How to Turn a Good Essay into a Great One for the Praxis Core Exam

By Carla Kirkland, Chan Cleveland

The Praxis essay scorers are looking for the complete package. They want a well-written, interesting essay. If you want a top score, you need to do more than organize your essay well and have good support for your thesis. You should also provide anecdotes when applicable, choose your words carefully, and acknowledge the other side of the argument when writing a persuasive essay.

Add interesting anecdotes

Experienced writers and speakers often relate an anecdote to make a point. An anecdote is a very short story and can be an excellent way to support your essay’s thesis. Personal stories are particularly memorable and, consequently, make your point memorable, too.

Consider this prompt for an argumentative essay:

“Because students have so many extracurricular activities and so little time outside the school day, the majority of school hours should be limited to academic courses only.”

What could be better to support your view than a brief anecdote about your own experience in juggling extracurricular activities and academics?

The anecdote is simply a suggestion and not a requirement. It helps to illustrate your main ideas by using a real life situation.

Although the Praxis is no place to practice your stand-up comedy routine, an amusing anecdote to illustrate your point is certainly allowed and can add energy and personality to your essay. Just be sure that the anecdote clearly supports your thesis and doesn’t distract the reader.

Paint a picture with words

The old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” applies to the essay. Even though you can’t literally place a picture into your essay, your words can paint a picture to support your point. Create an image, a “word picture,” by being very specific. Consider the following descriptions:

Vague: a nice day

Specific: bright sunshine, marshmallow clouds in a brilliant blue sky

By revising the vague statement of a nice day, the specific, detailed adjectives and nouns create a detailed image of a nice day in the reader’s brain.

Vague verbs are too weak to create an image. Instead, use strong, active verbs. For example, instead of “walk,” use a more specific verb — “ambled,” “strolled,” or “trotted,” for example.

Use specific words in your essay to appeal to the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Doing so gives the reader the sense that he is there and can experience what you’re describing.

However, using specific words also comes with a caveat. You should know the words that you use. “Big words” won’t earn you extra points.

The big word isn’t necessarily preferable to the simple word nor is the unusual word preferable to the everyday word. Clarity is your goal. Don’t confuse the reader by “overwriting.” Big words used inappropriately can mean fewer points for your essay. Use words with which you are comfortable.

Finally, avoid jargon — language that is so specialized that it may be misunderstood. You may know, for example, the specialized language that computer “techies” use every day, but assume that your reader does not.

Anticipate objections against your position

When you write the argumentative essay, consider what could be said against your view and prepare a strong retort. Recognizing opposing views strengthens your own. By refuting the opposite view, you make yours much stronger.

Ignoring a major opposing view weakens your position. Suppose, for example, you are writing in favor of banning certain books in the school library. Think about the opposing views and decide how you can refute them.