Page 1 Language Arts: Writing Study Guide for the HiSET® Test

How to Prepare for the HiSET® Language Arts—Writing Test

General Information

Most writing tests involve writing an essay and this one is no exception. In the first part of this test, you will read a pair of passages. Then, you’ll be directed to respond to the passages with writing that is relatively free of errors in grammar and spelling. Your writing should be well organized and your ideas clearly expressed. Additionally, you should write in a style that is fairly formal and remains this way throughout the piece.

Note that we have included information that is particularly important for the essay portion of this test. It is marked in this guide by the caption: Especially for the Essay. These paragraphs contain information about specific things the scorers will look for in your essay.

These same skills are tested in the multiple-choice section of the HiSET® Language Arts—Writing Test. This time, however, you will not do the writing. You’ll be reviewing and editing material written by someone else. Nevertheless, you will apply the same principles of good writing you follow when you write, so learning on what to focus is helpful.

We cannot possibly present all the parameters of excellent writing here, but we’ll give you an outline of what you need to keep in mind. Then, if any of this gives you trouble, seek additional help online, in books and workbooks, or from a good writer or English professional before you take the test.

The format of our practice test differs a bit from that of the actual HiSET® Language Arts—Writing Test in that you will have a portion of the passage quoted in most questions, with the part in question underlined. You will also be able to refer to the entire passage through a “clickable” window.

On the actual test, there will be a passage in a box. This is the entire passage that the next set of questions will address. Then, the pages will be divided, and the same passage will be reproduced in a “stretched-out” fashion in the left column, alongside the questions pertaining to certain parts of it on the right side. For example, if question 8 is about a certain sentence, that sentence will be numbered “8” in the portion of the passage that is right beside question 8.

Most questions begin with just that, a question. Some items, however, just have a number and four answer choices. In these cases, just find the corresponding number in the passage at the left and decide which answer choice (from the right column) is the best correction for the part of the passage that is underlined after that number.

Principles of Good Written English: A Review

Whether you are answering the multiple-choice questions on the HiSET® Language Arts—Writing Test or composing your essay, you will rely on the same knowledge base: the best way to express ideas in English. Some of this competency requires grammar- and syntax-types of knowledge, while the other part of it involves stating things in a manner that is clear to the reader, due to things like good organization and word choice. It can be a complicated business, so we’re going to help you review the basics.


Organization is critical when it comes to written communication. It is important because readers are on their own to navigate the text and the writer is not there to help them clarify uncertainties. Words must be presented in a logical way that makes it easy for the reader to follow the writer’s train of thought or argument and come to the desired conclusion.

Well-organized writing is easy for a reader to follow. It has a logical progression that takes the reader from beginning to middle to end and allows them to follow the message. Poorly organized writing can make it difficult for a reader by making a text confusing or frustrating to read. This is why clear, logical organization is so important.

The Framework

The framework, or structure, of a piece of writing depends on its purpose. A narrative story meant to entertain an audience will have a different framework, or structure, than a persuasive essay. Structure allows a writer to move his or her reader through a text more easily—the reader can anticipate what might be coming next and the writer stays on track and doesn’t stick something random in because he or she forgot to include it somewhere else. A well-planned framework will yield a well-organized piece of writing.


An opening paragraph, sometimes referred to as an introductory paragraph or just “introduction,” hooks the reader into wanting to read more. If you read the first sentence or first few lines of a text and it doesn’t catch your attention, are you really excited to continue reading? Generally not. That is why an effective opening is so important. Even seemingly boring topics can become more exciting and engaging with a strong introductory paragraph. The introduction sets the tone for the rest of the text. From the opening paragraph, a reader can determine the purpose, style, and mood that a writer is going to present.

Opening paragraphs may start with an anecdote, or an example, or ask a thought-provoking question; it should be something to get the reader’s attention and convince them that the writer knows what he or she is talking about. While a good writer doesn’t want to just restate the question in the opening, he or she may include a restatement of the question and something more specific or interesting to help the reader see how the thesis statement connects to the question posed.

Opening paragraphs should not include dictionary definitions, though the writer may include an explanation of his or her understanding or interpretation of a term or idea. Also, strong writers avoid vague or sweeping generalizations in the opening paragraph; they use precise language and are as specific as possible as they introduce the topic and lay the groundwork for the rest of the text.

Points and Transitions

Cohesion, or unity, is created when everything works together as a united whole. For this to happen, a writer must use appropriate transition words to help move the reader from one idea to another or even from one sentence to another. Transition words help explain the relationships among ideas and concepts and should be chosen carefully so that they serve the intended purpose. If they are not included in the text, that may affect the organization and the reader’s ability to understand or appreciate the connections between parts of the text or between different ideas that are presented.

Writers know there are certain points they want to make and particular pieces of evidence they want to use to support those points. This is where having a framework becomes important as a framework allows a writer to plan his or her points ahead of time and then, when writing, the author elaborates on those points and transitions the reader effectively from one to the next. Read more on transition words below.

Especially for the Essay— In your writing assessment for this test, and really for any writing that you do, considering your framework and planning your approach ahead of time will help you write a better organized response. Sequence your ideas with consideration as to how they will make the most sense to your reader. What should logically follow? What is the connection between the ideas you are presenting? When you have clearly organized ideas that use effective transitions between them, it becomes very easy for your readers to follow your argument, and more likely that they will agree with that argument, because you have laid it out in a logical way and transitioned them between your points so they don’t get lost.

