Writing a persuasive essay isn’t difficult, but writing an effective one does require thought and strategy. And when there’s some pressure to write that essay, like when students are writing a persuasive essay for the TSI, it can be even harder to think on the fly.
Many Texas high school students will take the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) test to evaluate their essential reading, writing, and math skills to ensure they’re prepared to succeed in freshman-level dual credit or college courses.
While writing a successful TSI essay or five-paragraph persuasive essay for English classes is much different than writing a successful personal statement or supplemental essay (the writing topics I normally cover), I thought this topic was worth discussing.
In this post, we’ll explore what the TSI persuasive essay is, how your essay is evaluated, and the strategies you can implement to achieve your desired score. I’ll also give you some links to sample TSI essays, responses, and other resources.
For the essay portion of the TSI, you’ll receive a random essay prompt, which consists of:
You’ll need to write a roughly 500- to 600-word persuasive essay with four to five paragraphs (an opening, a closing, and three body paragraphs). The TSI is an untimed test, so you have as much time as you need. Don’t rush. Take your time and be thoughtful about your answer, even if you’d rather be anywhere than taking the test.
The TSI doesn't expect you to have any particular knowledge to answer the prompt (e.g., the prompt won’t assume you’ve read a certain book or have detailed knowledge of an event). Instead, the topic will require you to pick a side of a debatable topic/current event and then defend that side. Keep in mind that the chosen issue doesn’t have a right or wrong answer, so you won’t be judged on the position you take.
Reviewers will evaluate your essay on these six factors, according to Mometrix Test Preparation:
You’ll receive a score of 1-8 on each of the six sections (although you’ll see only one overall 1-8 score), and a “college ready” score is 5 or higher. Essays that are too short to be evaluated against these criteria, that miss addressing the prompt completely, or that aren’t written in English will automatically receive a 0.
Keep in mind that a computer scores these essays, so you’re just trying to show the computer you can form a logical, well-developed argument – and use solid grammar and spelling and a decent writing style.
Check out these sample TSI essays from the College Board, which evaluate essays scored 1-8 and explain why they received the score they did and how they could’ve been improved.
Again, you won’t be scored on your actual opinion, so don’t be concerned you’ll “lose points” if you support the less popular perspective.
Need more help with writing a 5-paragraph essay? Resources like this can help.
Writing an effective, high-scoring essay means taking your time going through each step and really planning out your essay. While the planning portion doesn’t need to take a lot of time, but it will help you in the end by making your essay flow better and being well-thought-out.
Four important steps go into writing a great TSI essay.
Two of the biggest factors in a high-scoring TSI essay grade are length and clarity. As a result, you’ll want to use the scratch paper you have available to decide the position you want to take and sketch out a rough outline.
On the scratch paper:
With the outlining work done, you’ve done the hard part. Congratulations. But you’re just getting started. Now it’s time to put it all together into a cohesive essay. Here’s how you’ll start writing each paragraph of your TSI essay.
Spend no more than 3-4 sentences in your opening. Even 1-2 sentences are sufficient to state your position on the assigned topic. This will be quick and to the point, letting you spend more of your time defending your position.
In your introduction:
Aim for writing three body paragraphs, but write a minimum of two. Each paragraph should have at least 4-6 sentences. Here are some other tips for writing your body paragraphs:
Much like the introduction, the conclusion will be a short (3-4 sentences, max) paragraph that sums up your position, addresses the opposing viewpoint, and leaves the reader with a closing thought.
As a result, the format might look a little like this:
Note: While you are mentioning the opposing viewpoint in the closing, this is not the same as taking both sides, which I cautioned against earlier. This is mentioning the other perspective but then briefly and effectively criticizing it and showing why yours is better.
Here’s a sample conclusion from TSIPracticeTest.com that shows how you can fill in the blanks:
Although ________ is demonstrably correct, some have argued that _______, believing that ________. However, this viewpoint on the present issue is negated by ________. Rather, __________. Therefore, in the long run it is clear that _____________.
Once you think you’re done writing, you’re not. Now it’s time for editing and proofreading.
Read your essay slowly, from start to finish. Make sure your ideas make sense and support your thesis. Check that you transition from one paragraph to another. You should ensure your examples are detailed, descriptive, and support your argument. Sound good? Good. But you’re not done … yet.
Because part of your score is based on spelling, grammar, and punctuation, read the essay at least once after you think it’s done. Read it back slowly to yourself, and look for any mistakes you can correct.
Remember: You have no time limit for writing the TSI essay, and taking your time now is better than having to take the test again because of errors you could’ve corrected.
Hopefully these tips and tricks are enough to help you hit your targets when writing the TSI essay. But if you’re looking to read sample essays (and evaluations), practice with sample prompts, or learn more tips and tricks. You can find additional resources online, but some I found to be helpful are:
Writing a college admission essay instead? The guidelines are much different. Learn how to get started with your personal statement.