard formula. The five-paragraph essay assures that your ideas are logically and effectively arranged, and gives you a chance to develop three complete ideas. The longer and richer your essay, the better rating it will receive.

The first step in achieving such an essay is to come up with a plan or outline. You should spend the first four or five of the 30 minutes allowed in organizing your essay. This first writing lesson will show you how. The rest of the writing lessons will show you where to go from there.

Outlining the Persuasive Essay

Following are some tips on how to use your first four or five minutes in planning a persuasive essay, based on an essay topic similar to the one found in the diagnostic exam in Chapter 3.

Sample Persuasive Essay Question

  1. In your opinion, should public schools require students to wear uniforms?
Minute 1

During the first minute, read the question carefully and choose your side of the issue. If there is a side of the issue you are passionate about, the choice will be easy. If you know very little about a subject and do not have an opinion, just choose a side. The test scorers don't base their evaluation on which side you take.

Minutes 2 and 3

Quickly think up and answer questions that apply to your topic. These questions can be adapted to either side of the argument. Jot down your ideas in a place on your test booklet that will be easily accessible as you write. Examples of how you might do this for the topic of school uniforms are provided here.

  1. Do you know anyone who might feel strongly about the subject?
      parents of school-age children, children, uniform companies, local children's clothing shops
  2. What reasons might parents give for feeling the way they do?
      Pro: Parents will not have to worry about what school clothing to buy for their children. Children will not feel peer pressure to dress a certain way. Lower income children will not feel that their clothing is shabbier or less fashionable than that of the more affluent children. Uniform companies and fabric shops will receive more business.
      Con: Parents will not be able to dress their children creatively for school. Children will not have the opportunity to learn to dress and match their clothes very often. They will not be able to show off or talk about their new clothes. Clothing shops will lose money, which may be bad for the economy of the town. (Note that you can make a case for parents and children either way.)
  3. If your side won the argument, who would benefit?
      Uniforms may help keep discipline in the school. Lack of uniforms help children learn to make choices. And there are many other examples, on both sides.
  4. If the opposing side won, who would be hurt?
      Use the arguments from the opposite side and turn them around.
  5. How much will it cost and who will pay? How will your side save money and the opposing side cost money?
      Look at some of the pros and cons under number 2 for some answers here.
  6. Who might be an expert on the subject?
      In this case, a teacher or school principal or a professor of education would make a good expert. It is helpful to quote at least one expert to show you know how to use quotation marks. You may make up the quote and the expert's name.
  7. What might happen in your city, state, country and in the world should your side win? If your side was the law, what good might happen next and why? If the opposite side was the law, what bad might happen and why?
      Here you take your pros and cons and extend them to the larger community. For instance, will imposing school uniforms lead to greater conformity among children? Is that a good or a bad thing?
  8. How does your side affect, for the better, other current issues your readers might be passionate about; e.g., the environment, freedom of speech, and so on?
      Will requiring uniforms preserve natural resources, since children will buy fewer clothes? Does requiring uniforms hinder children's (or parents') freedom of expression?
  9. Should your side win, what senses—taste, smell, sight, touch, sound, and feelings—might be affected?
      Think about the sight of hundreds of identically clad children versus that of hundreds of children in varied clothing, the feel of uniform fabric versus denim and T-shirts…or whatever fits your topic. If you can appeal to the five senses, you will have a more persuasive essay.
Minutes 4 and 5

Minutes 4 and 5 When you have finished, organize your notes into three subtopics. You may have three groups of people the proposal would affect. Under each, you would later write how each is affected, whether any of the groups would have to pay, and any other consequences. Alternately, you could have three topics such as local, state, and world that you can incorporate all your ideas into.

By the way, your essay doesn't absolutely have to have only three body paragraphs, though it shouldn't have fewer than three. Three is a good, solid number of main points to start with, so start practicing with three right from the start. You wouldn't want to be in the middle of your fourth body paragraph when time runs out.

For a persuasive essay, you should usually progress from your weakest point to your strongest one. If you were organizing, for example, under three groups of people, you might want to put the businesspeople first, parents second, and children last. It is easier for readers to be more passionate about children than about businesspeople. However, this is only one example. It could be that your businesspeople reasons affect the world, which will include the children as well as everyone else on earth. If you had three unrelated topics such as people, money, and the environment, you should start with the least persuasive argument, and end with the one you write about most convincingly.

Hot Tips

Keep these tips in mind as you outline:

  • Make sure you stay on the topic you were given. If you write more about the environment than uniforms, you will be marked down.
  • Try to be realistic; do not exaggerate. Adopting uniforms at one school probably will not boost the global economy, have any significant impact on the national debt, eliminate sibling rivalry, or create lasting peace in the world. Instead of making such claims, you can use phrases such as become more, help to, or work towards. For example, you should not make an exaggerated claim like this: "Without uniforms, children will all become selfish." A more measured way to say the same thing is: "Without uniforms, children who take excessive pride in their looks might become even more self-centered."
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