The “classic” approach to organizing an essay is the five-paragraph approach. In this format, you start with the opening paragraph that will hook your reader, provide background information with regard to the topic, and include a strong thesis statement. Three body paragraphs that deal with one main point each should follow the introduction. This is where evidence and support will be developed, along with the counterarguments and rebuttals. The essay concludes with a closing paragraph that wraps it all up for the reader.


A closing paragraph is just as important as the opening and should not be a disappointment for the readers. This paragraph should wrap up the text in a satisfying way. It should tie up loose ends, direct the readers back to an idea presented in the opening, and give them something to think about as they walk away from the reading.

Especially for the Essay—In a response to an argument, your opening and closing paragraphs must both be strong. Although sometimes rushed or omitted altogether because students run out of time, it is important that you manage your time well so that you can include some form of closing not only to restate your position and recap the evidence, but also to leave your readers with something to think about or to present a call to action. The closing paragraph is your last chance to convince them of your position and why it’s the best position to take.

Content Relevance

To create an organized, unified piece of writing, it is important to consider the relevance of all content. (When you do the writing, address this during the planning stage.) Determining main points and what evidence can be used to support or prove those main points helps ensure that great ideas don’t get left out and that the content is relevant, or related, to the thesis statement and main message. Strong writers consider their content before they start writing and contemplate, with each sentence, “How does this support my thesis or advance my argument?” If the answer is, “It doesn’t,” then it doesn’t belong in the writing.

Writers who include irrelevant content indicate to readers that they don’t really know what they are talking about and shouldn’t be trusted to discuss the subject. That kind of “padding” is not interesting or impressive to readers who can easily identify when content becomes superficial or generalized and perhaps not as closely related to the subject as the writer would like the reader to believe.

Paragraph Structure

Paragraphs are chunks of writing built around a particular idea or point. Body paragraphs generally begin with a transition from the previous paragraph incorporated into a topic sentence that identifies the focus of the paragraph. Specific evidence is then provided that supports a claim made by the writer and that evidence is analyzed and explained by the writer to defend its inclusion in the writing. A brief conclusion or wrap-up ends a body paragraph and the readers are prepared to transition to the next paragraph.

To keep the writing organized, it is important to remember that there should only be one main idea presented in a paragraph. A new paragraph indicates a new idea or topic. Some people believe that paragraphs should have a certain number of sentences, but that is inaccurate. A paragraph has to include a certain number of ideas—and that number is one. It is more acceptable to have a short, underdeveloped paragraph than to have multiple main ideas all lumped into one. This just creates disorganized text that is difficult for the readers to follow. Readers should only be able to identify one main idea in each paragraph, though there may be multiple pieces of evidence to support that one main idea in a paragraph.

Especially for the Essay— In an argument essay, there will be a particular framework for your response and each paragraph will serve a specific function. The default position is a five-paragraph essay with an introduction or opening paragraph that introduces the topic, explains its importance or significance, and rationalizes why the readers should care about it. The thesis statement, which is the claim a writer makes about the topic and a position not everyone will share (hence the argument aspect), is generally found at the end of the opening paragraph. Transitions are key to organization and logical progression through the argument and they should be included at the beginning and end of each paragraph.

After the opening paragraph come three body paragraphs (if you are following the five-paragraph model). Each body paragraph should contain one main idea that is connected back to the thesis statement and is supported by thoroughly explained, credible evidence. The opposing point of view (people who would disagree with the thesis statement) should also be considered and rebutted. In a five-paragraph essay, this usually happens within each body paragraph. If you are breaking the five-paragraph pattern, then the counterargument and rebuttal may be collected in a dedicated paragraph or two, usually coming right before the conclusion paragraph.

The conclusion or closing paragraph should synthesize and review the evidence provided in the body paragraphs and describe for the readers how it all ties back to the claim made in the thesis statement. Make sure that you do not add new information or ideas at this point. Nothing should be added or stated in the closing paragraph that hasn’t already been addressed in one of the body paragraphs. It should be a restatement of ideas already presented.

Transition Words

Transition words (and sometimes phrases) organize a text and serve to guide readers through it. Transition words can be used within a paragraph to help a reader make connections between sentences or they may be used between paragraphs to direct the reader from one idea to another. Transition words help readers understand how paragraphs focusing on different ideas work together, reference one another, and build to a greater purpose. They act as road signs to help a reader’s brain identify and process the connections the writer is making. Analyzing a writer’s use of transitional words and phrases will help a reader navigate through a text and understand the connections being made.

Transition words serve varying purposes, so it is important for the writer to choose the ones appropriate to his/her needs. Here are some examples of transition words based on how ideas are linked:

Especially for the Essay— Because different transitional words serve different purposes, it is important to consider how you want to use them. Are you looking to guide your readers to an example? Are you introducing an opposing argument? Are you trying to connect back to a previous argument or piece of information? Are you trying to wrap up an idea or example? These are the things to consider when selecting your transitional words. It is also a good idea to mix them up a little and not rely on the same transition word every time as that can make your writing seem repetitive and elementary.