Basic 5-Paragraph Essay

One of the most often overlooked portions of the Basic Skills Test is the essay portion. In this section, candidates are required to write a response to a specified topic. In other words, a basic 5-paragraph argumentative essay. Candidates are scored on their ability to express, organize, and support opinions and ideas.

Essays are scored based on four main concepts:

To help make this a little easier to understand, Dr. Todd DeStigter, Advisor in the English Education program at UIC, prepared these tips and wrote the essay following.

The kind of essay they're looking for is a pretty straightforward (though slightly shorter) version of the traditional five-paragraph theme. The best thing to do would be to make sure that your essays include these things:

  1. A clearly stated thesis at the end of the first paragraph.
  2. Two or three "body" paragraphs. These body paragraphs should each have a transition (i.e. "One reason. . . "; A second example of . . . "; etc.), a clear "topic sentence," and evidence/illustrations/examples that support the topic sentence.
  3. A reference to (and refutation of) the opposing argument.
  4. A concluding paragraph that restates the thesis in slightly different words.

Allow me to demonstrate:

"Can't Bear It" by Todd DeStigter

College is a time for new experiences, and one such experience might be to get a pet that your parents would never allow you to have at home. Although it may seem like a fun and adventuresome choice, one that will impress your peers and professors, it is a bad idea to try to keep a bear as an apartment pet.

One reason it is bad to have a bear as an apartment pet is that bears take up too much space. Bears need a large area in which to roam and forage for berries, and they prefer to sleep without anyone else nearby. Further, bears have been known to become depressed if they live too sedentary a lifestyle, so it is important that they have plenty of room to exercise. This kind of space, however, is rarely available in a college apartment, which are usually crowed with old couches, stereo components, and inflatable plants.

Another reason bears make bad apartment pets is that they are noisy. Unlike their cousin, the sloth, bears make a wide and annoying variety of sounds. They scratch the furniture, kick over garbage cans, stumble into walls , and roar at the top of their lungs in the middle of the night. To be sure, some might argue that this is no different from a typical fraternity member. The difference, however, is that one can complain about a fraternity brother to the cops or the landlord, but there is no such recourse in dealing with loud bears. In fact, making such a complaint might just get your bear taken away from you.

Thus, while college does indeed present young adults with a great many choices, one choice students should make is not to have a bear as an apartment pet. Some day, when a student has a home with a big back yard, a sturdy fence, and several children, the bear might be an excellent option. Until then, a goldfish is a more viable alternative.

THE END (330 words)

Now, of course the only place you'll ever find this kind of highly artificial and formulaic writing is in school or on tests. Still, remember that the scorers of these essays are sitting there reading essentially the same essay for countless hours, so any essay that sticks to this formula is reader-friendly to them.

Special thanks to Dr DeStigter for helping us with this information

Written responses are graded on a 6-point scale, with 6 being the highest score. Each essay is graded by two people, with the sum of their combined scores being the candidate's total score for the written portion of the test. Any pair of scores that differ by more than one point will be labeled as a discrepancy and a third person will read the test. Candidates must receive a score of 5 or more (out of 12) to pass the essay portion of the test.

For more information, refer to the study guide available online at

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