Tips for Writing An Essay for the THEA test. (excerpted from The Best Test Preparation for the Texas Academic Skills Program by Ellen Conner, et al) Strategies for the Writing Sample When writing your essay, this is your plan of attack: Step 1. Decide immediately what your position will be in regard to the writing topic and stick to it. Step 2. Organize your thoughts and write them on the provided scratch paper. Make sure to decide what points you will cover in your essay. You may want to jot down a brief outline of what each paragraph will include. Step 3. Develop your essay from the notes you have made. Present your position clearly and logically, making sure to provide adequate examples and/or support. Write your draft on the scratch paper. After writing your essay, this is your plan of attack: Step 1. Proofread your essay! Check every word for errors in spelling. Be sure that your sentences are concise and grammatically correct. Make any necessary revisions. Step 2. Copy the final version of your essay onto the lined pages of the Writing Sample answer sheet. Additional Tips Be sure that you have not strayed from your topic or introduced points that you have not explained. Vary your type of sentences so that your essay flows smoothly and is easy to read. Use vocabulary that suits your audience. Use formal, standard English. Avoid slang and contractions. Mention the topic regularly, but do not repeat yourself needlessly. Composing Your Essay: Using the Writing Process Writers use the writing process from start to finish to help them write a clear document. If you do not reflect on your composition in stages and make changes as you develop it, you will not see all the problems or errors in it. Do not try to write an essay just once and leave the room. Stay and look through it. Reflect upon it using the writing process in the following way. The writing process has several steps: (1) Prewriting or Planning time, (2) Rough Drafting, (3) Organizing and Revising the ideas (not the words and sentences themselves), (4) Polishing and Editing (making sure sentences themselves are sentences, that the words you use are the right words, and that the spelling and punctuation are correct), and (5) Proofreading to make sure no little mistakes are left. Using this process does not mean that you have to write five drafts. Write one draft (stages 1 and 2), leaving space for corrections (e.g., writing on every other line), and then working on the existing draft through the rest of the stages (3 through 5). If time allows, you may want to do the whole process on scratch paper and then copy the finished product onto the allotted test paper. But if you do copy it, make sure you proofread your copy to see if while transcribing it, you left anything out, wrote a word twice, or made any other errors. Out of the four hours in which you have to take the THEA, set aside 60 minutes for your writing sample. You might allocate your time for the five writing steps in this manner: 1. Prewriting, Planning: 5 minutes 2. Rough Draft: 20 minutes 3. Organizing, checking evidence, checking “flow,” and paragraphing: 20 minutes 4. Polishing, Editing: 5-10 minutes 5. Proofreading: 5 minutes If you have more or less time, adjust this schedule proportionately. Practice this with someone timing you. CRITERIA CONSIDERED IN SCORING THE THEA WRITING TEST APPROPRIATENESS the extent to which the writer addresses the topic and uses language and style appropriate to given audience, purpose, and occasion. UNITY AND FOCUS is the clarity with which the writer states and maintains a main idea or point of view. Good focus is unifying, though provoking, and narrow enough to explore the topic in depth. is the amount, depth, and specificity of supporting detail the writer provides through the use of reasons, concrete details, specific examples, incidents or anecdotes, facts or statistics, and quotations. is the clarity of writing and logical sequence of the writer’s ideas. Transition devices can help the writer improve clarity. is the effectiveness of the writer’s sentences and the extent to which the writing is free of errors in sentence structure, such as sentence fragments, run-ons, subject-verb agreement, and wordiness. is the extent to which the writing is free of errors is the use of words and shows care and precision in word choice. is the writer’s ability to spell common words and use the conventions of capitalization and punctuation. DESCRIPTION OF THEA SCORE POINTS Score DESCRIPTION Point 4 The “4” is a well-formed writing sample that effectively communicates a whole message to a specified audience. DEVELOPMENT ORGANIZATION SENTENCE STRUCTURE USAGE MECHANICAL CONVENTIONS 2 The writer maintains unity of a developed topic throughout the writing sample and establishes a focus by clearly stating a purpose. The writer exhibits control in the development of ideas and clearly specifies supporting detail. Sentence structure is effective and free of errors. Choice of words is precise, and usage is careful. The writer shows mastery of mechanical conventions such as spelling and punctuation. The “3” response is an accurately formed writing sample that attempts to communicate a message to a specified audience. The focus and the purpose of the writing sample may be clear; however, the writer’s attempts to develop supporting details may not be fully realized. The writer’s organization of ideas may be ambiguous, incomplete, or partially ineffective. Sentence structure within paragraphs is adequate, but minor errors in sentence structure, usage, and word choice are evident. There may also be