Essay Writing for Standardized Tests: Tips for Writing a Five Paragraph Essay
Most, if not all, high school and college standardized tests include a writing portion. Students are provided a writing prompt and must then write an essay on the topic. Writing for standardized tests can strike fear in the hearts and minds of students of all ages, but it doesn’t have to. If you know what to expect and understand how to write a five paragraph essay, you will be prepared to tackle any essay writing prompt.
Types of Essays on Standardized Tests
When you begin to write your essay for a standardized test, you must first decide what type of essay you are being asked to write. There are many different types of essays, including narrative, expository, argumentative, persuasive, comparative, literary, and so on. The type of essay will determine your topic and thesis. Essays for standardized tests are typically either persuasive, in which you will answer a question, or literary, in which you will write about something you read.
For standardized tests, students usually have to write a five paragraph essay, which should be 500 to 800 words long and include an introductory paragraph, three supporting paragraphs and a concluding paragraph.
The First Paragraph: The Introduction
The first paragraph will introduce your topic. The introduction is the most important paragraph because it provides direction for the entire essay. It also sets the tone, and you want to grab the reader’s attention with interest and clarity. The best way to tackle the introduction is to:
- Describe your main idea, or what the essay is about, in one sentence. You can usually use the essay writing prompt or question to form this sentence.
- Develop a thesis statement, or what you want to say about the main idea. When the writing prompt is a question, your thesis is typically the answer to the question.
- List three points or arguments that support your thesis in order of importance (one sentence for each).
Voila! You’ve just written your introductory paragraph.
The Second, Third and Fourth Paragraphs: Supporting Details
These three paragraphs form the body of the essay. They provide details, such as facts, quotes, examples and concrete statistics, for the three points in your introductory paragraph that support your thesis. Take the points you listed in your introduction and discuss each in one body paragraph. Here’s how:
- First, write a topic sentence that summarizes your point. This is the first sentence of your paragraph.
- Next, write your argument, or why you feel the topic sentence is true.
- Finally, present your evidence (facts, quotes, examples, and statistics) to support your argument.
Now you have a body paragraph. Repeat for points two and three. The best part about introducing your main points in the first paragraph is that it provides an outline for your body paragraphs and eliminates the need to write in transitions between paragraphs.
The Fifth Paragraph: The Conclusion
The concluding paragraph must summarize the essay. This is often the most difficult paragraph to write. In your conclusion, you should restate the thesis and connect it with the body of the essay in a sentence that explains how each point supports the thesis. Your final sentence should uphold your main idea in a clear and compelling manner. Be sure you do not present any new information in the conclusion.
When writing an essay for a standardized test, outline your essay and get through each paragraph as quickly as possible. Think of it as a rough draft. When your time is up, a complete essay will score more points than an incomplete essay because the evaluator is expecting a beginning, middle and an end.
If you have time to review your essay before your time is up, by all means do so! Make any revisions that you think will enhance your “rough draft” and be sure to check for any grammatical errors or misspellings.
Online instruction like the Time4Writing essay writing courses for elementary, middle and high school students can help children prepare for state and college-entrance standardized writing tests. These interactive writing classes build basic writing skills, explain essay types and structure, and teach students how to organize their ideas.
For general tips on test preparation and details about each state’s standardized tests, please visit our standardized test overview page.
As a rule, you’ll write your essay in three main parts. First, you’ll introduce your topic to your reader. Next, you will have body text in which you discuss the topic in more detail, and finally, you’ll have a conclusion that tells your reader what you were able to see after looking into the facts or thinking through the topic.
In its simplest form, an essay can consist of three paragraphs with one paragraph being devoted to each section. Proponents of the five paragraph essay say that the body text should consist of three paragraphs, but in reality, it’s fine to write more or fewer paragraphs in this section.
Guessing How Many Paragraphs Before You Begin
This is a rule of thumb, which means it won’t always work quite that way, but it’s handy all the same. In academic work, your paragraphs are likely to be a bit longer than most of the ones you see in this blog post. On average, there are usually 100 to 200 words in a paragraph. So if you’d like a guesstimate, you can assume that a 1,000-word essay will have between five and ten paragraphs.
What Points Do You Have to Cover?
Another, less limiting and more accurate way to work out how many paragraphs you need to cover your topic is to look at the main points you have to cover in the body text. A paragraph contains all the ideas that support or explain a single concept.
