By Murray Shukyn, Dale E. Shuttleworth, Achim K. Krull
When you finish the first part of the Reasoning Through Language Arts (RLA) section of the GED, you start on the Extended Response—where you write an essay by analyzing arguments presented in two pieces of sample text.
You get 45 minutes to work through this part of the RLA section, and you can’t tack on extra time from the previous section. So if you find that you have time left on the first part, go back and review some of the questions where you had difficulties before starting the Extended Response. After the Extended Response, you have a 10 minute break and then another hour.
For the Extended Response item, you must write a proper essay, with a clear thesis statement, a proper introduction, followed by four or six paragraphs of supporting argument, and a concluding paragraph. You’ll have an erasable tablet on which to make rough notes, and if you need more, you can get additional tablets.
You won’t use or have access to paper, pencils, or dictionaries. When you complete your rough draft of your essay, you write it into a window on the computer that functions like a word processor. The word processor is basic and doesn’t have a grammar- or spell-checker. You’re expected to know how to write properly.
The topic you’re given to write on is based on given source material, usually consisting of two documents with different or opposing opinions. You’re expected to analyze the source material and write an appropriate analytical response. You must show that you can read and understand the source material, do a critical analysis, and prepare a reasoned response based on materials drawn from that source text.
In your essay, you analyze both positions and then explain your viewpoint. Remember to back up your points with specific facts from the source material. When you write this essay, make sure it’s a series of interconnected paragraphs on a single topic. Not only should the entire essay begin with an introduction and end with a conclusion, but also each paragraph needs an introductory sentence and a concluding sentence.
Write only on the assigned topic. To make sure you understand what the topic is about, read it several times. Essays written off topic don’t receive scores. If you don’t get sufficient points on the Extended Response, you likely won’t pass the other portion of the RLA section, either.
Your essay is evaluated on the following points:
Your argument is based specifically on the given source material.
You correctly use the evidence from the source material to support your argument.
You use valid arguments and separate the supported claims in the material from the unsupported or false claims either in the material or your head.
Your flow of ideas is logical and well organized.
You correctly and appropriately use style, structure, vocabulary, and grammar.
Consider this example of an Extended Response item:
“I will give up my muscle car when the world runs out of oil, not before….”
“We need to find alternatives to gasoline-powered vehicles. Climate change is a real threat, and burning fossil fuels contributes to that problem….”
These two opinions are the beginnings of an editorial, taking obviously different positions.
In this example, you start by determining which argument you see as stronger. Then, you make a list of information that may go into your essay to back up your argument. Trim out any information that doesn’t pertain to the topic. Use unsubstantiated opinions as part of your evidence that one side or the other has a weak case.
When you start writing your essay, start with a good, strong introductory sentence that will catch a reader’s attention. When you’re satisfied with your introductory sentence, review your list of information. Follow that introductory sentence with a couple of sentences outlining, without explanation, your key points. Now turn each key point into a paragraph, paying attention to the flow between paragraphs to show that one relates to the previous one.
When you have all these paragraphs, it’s time for a conclusion. The easiest way to write a good conclusion is to restate your evidence briefly and state that this indeed proves your point. Don’t just rewrite your information, but summarize it in a memorable way. This may be difficult the first time, but with practice, it can become second nature.
If you have time, you can test how well your essay works and stays on topic. Read the introduction, the first sentence of every paragraph, and then the conclusion. They should all have the same basic points and flow together nicely. If something seems out of place, you need to go back and review.
To prepare for this part, in a few months leading up to your test date, read newspapers and news magazines. Analyze how arguments are presented and how the writers try to form and sway your opinion. Examine how well they present their data and how they use data to persuade the reader. Doing so can give you practice in critical reading and in developing your viewpoints based on others’ writings.
The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-10 11:46:44
What is an argumentative essay?
The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.
Please note: Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved. The argumentative essay is commonly assigned as a capstone or final project in first year writing or advanced composition courses and involves lengthy, detailed research. Expository essays involve less research and are shorter in length. Expository essays are often used for in-class writing exercises or tests, such as the GED or GRE.
Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that she/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.
The structure of the argumentative essay is held together by the following.
- A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.
In the first paragraph of an argument essay, students should set the context by reviewing the topic in a general way. Next the author should explain why the topic is important (exigence) or why readers should care about the issue. Lastly, students should present the thesis statement. It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.
- Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.
Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse. Transitions should wrap up the idea from the previous section and introduce the idea that is to follow in the next section.
- Body paragraphs that include evidential support.
Each paragraph should be limited to the discussion of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. In addition, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Some paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with evidence collected during research. It is also important to explain how and why the evidence supports the thesis (warrant).
However, argumentative essays should also consider and explain differing points of view regarding the topic. Depending on the length of the assignment, students should dedicate one or two paragraphs of an argumentative essay to discussing conflicting opinions on the topic. Rather than explaining how these differing opinions are wrong outright, students should note how opinions that do not align with their thesis might not be well informed or how they might be out of date.
- Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).
The argumentative essay requires well-researched, accurate, detailed, and current information to support the thesis statement and consider other points of view. Some factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal evidence should support the thesis. However, students must consider multiple points of view when collecting evidence. As noted in the paragraph above, a successful and well-rounded argumentative essay will also discuss opinions not aligning with the thesis. It is unethical to exclude evidence that may not support the thesis. It is not the student’s job to point out how other positions are wrong outright, but rather to explain how other positions may not be well informed or up to date on the topic.
- A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.
It is at this point of the essay that students may begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize the information presented in the body of the essay. Restate why the topic is important, review the main points, and review your thesis. You may also want to include a short discussion of more research that should be completed in light of your work.
A complete argument
Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of World War II and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the argument in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the conflict. Therefore, the argumentative essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.
The five-paragraph essay
A common method for writing an argumentative essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of (a) an introductory paragraph (b) three evidentiary body paragraphs that may include discussion of opposing views and (c) a conclusion.
Longer argumentative essays
Complex issues and detailed research call for complex and detailed essays. Argumentative essays discussing a number of research sources or empirical research will most certainly be longer than five paragraphs. Authors may have to discuss the context surrounding the topic, sources of information and their credibility, as well as a number of different opinions on the issue before concluding the essay. Many of these factors will be determined by the assignment.