Tips for Tackling the STAAR Persuasive Essay
The clock is ticking and your hand is cramping. You have limited time and space to convince your reader of your opinion. No, you aren’t arguing in your BFF group text—You’re writing your STAAR persuasive essay!
Previously on our B2A Blog, we’ve given you guidance on how to tackle State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) expository essays. But what about persuasive essays? Preparing for these English II-level STAAR writing tests will also help you prepare for similar timed writing tests in the future, such as in-class assignments and the SAT or ACT Essay.
Building a tight skillset to effectively produce a persuasive five-paragraph essay will serve you throughout high school. Given that the STAAR essay only allows you to fill one 26-line page, you can even condense this down to four paragraphs: an intro, two strong body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Given the multifaceted purpose of the STAAR persuasive essay, an efficient essay that features arguments and nuance will be the winning combination.
So, how do you follow this formula successfully and score that perfect 4 on the STAAR written composition? Luckily, most of our tips for the STAAR expository essay still apply to the persuasive essay: You’ll want to pre-write (brainstorm and draft an outline), edit as you go and upon re-reading your work, and have solid supporting examples and go in-depth with them.
But what does that look like for the persuasive essays? All STAAR essays are graded on the same three domains: Organization/Progression, Development of Ideas, and Use of Language/Conventions. However, the details within this rubric are a bit different for argumentative essays.
STAAR Persuasive Essay: Development of Ideas
To get a coveted 4 in this domain, your development of ideas will need to be “highly effective.” This means your argument will need to be compelling and your reader will need to be convinced by your well-chosen and specific reasons and evidence. Your essay will also need to be “thoughtful and engaging.”
What the graders are also looking for here is nuance. They want to see you not only support your argument with sound reasoning, but also acknowledge the complexity of the issue, consider opposing perspectives, integrate your own unique experiences, or connect ideas in a fresh or interesting way.
You can achieve this by integrating one (or more!) of these aspects into your two body paragraphs, or even by creating a third body paragraph for this purpose. But how do you decide what goes into a body paragraph? Let’s find out!
How to Decide What Goes into a Body Paragraph
The very first thing you need to do after carefully reading the prompt is brainstorm. Think about the complex issue presented. Brainstorm arguments both FOR and AGAINST the issue.
Then, write out the logical reasoning behind each argument. Which side do you feel you can best argue? This will be your position, which you will make clear in your thesis. Which ideas can you expand upon most? Each reason will correspond to a body paragraph in your essay, so you’ll want to pick the two for which you can articulate the strongest support. Think about which idea (or both!) could work to highlight the nuance we mentioned above: acknowledging a counter argument or the issue’s complexity, relating to your own experiences, or presenting an unconventional take.
Now that you’ve honed in on your choices, let’s get into where to present them in your essay.
STAAR Persuasive Essay: Organization/Progression
In order to get full marks in Organization/Progression on the persuasive essay, you’ll need to focus on two aspects: structure and flow.
Structure: by organizing your essay in a clear and logical way (i.e., by following the four- or five-paragraph essay formula), your grader will be able to clearly understand your position, follow your ideas, and easily digest your supporting details.
Flow: by following a straightforward structure and utilizing meaningful transitions, you’ll be able to maintain focus throughout your essay and cohesion in your points—achievements your grader will notice and appreciate.
So, how do we do this?
Your introductory paragraph serves two key purposes: to introduce the topic and to assert your position clearly. You’ll want to open with what we call a “hook.” Pull the reader in by asking them a big picture question that will make them consider the issue.
For example, if the prompt ends with “Should schools require students to wear uniforms?” and you’re arguing against them due to their limitations on expression, your hook might be, “Have you ever struggled to stand out?”
Then, provide context. What is the issue articulated in the prompt? Explain the background, then hone in on your thesis. To write your thesis, you’ll want to turn the position question into a statement, ending it with your answer incorporating your main supporting points.
For our school uniform example, your thesis could be this: “Schools should not require students to wear uniforms because it restricts developmentally necessary personal expression and does not meaningfully curb bullying.”
As we mentioned, your body paragraphs will be where you individually articulate and support your main points mentioned in your thesis. Each body paragraph should start with a topic sentence that clearly states your point (and, if possible, provides meaningful transition from the previous paragraph).
Then, provide one to three sentences supporting your point. (Why do uniforms stifle expression? Why does that matter?) Finally, finish each body paragraph with a concluding sentence, reiterating your point and connecting it back to your thesis.
Using the uniform example, you could say this as your concluding sentence: "Because of their critical limitations on personal expression, youth should not be mandated to wear school uniforms."
One way to satisfy the “nuance” requirement is to have a body paragraph that features a counter argument. The purpose of this is to show that you understand there are other sides to the issue AND that you can refute them with your sound logic.
In our uniform example, your counter-argument paragraph could first say, “While they acknowledge that uniforms prevent self-expression, proponents claim that these strict dress codes reduce bullying. However, …” Once you’ve articulated your arguments against that claim, you’d similarly connect your point back to your thesis: uniforms don’t prevent bullying, and thus should not be mandated.
Your conclusion can and should be concise; it will likely be your shortest paragraph. First, reiterate your thesis statement. You don’t want to repeat it word-for-word; paraphrase your point and vary your sentence structure. Then, you’ll want to remind the reader of your supporting details and nuance, call them to action, and conclude with a succinct remark that helps remind the reader why your argument matters. Ideally, this will connect back to your hook.
For our school uniforms example, you may end your essay with a reminder that students don’t just go to school to learn, but to grow as people—and learning how to express themselves is a key part of that.
STAAR Persuasive Essay: Use of Language/Conventions
Finally, something you’ll want to make sure you’re doing all along in your essay is choosing your words purposefully and precisely. Vary your sentence structure, adeptly use strong vocab words, and maintain an appropriate tone. Mind your grammar and spelling; minor errors may be overlooked, but anything distracting from the essay’s flow or clarity will cost you. This is where re-reading your work comes in handy.
Always go back and read (Don’t skim! Read “out loud” in your head.) your entire essay, micro-editing as you go. Once you’ve verified you’ve checked all the boxes and have finished polishing—congrats! You’ve conquered the STAAR persuasive essay.
Want personalized guidance on how to approach the STAAR essays (or any section of the STAAR test)? Contact us for a free consultation. We’ll connect you with a tutor to help you address how best to prepare for these state exams and even strategize for the future.
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Translated by Nikki Qiao
然后，写出每个论点背后的逻辑推理。 你认为哪一方最能胜辩呢？ 这将是你的立场，你将在论文中阐明。 你可以扩展哪些想法？ 每个理由都与你论文中的正文段落相对应，所以你要选择两个可以表达最强支持的部分。 想想哪个（或两个！）可以突出我们上面提到的细微差别：提出一个与你自己的经历有关的反驳论点或问题的复杂性，或提出非常规的看法。
流畅度：通过遵循简单的结构并运用有意义的过渡，你将能够在整个文章中保持你的重点，并在你的论点中坚持你的论点 - 你的评分者将会注意到并欣赏你的成就。
对于我们校服的例子，你可以以提醒学生不是只去学校学习来结束你的文章，而是要像人一样成长 - 学习如何表达自己是这关键的一部分。