Page 1 - 11th Grade English Language Arts and Literacy: Writing Study Guide for the SBAC

How to Prepare for the Writing Questions on the SBAC Test

General Information

A total of about nine, or about 21% of the total questions, on the SBAC ELA test assess your ability to write for communication purposes. One of these questions is a performance task that is graded by humans. See more about the question types at the end of this study guide.

Your writing will be assessed equally in each of these areas:

  • Organization/Purpose
  • Evidence/Elaboration
  • Conventions

The writing required for the essay will either be informative/explanatory or argumentative/persuasive. Narrative writing is not emphasized, but you may be asked to review and revise/edit narrative materials. There is a heavy emphasis on whether you can write for a variety of purposes and audiences.

Item types used for writing questions are:

  • multiple-choice
  • multiple-choice with multiple correct answers
  • hot spot/hot text
  • brief writes
  • essay during the performance task

Types of Writing

Three main categories of writing are assessed via the SBAC. They include narrative writing, informational or explanatory writing, and argumentative or persuasive writing. While you will be asked to write during the performance task (and your competence will be assessed during that process), you will also need to be able to assess the writing of others in the CAT objective questions (multiple-choice and other types).

Narrative Texts

Narrative writing, writing that tells a story, relies heavily on specific and sensory detail and organized structure to guide the reader through it. By the 11th grade, little emphasis is placed on narrative writing, though you may be asked to write a brief narrative passage and to edit or revise a narrative text. You may also use narrative techniques to enhance informational or persuasive writing. About 20% of the writing questions on the SBAC relate to narrative writing.

Writing

The expectation is that you know and can apply the techniques of narrative writing, including character development, dialogue, description, and pacing to thoughtfully create or assess a narrative piece. When writing a narrative text, remember that the main components include:

  • a cohesive story that uses appropriate structure and effective transitions to bring the reader into the story
  • strategies that move the characters through the plot
  • a meaningful conclusion

You may also elect to apply some narrative writing techniques (like figurative language) when writing or assessing other types of passages, such as informational or persuasive texts.

Revising

When you revise a narrative text, SBAC graders are looking to see if you can apply those narrative techniques appropriately, structure and organize the story so that it makes sense, and recognize when and how to include transitions. Understanding the narrative structure (the sense of beginning, middle, and end to a story), using vivid details and sensory language to help the reader “see” the story unfold, and using narrative techniques effectively suggest you have an understanding of narrative writing.

Informational Texts

Informational texts incorporate a broad spectrum of nonfiction writing. Informational texts can be essays, textbooks, newspaper or magazine articles, biographies, how-to or procedural texts, manuals, and more. Sometimes referred to as explanatory texts, informational texts make up a majority of the type of reading you’ll find on the SBAC and about 40% of the writing.

Writing

When writing an informational text, it is important to maintain a specific focus and appropriate tone. It is easy to “wander off” in informative writing and move on to a different tangent, so it’s important to make sure that everything ties back to the central idea. Having a strong thesis statement to which everything can tie back is critical for success. Then, organizing information in a logical way, including effective transitions from one idea to the next, and using relevant, supporting details or evidence are key to producing an effective informational text.

Strategies— Use a variety of strategies when composing informational text. Depending on the audience, your structure or examples may change. Being aware of the purpose in writing an informational text and mindful of the audience you are writing for will guide you in determining the most appropriate strategy or approach for organization, structure, and examples.

Organization— The organization of an informational text is important.

  • Thesis Statement and Focus: Developing a clear, concise thesis statement to serve as the “anchor” for your writing will help ensure that your writing is focused. Then, you need to take care that every piece of information is related to that thesis statement and avoid the temptation to “bird walk” or get off topic. It’s also important to maintain the same tone from beginning to end.

  • Order in Writing: Although informational writing doesn’t tell a story like narrative writing does, there should still be a sense of beginning (where the topic/idea is introduced and necessary background information is provided), a middle (where evidence, examples, support, or explanation is given), and an end (a concluding statement that articulates the implications of the information provided in the body or reminds the reader of the importance of the subject).

Transitions— Transitions create coherence for the reader. They help the reader understand how different items and ideas presented are related to one another. The way you transition the reader through the text and move them through your ideas is important. How do you link together one idea to the next and move the audience from one paragraph to the next without losing them along the way? Effective transitions are critical, but also including a variety of transitions will help link the main ideas without sounding repetitive. Transitions can also be used to explain the relationship between the ideas presented (for example, using “First,” “Second,” and “Third” to move through related ideas; “In addition” shows that you are adding to information already provided, and “However,” indicates a shift or exception). Effective transitions help make the text feel more organized to the reader.

Topic Development—When you are developing your topic during an informational text, remember your audience. That will determine the level of explanation you will need to provide and the kinds of evidence or examples that will work best. Informational texts are often written about complex topics, so what subtopics will also need to be included for the audience to understand the big picture? What kind of elaboration or explanation will be needed for the audience to effectively access your writing? Your ideas should build on one another in a logical way.