errors in the use of mechanical conventions, such as spelling and punctuation. The “2” response is a partially developed writing sample in which the characteristics of effective written communication are only partially formed. The statement of purpose is not clear, and, although a main idea or topic may be announced, focus on the main idea is not sustained. Ideas may be developed by the use of specific supporting detail, and the writer may make an effort to organize and sequence ideas, but development and organization are largely incomplete or unclear. Paragraphs contain poorly structured sentences with noticeable and distracting errors. The writer exhibits imprecision in usage and word choice and a lack of control of mechanical conventions, such as spelling and punctuation. The “1” response is an adequately formed writing sample that fails to communicate a complete message. The writer attempts to address the topic, but language and style may be inappropriate for the given audience, purpose, and/ or occasion. There is often no clear statement of a main idea and the writer’s efforts to present supporting detail are confused. Any organization that is present fails to present an effective sequence of ideas. Sentence structure is ineffective and few sentences are free of errors. Usage and word choice are imprecise. The writer makes many errors in the use of mechanical conventions, such as spelling and punctuation. The response is off topic, illegible, primarily in a language other than English, or it is not of sufficient length to score. There is no response; that is, the writing response form is blank. 1 U B Sample THEA Essay That Received a Grade of “4” Writing Assignment: A Defendant’s Criminal Record Read the passage below about providing juries with information about a defendant’s criminal record; then follow the instructions for writing your essay. Should juries be informed of a defendant’s previous criminal record? Those in favor say jurors ought to know whether a defendant has a history of criminal behavior. Opponents argue that knowing a person had committed a crime on another occasion would prejudice jurors against a defendant, making it virtually impossible to reach a verdict based only on the facts of the current case. Your purpose is to write an essay, to be read by a classroom instructor, in which you indicate whether you agree or disagree that information about a defendant’s previous criminal record should be made available to juries. Be sure to defend your position with logical arguments and appropriate examples. In today’s judicial system, it is all too common to hear of hardened criminals who enter the courtroom, are tried for violent crimes, and manage to be released without punishment. Many criminals have been in these courtrooms a number of times, and this should be taken into consideration when the jury reviews their cases. The criminal record can tell something of the defendant’s character; can determine whether or not he is following a pattern in his crime and will be a repeat offender; and can possibly give some insight as to what prompted him to commit the crime. A criminal who has been convicted more than once most likely has few regrets for the crimes he commits and has no intention of redeeming himself. He is most likely not a productive member of society and will not make an effort to become one in the near future. By examining the defendant’s criminal record, a jury could determine the criminal’s potential for rehabilitation or recidivism, and their evaluation of his character should have some impact on how they hear the case. A person who is a first-time offender should be evaluated differently than a person has repeatedly broken the law and is repeatedly convicted for his crimes. It is also important to be aware of whether or not the defendant is a repeat offender, especially in violent crimes such as rape and murder. Most convicted rapists do not rape just one person. They may be tried and convicted and serve their time, but there is a high rate of occurrence of these crimes. Often, the first thing a rapist does when he is released from prison is rape someone else. In fact, this happened to a friend of mine who was attacked by a man recently released from prison for having raped two women. Juries need to know this kind of record so that they are more severe with their judgment of these kinds of criminals, if only for the protection of their future victims. By examining a defendant’s criminal record, it may also be easier to determine why that person committed his most recent crime. These reasons may give an insight into the case that might not have otherwise been noted. For instance, a white man may have a record of harassment or assault charges against various black people. If he is involved with a gang of other white men in such crimes, the issue becomes one of racial violence, and this could be an underlying factor that may lead to other crimes. By knowing a gang member’s criminal record, for example, it is safe to make the assumption that his fellow gang members will continue these same sorts of crimes; instead of allowing them to happen, informed jurors could prevent them from happening. Knowledge of a defendant’s criminal record should be a significant factor in a juror’s mind. The purpose of the judicial system is to punish criminals and, if possible, to reform them. If one repeat offender is found innocent, it is one too many, for he will most likely be back in the courts again, wasting tax dollars that could be used for the good of the public. Sample Essay Assignments for the Writing Section