Last Updated On: March 23rd, 2020

Note: The CHSPE is scheduled to change with the March 2021 test, meaning the October 2020 test date is the final test for current standards. Read more about this change here: Change is Coming to the CHSPE The below article is about the current test, which will be administered through the end of 2020.

If you’re in the midst of preparing for the CHSPE, you probably know this fact: Even if you get every single question correct on the CHSPE multiple-choice Language section, you cannot get a passing score without passing the essay. Resist the urge to just write a paragraph and be done! In my experience as a tutor, students who have written three paragraphs or less have not passed, regardless of the quality of their writing. Instead, summon your energy and your best writing skills to write a solid, standard five-paragraph essay with minimal errors. If you do this, you’re likely to pass!

The essay prompts on the CHSPE are usually persuasive prompts that require you to take a clear position. Often, they’re related to school or issues young people face. Past questions have included, “Should cell phones be allowed in school?” and “What should be the minimum driving age?” The good news is that, because it’s not a research paper, you aren’t expected to quote specific facts or cite your sources. You should, however, make reasonable arguments and present evidence and examples based on your knowledge and experiences. CHSPE prompts tend to assume that most students have been to traditional school. If you have been homeschooled, just imagine what you know about traditional schools, take a clear position, and argue it well.

Have you practiced writing a standard five-paragraph expository or persuasive essay before? If so, the CHSPE essay should not be a problem. If you don’t remember, here’s the basic format:

  • Paragraph 1: Introduction and thesis with specific reasons
  • Paragraph 2: Main idea #1 with supporting details and examples
  • Paragraph 3: Main idea #2 with supporting details and examples
  • Paragraph 4: Address the counterargument
  • Paragraph 5: Conclusion in which you restate the thesis and end with a closing thought or “action step”

After you formulate your thesis, you should outline your essay in the space provided in the test booklet before you begin to write on your answer sheet. If you have trouble thinking of details and examples for the position you’ve chosen, you might consider switching positions if that gives you more to write about.

Now we’ll go through each section of the essay, using the test’s official sample question as an example: Some people believe that high school classes should not begin before 9:00 a.m. Do you agree or disagree? Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to persuade readers to accept your opinion on this issue. Be specific and explain your reasons. (Do not sign your letter.)

Paragraph 1: Introduction and Thesis

Since this assignment is a letter to the editor, we’ll begin with “Dear editor.” (If you forgot this, it shouldn’t hurt your score.) Next, your introduction should introduce the topic. If you can’t think of a clever introduction, just introduce the topic in a matter-of-fact way. The most important part of your first paragraph is your thesis statement. This should clearly take a position and give at least two reasons for it. Use the language of the prompt to turn the question around and make it into a statement. For example, for the school start time prompt my thesis might be: High school classes should not begin until 9:00AM because a later start time will allow students to get more sleep, which will improve their health and academic performance.

My outline might look like this:

  1. Thesis: Later start time allows for more sleep, improving health and academic performance
  2. Allows for more sleep, improves health
    • Circadian rhythm of teenagers makes it harder to go to bed early
    • More sleep improves physical health
    • More sleep improves mental health—lack of sleep linked to depression
  3. More sleep improves academic performance
    • Studies show people perform better after more sleep
    • Example of half the class falling asleep during my period 1 algebra class, even with good teacher
  4. Opponents argue we need early start time for sports and extracurricular activities after school
    • Student health is more important than sports
    • Students might still have option for a “zero period” before school
  5. Conclusion
    • Benefits of later school start time is worth effort of rearranging schedules
    • All high schools should make change starting with next school year

Paragraph 2: Topic sentence with main idea #1, supporting details, and examples

After your introductory paragraph, you’ll need to explain your reasons, in the order of your thesis. Turn your first reason into a clear topic sentence: A later high school start time will allow students to get more sleep, improving their physical and mental health. Next, I’m going to support my topic sentence with details and examples to explain my reasoning. This isn’t a research paper, but you should be as specific as possible while still being accurate. I know that the circadian rhythms of teenagers make them want to go to bed late and sleep in late, so a later start time will better fit their biological needs. If you don’t remember the technical language or exact statistics, just be as specific as you can. For example, if I didn’t remember the words “circadian rhythm,” I could just use the words “internal biological clock.” Personal examples are also fine, though you should try to think of other evidence first.

Paragraph 3: Topic sentence with main idea #2, supporting details, and examples

Next, you should have a short transition, and then turn the next reason in your thesis into a topic sentence: A later start time also improve students’ academic performance. Follow this with details and examples to support your second idea, similar to paragraph #2.

Paragraph 4: Address the counterargument

A strong essay will also address the counterargument(s), the arguments those on the opposing side might take. After you bring these up, you must explain why these arguments are wrong, or why your argument is still the better one even if they’re right. For example, some people argue that an early school start time allows for sports practice before dark, and that changing the high school schedule will require adults to rearrange school bus schedules and their work schedules. To address this, I might argue that students can have the option of a “zero period” before school, which is when sports practices can take place, but the standard start time should be later. I would also argue that the benefits to student health and achievement far outweigh any inconveniences caused by the new schedule.

Paragraph 5: End with a strong conclusion

In your conclusion, end by restating your thesis, ideally in a different way than you said it the first time: A high school start time of 9:00 a.m. or later will lead to significant improvements in student health and academic achievement. Last, end with a closing thought, or “action step”: With the exception of students who choose to have a zero period, all high schools with early start times should change their schedules, starting next school year.

Last step: Proofread

Unless you’re completely out of time, make sure to leave time to proofread your essay. Since you can choose the order in which you complete the test sections, you might want to write the essay first, then do the multiple-choice questions, and then proofread. Leaving a little time between writing and proofreading will make you more likely to catch your mistakes.

Follow these steps and avoid excessive errors in grammar and punctuation, and you’ll be on your way to a passing score!

Katherine Friedman

Author Katherine Friedman

As the Program Co-Director at LA Tutors, Katherine is responsible for developing LA Tutors' curricula and contributes to the LA Tutors educational resources and blog. She has over ten years of classroom teaching experience in a variety of settings with diverse groups of learners: in the United States and internationally, special and general education, and public and private school. With a Masters degree in Education, she has been tutoring throughout her career and loves the opportunity to reach students in a one-on-one or small group setting. She began working as a test preparation tutor in graduate school and enjoys helping students build their understanding and confidence of standardized tests, including the ISEE, SAT, GRE, and CBEST.

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