Writing Essay Study Guide: Pre-GED Language Arts, Writing (page 2)
The practice quiz for this study guide can be found at:
In this article, you'll learn how to recognize the parts of an effective essay. You'll also learn how to use the basic steps of the writing process to plan and draft an effective essay in response to a given prompt.
The second section of the GED Language Arts, Writing Exam is what most people think of when they talk about the writing portion of the test. In this section, you will be given a prompt, or a question addressing a certain topic, and be asked to respond to it in the form of an essay. Most prompts are about the length of a short paragraph and are based on a very general topic, many of which ask you about yourself. Here's an example of a prompt that you might see on the GED:
If you could choose to do one thing in your life over again, what would it be? In your essay, identify what you would like to do over again. Explain why you would like to do it again and what the result might be if you were given the opportunity to do so. Use your personal experience and observations to support your essay.
This prompt is like many others on the GED in that it asks you to write about your personal experience. You don't have to know a lot about other subjects like literature, science, or current events in order to respond to the prompt; you just have to know how to write about yourself.
Don't be concerned with right or wrong answers. Because the point of the GED Writing Exam is not to test your knowledge of a topic, but rather to test how well you express ideas in writing, what you write is not as important as how you write. The goal of this chapter is to prepare you to respond to any GED prompt with a well-developed and organized essay.
What's in an Essay
In the last chapter, you learned that an essay is a short piece of nonfiction writing that presents the writer's point of view on a particular subject. Remember, short is a relative term; in this case it basically means shorter than a book. An essay can actually be as short as a paragraph or two, or as long as fifty pages. On the GED, you'll want to shoot for a four or five paragraph essay.
Every essay has three main parts: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion, also known as a beginning, middle, and end. In a five-paragraph essay, the first paragraph is the introduction, the last paragraph is the conclusion, and the three paragraphs in the middle are the body.
The introduction is the first paragraph in an essay. In a five-paragraph essay such as the one you'll be writing for the GED, the introduction is usually about three or four sentences long. It has three main purposes:
- state the main idea of the essay
- catch the reader's attention
- set the tone for the rest of the essay
Stating the Main Idea
In the previous chapter, you learned that a main idea is the main thing the writer wants the reader to know. You also learned that the main idea of a paragraph is stated in the topic sentence, and that the topic sentence is often the first sentence of the paragraph. Like a paragraph, an essay has a main idea. It is stated in a single sentence called the thesis statement, and is generally the last sentence of the introduction.
On the GED, your thesis sentence should be a clear, concise answer to the prompt. For example, a possible thesis sentence for the previous sample prompt might be as follows:
If I could do one thing in my life again, I would relive my wedding day.
This is a good thesis statement because it clearly answers the question in the prompt (If you could choose to do one thing in your life over again, what would it be?). It also presents the main idea of the essay without trying to tell the reader too much at once.
Catching the Reader's Attention
In addition to containing the thesis statement, a good introduction starts off with a couple of sentences that catch the reader's attention. Obviously, the content of these sentences will vary widely depending on your thesis statement. A possible introduction based on the sample thesis statement provided might look something like this:
What if you could live one day of your life over again? Some people might choose to relive a day in order to change something about their lives. Others might simply want a second chance to enjoy a great experience. If I could do one thing in my life again, I would relive my wedding day.
As you can see, the three sentences at the beginning of the paragraph lead into the thesis statement in a relatively engaging way. It might not be Harry Potter, but it's definitely better than the following approach:
This is my paper about the thing I would like to do over again in my life. I would like to live my wedding day over again.
The people who grade GED Writing exams read dozens, perhaps even hundreds of essays written from the same prompt. An essay with a clear, creative introduction will almost certainly earn a higher score than an introduction that merely states what the essay is supposed to be about.
Setting the Tone for the Essay
Finally, a good introduction sets the tone for the rest of the essay. Tone refers to the attitude the writer takes towards the subject and the reader. For example, your tone might be formal, informal, humorous, ironic, aggressive, or apologetic. The tone you choose depends to some extent on your purpose for writing. For example, if your purpose is to amuse the reader, your tone will be humorous.
On the GED, it is a good idea to use a formal tone. That means using standard English vocabulary and grammar, rather than casual slang such as you might use with a friend. You should strive to use complete sentences with correct grammar and punctuation, and to keep contractions (words like can't, don't, and won't) to a minimum. Using a formal tone in your writing shows respect for your readers while proving that you are able to write correctly.
To better understand the difference between formal and informal tone, take a look at the following examples. The first example is written using an informal tone. The second uses a formal tone. In both examples the thesis statement is bold so that you can easily locate it.
Example 1: You know, living your life over again would be like a dream. I guess some people would want to go back and try to change something they messed up the first time, and some people would probably just want to relive a day when they did something really cool. I would totally do my wedding day again.
Example 2: What if you could live one day of your life over again? Some people might choose to relive a day in order to change something about their lives. Others might simply want a second chance to enjoy a great experience. If I could do one thing in my life again, I would relive my wedding day.
While the first example may be a more accurate representation of how people speak, it is not an acceptable way to write an academic essay. The second paragraph uses a tone that is appropriate to academic writing. You will be expected to write using a similar tone on the GED exam.
Notice that in both introductions the thesis statement is the last sentence of the paragraph. You should strive to structure your introductions in the same way. Just as business people generally chat for a few minutes before getting down to business, a good writer strives to get the reader's attention before stating the essay's main idea.
Now you try it. Using the space below, draft and write an introduction only in response to the following prompt:
What is your favorite thing? Whether it is a gift you were given during your childhood or something you saved up for years for and bought, you probably have something that is special to you. Write about this special object and why it is important to you.
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