of the THEA Test from the TASP Study Guide 1. Because of increased crime involving teenagers at area malls and other places of recreational activity, local city councils and many concerned citizens have recently proposed curfews, hoping to stem the tide of teen crime. Write an essay to be read by the city council and concerned citizens approving or disapproving of the proposed curfew for teenagers. People have different opinions about the personal qualities and characteristics that a candidate for the President of the United States should have. Write a persuasive essay that will be read by an English professor in which you identify some qualities or characteristics you believe are important for the candidate. Include reasons or examples to help you convince the reader that those qualities or characteristics are important. Your purpose in writing is to persuade your reader to support candidates having those characteristics and/or qualities. There is some controversy over whether or not grades actually encourage learning. Supporters of grades believe that unless students are rigorously graded, they will not learn the expected material. Opponents of grades contend that learning should be a fun process and hold that students will learn more if not pressured into learning through grading systems that sometimes provide negative feedback. For an audience of college instructors, argue for or against the grading system in this country. Your purpose is to convince your audience to agree with your point of view. Some educators have argued that an all-male or all-female environment is beneficial to learning. Others have maintained that single-sex environment is detrimental to learning. Write an essay to be read by a school board considering a policy making all school classes either single-sex or coeducational. Take one side of the argument. Support your position using examples from your own experience or observations. It is generally believed by many people today that the computer is a valuable tool in our society. The development of this machine has revolutionized the way we do business, keep records, and entertain ourselves. But some people argue that computers have serious disadvantages for our society. They maintain that we are becoming to dependent on the computer to do our work. These people argue that people are depending on computers for basic skills in math, writing, and memory. Write an essay in which you take a position on one side or the other. Be sure to state your position clearly and defend it with supporting evidence—details and examples. Your purpose is to persuade you audience, a classroom instructor, to believe your argument. Our nation is involved in debating whether or not violence on television is detrimental to viewers, especially young viewers. Those against the increased use of violence in TV programming cite recent studies that attempt to show a direct correlation between behavior in television programs and real behavior in society. Several sensational cases that deal with this issue have surfaced in the media recently. Others argue that violence 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. on television does not cause a viewer to commit a crime, engage in a risky activity, or in any way change one’s behavior. They maintain that people are responsible for their own behavior and make their own decisions on what to do and how to act. Write an essay to be read by a classroom instructor in which you argue for or against controls on the kind and amount of violence in television programming. Your purpose is to convince your reader of your point of view on this issue. 7. Should federal funds be used for abortion? President Clinton reversed the mandate of the Bush administration that no federal monies should be used to pay for an abortion for low income, needy women. White House officials announced at the end of 1993 that in some cases, such as rape or incest, federal funds may be used to provide abortions. Supporters of both sides of this issue present strong arguments for their positions. Analyze the topic and take a position for or against the federal funding of abortions. Write an essay for a government professor, 300-600 words long, in which you defend your position on this issue. Your purpose is to persuade the reader of your viewpoint. In order to do this, be sure to support your position with examples and details. One topic receiving a lot of attention in sports news is the high salaries and signing bonuses given to top athletes today. Recently, Emmitt Smith, runningback for the Dallas Cowboys football team, walked out and refused to play until his contract was renegotiated for the astounding sum of $13.6 million over a period of four years. Su7ch astronomical salary will, no doubt, be surpassed many times in the years to come as more athletes sign or renegotiate contracts. Owners defend these high salaries by saying players like these bring fans to the games and championships to the teams. But there are those who question their high salary packages and argue that no one person is worth that much money. They also point out the misdirection of a society that pays so much for athletes but so little for teachers and nurses. Should there be a limit to athletes’ salaries? Or is there justification for paying players such big amounts? Write an essay for the professor of a sociology class in which you argue for or against high salaries for professional athletes. State your position clearly and support with details and examples that will defend your viewpoint. 8.
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