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How to Write an Essay for a College Placement Exam


When just beginning or transferring to a college, students may be required to take a college placement exam that includes math, reading and writing tests. As part of the writing exam, students are expected to write an argumentative essay that states a clear position and provides analysis and evidence. The exam is rated and evaluated by faculty members at the college, and the scores determine into which level English course each student is placed.

Prewriting

Most college placement essays require students to read a set of circumstances and formulate an argument based on those circumstances. Often the prompts for college placement exams involve community- and school-related issues. Once you have carefully read and understood the prompt, decide which position you will take in your essay. Then take a few minutes to plan the basic structure, or outline, of the essay before you write it. Begin by writing a clear thesis statement -- a single sentence that sums up the main point of your entire essay. Then jot down and plan the order of the main supporting point and evidence you will present in the essay.

Writing the Essay

Typically, the essay portion of a college placement exam should be structured in a five-paragraph format consisting of an introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion. The thesis statement should be placed in the introduction and all subsequent information should directly support -- with explanation, analysis and specific examples -- the thesis statement. For example, if you are arguing that school days should be lengthened for public schools, you can support your claim with the following reasons: working parents will benefit from having their children stay longer in school, students will have fewer opportunities to get into trouble and students will be better prepared for college as a result of the additional schooling. Make certain as you write that each body paragraph's central idea is distinct from the others while still proving the thesis statement.

Reviewing

Part of the score of the college placement essay is determined by grammar, spelling and clarity of structure. Once you have completed the essay, take a few minutes to carefully read through it and proofread the text for errors. Reviewing the essay before you submit it also provides you the opportunity to develop or clarify the sub-arguments. Take time to read through and polish the essay to improve your chances of earning a higher score.

Time Management

A key strategy in the college placement exam essay is to take full advantage of all the time that is allotted. By managing your time wisely, you can allow sufficient time to plan, compose and proofread the essay before you submit it. Typically, each student is allowed 60 to 90 minutes to read the prompt, as well as to plan, write and review the essay. Keep your eye on the clock and allot at least 5 to 10 minutes at the start and the end of the allotted time to properly complete your pre- and post-writing.

About the Author

Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.

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