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4 Crucial Tips for Getting a 4 on the STAAR Writing Test

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Can you write a compelling essay in 26 lines?

If you’ve ever used Twitter, you may feel confident in your abilities to write your thoughts in 280 characters. Unfortunately, you won’t be tweeting on your STAAR Writing test, which will be administered next month.

Instead, students who take the STAAR Writing test (or the English I or English II end-of-course tests) need to know the basics of essay writing -- and in most cases, expository essay writing.

Row of unlit light bulbs and one lit light bulb

Expository essay writing. What is that again?

An expository essay is a piece of writing in which someone defines an idea, concept, or process. For example, the 2016 English I STAAR prompt asks, “What is the best way to maintain a friendship?” In this case, the student would define how to maintain a friendship (process).

Scores for the STAAR Writing essays range from 1-4. The highest score a student can receive is 4. Most students, however, get either a 1 or a 2.

So how does an essay score the highly coveted 4?

Structure. Precision. Concision.

There are plenty of free samples of STAAR Writing essays on the TEA, or Texas Education Agency, website. If you read the samples, you notice a trend in the high-scoring responses.

The “4” essays include specific examples, often from literary classics or from the students’ personal experiences. The essays also don’t all follow a specific format. So there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to guarantee a perfect score. The sentences are simple. They’re complex. Ideas transition in ways that make sense.

These are all the standard elements of good writing, so to move past those basic rules, here are some crucial tips to follow:

Woman in suit holding a pen and touching her chin

Tip #1: Plan your essay with meaningful pre-writing.

A lot of students like to jump right into writing their essays, and while that excitement for sharing their thoughts should be commended, the tactic often leaves a lot of room for error.

Pre-writing, such as word bubbles and outlines, is so important for ensuring that you don’t get off track while writing your essay. Having a game plan will make it so that you can confidently make points and not feel like you need to pad out information with filler words or ideas.

Students who don’t pre-write spend part of their essays “feeling out” what they want to say. This is a problem because the restricted line limit allows no space for “clearing your throat,” or slowly coming to your point after addressing ideas that aren’t really related to the topic.

Stack of pencils and one eraser

Tip #2: Be willing to erase ideas, sentences, phrases, and/or words.

Nobody is perfect. And even with a writing game plan, you probably are going to write something in your essay that is not really necessary. Instead of thinking “once a word is on the line it stays there forever,” be open to correcting and refining your statements.

Students who write quickly and never look back are trusting that they will get all of their ideas out perfectly the first time, something which is never true for any writer, even professionals.

The key is to give yourself enough time to return and make revisions--and of course, plan well so you don’t have so many problems in the first place!

Orange and black cement truck

Tip #3: Back up ideas with concrete, diverse examples.

This tip hits on the fundamentals, but it is still worth repeating again and again. The heart and soul of essays are their examples. And the more focused and specific you make your examples, the more pleasing your writing will be.

So remember the lessons and key moments of your favorite books. Also, be okay with talking about your own circumstances.

Students who fail to score well often present several different points but never back those points up with any details. Or the details themselves are just so vague that they don’t even clarify what the student is trying to say.

Woman descending below water in a pool

Tip #4: Add depth to fewer points.

Finally, you need to recognize that more does not always equate to more, if that makes sense. Just because you have four body paragraphs or you have eight examples doesn’t mean that you are writing a great essay.

You need to choose 2-3 key points and GO DEEP with those points. Quality is always treated better than quantity.

Now practice!

Now that you know how best to tackle the STAAR Writing essay, all that’s left to do is practice. And thankfully TEA puts all the previous STAAR tests on its website for your perusal.

Get to work and hopefully seven years from now, you can say, “4 years ago!” (Catch that Abe Lincoln reference?)

If you are not sure how to approach the STAAR Writing essay (or any section of the STAAR test, for that matter), consider setting up a free consultation to address how best to prepare for the test and even strategize future tests.

For those who know they need extra help, look no further than our many services that will declutter your writing and make you confident in what you’re saying. 26 lines is a small space to make a point; we’ll help you one line at a time.


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