Hello! Looks like you’re going to take the TSI. The experience can be dreadful or even enjoyable, but it depends on how you approach it and how prepared you are. Yes, it is fairly long if you take all parts on the same day, and the essay comes after the reading and writing sections, so after this, you STILL have the math section. Regardless of how much you will be taking that day, there are some ways that will help you get through the essay with a low amount of stress.

Perhaps you have looked at the College Board’s sample essays. Those 7 and 8 earning essays are kind of scary, like the person is an “encyclopedia” as some of my other students have said. I feel the same way. I’m not expecting you to get a 7 or 8 because all you need to do is show the scoring software (yes, a computer program scores your essay) that you can form a good argument with solid examples, use decent grammar and vocabulary, and pass, and passing is either a score of 5 or a 363 on the writing and a score of 4 on the essay.

If you haven’t realized it, the TSI will ask you to make an argument supporting one side of philosophical debate. Though the topics can be hard to argue because they are typically asking you to make black and white a somewhat grey topic, they are not judging you based on which argument you need to make; rather, they are looking at HOW you support your argument with examples, evidence, and appropriate sentence structure. My recommendation is to, first, use the scratch paper provided to make a two-column list or other graphic organizer (venn diagram, mind map, etc.) to help you literally see and determine which side of the debate will be easiest to argue. Once you figure out which side has the strongest evidence, or even which you prefer to argue, then you can start shaping your content.

As far as essay structure goes, a 4 or 5 paragraph essay depending on how many points you will want to argue is a good start. You will need an intro, two or three body paragraphs and a conclusion, very similar to the basic 5-paragraph essay format you’ve used in school before. The intro hooks the reader into the topic by initially talking about it in broad terms and then siphoning it down to the thesis. The thesis lets the reader know which side of the debate you are taking and why, so this is where you take charge of your argument with confidence. Each body paragraph discusses one of the points you are going to argue, which you will introduce in the first topic sentence and close out at the end of the paragraph. The conclusion wraps up the whole thing by paraphrasing the thesis first, then summarizing the topic sentences from the body paragraphs, and finally, closing out with a somewhat philosophical statement that gets the reader to continue thinking about your side of the debate. This essay is going to end up being 300 to 600 words, so if you pick solid examples and make sure you are very clear in your explanations of things, it won’t hard to reach.

The body paragraphs are the meat of the essay around which your intro and conclusion will be formed; however, feel free to start with which ever paragraph is easiest. In order to pass this exam with a 5 or 6, you will need at least two, strong examples that back up your side of the debate. Fortunately, the examples can come from a variety of sources like fiction or non-fiction books, your personal life, a celebrity or public figure, or even a play or a movie that aren’t necessarily well-known. You can even make up something if you have to, as long as it is analogous to your side of the debate (I only recommend this as a last resort in case you brain fart or something). The first sentence will tell the reader which point you are going to make, the sentences in the middle will tell the story or explain the example you picked, and the last sentence will wrap up the paragraph with a conclusive, argument benefitting statement about the entire example. If you have solid examples, then you won’t need to make any circular arguments. In fact, never make a circular argument, EVER. That’s when you say something like, “The bird is well-know because it is talked about a lot and that’s why it is well-known.” Do not do this.

My final tips are to make sure that your grammar, sentence structure, spelling are at least decent and don’t take away from the argument you are trying to make; a few errors are not going to tank your score and you won’t have a dictionary or other resource available to you, so if you encounter something you are not sure about, it’s best for your stress level to let it be as you have typed it and move on to the next item. Also, use all of the scratch paper you need. Once you decide on a side of the debate to argue, just start. The cool thing about the TSI is that you CAN retest if you need to within a short time frame, and although that is not the goal and you would have to pay for it again, you don’t need to be extra stressed with worrying that it will be your only shot. The last things to do are to rescan your essay for clarity and redundancy and other small errors you may have missed initially. See if you can change some of your wording to make it sound “better” or use “bigger words,” but it doesn’t have to sound like a scholar wrote it. If you get a chance, practice with an essay topic beforehand so you can start putting these strategies into place. Best of luck!

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