When you are planning your essay, you will think of or research the main elements that are needed in the body text. It would be safe to assume you need at least one paragraph for each of these. Of course, if there is a lot of information to cover in order to explore each area, you may need more.
For example, if you are writing an essay on childhood development and exposure to technology, you will want to look into the physical, psychological and cognitive developmental effects of tech on kids. When you research this topic, you will find that there are contrasting points of view and researchers have identified several physical, developmental, and psychological effects of technology use in children.
Assuming five psychological effects have been identified, you can assume you’ll need to write five paragraphs if you are going to write a relatively in-depth essay. But if both those who say technology is bad for kids and those who say it can be good have done a great deal of work on the sub-topic, you might want to make that ten paragraphs so that you can cover both sides of the argument and look into how earlier authors reached their conclusions.
Of course, if you have been set a relatively short word limit, you may not be able to go in-depth at all, in which case a paragraph for each of the main sub-topics (psychology, physical development, and cognitive development) will likely be adequate.
Essay Content Is More Important Than the Number of Paragraphs
Ultimately, your essay will be evaluated on the information you present, not on the number of paragraphs in the essay. Early in your academic life, teachers and lecturers may give you both a structure for your essay and a guideline on how long each part of the essay should be. I have seen essay instructions say how many marks are allocated for each section, and my trick is to take the total word count and allocate a percentage of words to each section based on the percentage of marks you can get for it. After all, if the teacher is allocating 80 marks for content in total and you can see 50% of the mark relates to a certain part of the essay, then 50% of your essay’s words should be devoted to that section.
Sometimes, you’ll just be given a topic and told to air your opinion. This gives you more freedom, but it’s a tad more difficult. The research will show you how many angles you should look at, and it’ll help you to find information that both supports and contradicts your point of view. To make a strong argument, you need to look at both supporting and contradictory information.
To avoid getting tangled up in one aspect of the discussion, you’ll have to decide how long it should be. If it’s the most important aspect informing your conclusion, you can spend a little more time (and words) on that particular point. It could run into several paragraphs rather than just one or two.
Always Remember the Purpose of Paragraphs
Paragraphs structure information into sub-topics, and they make your work easier to read and understand thanks to the structure they provide. With careful advance planning, you’ll be able to work out more or less how many paragraphs you need to complete your essay.
How many paragraphs is…
For those looking for a general rule-of-thumb, below are some estimates on the number of paragraphs there would be in an essay of different lengths based on an average length of 150 words per paragraph. Of course, the number of paragraphs for your essay will depend on many different factors. You can use the following information for a general reference, but don’t take these numbers as literal..
Basic Essay Word to Paragraphs Conversions
- A 100 word essay is 3 paragraph. (minimum for an essay)
- A 200 word essay is 3 paragraphs. (minimum for an essay)
- A 250 word essay is 3 paragraphs. (minimum for an essay)
- A 300 word essay is 3 paragraphs. (minimum for an essay)
- A 400 word essay is 3 paragraphs. (minimum for an essay)
- A 500 word essay is 3 to 4 paragraphs.
- A 600 word essay is 4 paragraphs.
- A 700 word essay is 4 to 5 paragraphs.
- A 750 word essay is 5 paragraphs.
- A 800 word essay is 5 to 6 paragraphs.
- A 900 word essay is 6 paragraphs.
- A 1,000 word essay is 6 to 7 paragraphs.
- A 1,250 word essay is 8 to 9 paragraphs.
- A 1,500 word essay is 10 paragraphs.
- A 1,750 word essay is 11 to 12 paragraphs.
- A 2,000 word essay is 13 to 14 paragraphs.
- A 2,500 word essay is 16 to 17 paragraphs.
- A 3,000 word essay is 20 paragraphs.
- A 4,000 word essay is 26 to 27 paragraphs.
- A 5,000 word essay is 33 to 34 paragraphs.
- A 6,000 word essay is 40 paragraphs.
- A 7,000 word essay is 46 to 37 paragraphs.
- A 7,500 word essay is 50 paragraphs.
- A 8,000 word essay is 53 to 54 paragraphs.
- A 9,000 word essay is 60 paragraphs.
- A 10,000 word essay is 66 to 67 paragraphs.