Consider the types and sources of evidence and examples that will support your ideas and help your audience better understand this subject. As you develop the topic, consider how much elaboration or explanation your audience needs and what vocabulary is most appropriate for them. What kind of facts, definitions, or details should you include so that your audience understands the subject? Using a variety of information and examples will help ensure that a broad audience can engage with the text.

Conclusion—The conclusion of an informational text should leave the reader with something to think about and consider. The conclusion should support the information provided, without introducing new information, and remind the reader of the importance or significance of the topic.

Revising

When you revise an informational text, you are looking to see in what ways you can improve what the writer has created. Consider things like organization, topic development, transitions, evidence and examples, and word choice.

Examples of these types of questions might include asking you to determine which sentence answer options provide the best evidence to support the main idea of the text or provide a conclusion that would follow logically from the information provided in the text. When you are revising, focus on the following three main areas.

Idea Organization— Does this text make sense? Are the ideas presented in a logical order, or does the writer jump around and lose the reader as a result? When you revise for organization, you want to make sure that the order of ideas presented makes logical sense. If there seems to be a big leap where the author draws a conclusion or provides an example and you’re wondering, “Where’d that come from?” that means there probably needs to be a better transition before then to lead the reader into that conclusion or to connect that example more effectively to the overall whole.

Topic Development— Using the same elements as above in topic development during the writing of an informational text, now look for places where a text can be improved in terms of examples or evidence provided, the strength and clarity of the thesis statement, and the effectiveness of the conclusion. If there are places that seem weak in terms of support, what would be helpful information to include there? Consider whether or not there is adequate explanation and elaboration by the author for you to be able to understand the importance of this topic.

Conclusion— When revising a conclusion, you want to make sure that there is an effective sense of closure and that, as a reader, you’re not left wondering, “What’s next?” The conclusion should wrap up the major points from the next without introducing new examples or ideas for which there isn’t the time or space to be elaborated upon or explained fully.

Opinion/Argument Texts

Opinion or argument text, sometimes also referred to as persuasive writing, requires the author to share an opinion with the reader, argue a position with regard to a debatable topic, or convince the reader to take the same side of an argument as the author. Whether writing or revising, opinion/argument texts must establish and support a precise claim, provide evidence in support of that claim, use effective transitions to guide the reader through the text, organize the information in a way that is going to make sense to the reader, and provide an effective conclusion appropriate for the audience and purpose.

The Claim

A writer’s claim or argument must be presented clearly to the reader and be supported by reasonable evidence if it is to be accepted by the audience. When writing or revising an opinion or argument text, check first to make sure that the claim is clearly stated. Everything in the rest of the text, the examples, the evidence, should all tie back to the claim, so if it’s not clear, the whole text kind of falls apart. And, because it’s an opinion or argument piece, not everyone is going to agree with the claim, so it is imperative that the claim be supportable with evidence that will be effective for the target audience and that the author does a thorough job of supporting the claim throughout the text.

Evidence

Evidence is the proof an author provides to support, prove, or defend a claim. In an opinion or argument text, the author must use relevant evidence that will appeal to the target audience. When writing an opinion or argument piece, make sure that you use relevant, appropriate evidence to support your claim. When revising an opinion or argument text, you may be asked to determine which statement does not provide adequate support for the claim and so should be removed, or which statements would be good evidence to support the claim and should be added to the text. These questions may also include asking you where the best place to put the evidence would be, so you must be able to identify what the evidence is supporting and where it belongs in the overall organization and structure of the text.

Keep in mind that, especially in argument texts, not everyone is going to agree with the claim the author makes. Thus, to help garner support for his or her position, the author will want to include counterclaims that opponents might argue. Then, the author should provide evidence as to how those counterclaims are somehow faulty or fail to understand some aspect of the argument and should not be relied upon by the reader.

Transitions

Opinion or argument writing generally has a very straightforward, easy to follow structure. Unlike a narrative, which may weave a story and take the reader on a roundabout way through the plot, to be effective, opinion or argument writing must have an organized sense of structure that builds the author’s case for his or her claim and takes the reader through a logical sequence of steps through the argument. Because opinion or argument writing is intended to persuade the audience, the transitions used generally help the reader understand the relationship between the pieces of evidence provided. Transitions that show similarities or differences, sequence or order, cause and effect, or emphasis or example are the most effective to use in this genre of writing. Transitions that indicate conclusion or summary can also help the reader focus in on the main points of the text: what the claim was, what the main pieces of evidence that supported that claim were, and what the reader should do now as a result of reading the text. Here are some common transition words used in opinion/argument writing:

  • To show similarity: also, similarly, likewise, in addition to
  • To show difference: however, on the other hand, in contrast, but
  • To show sequence or order: first, second, third, to begin, next, then, finally
  • To show time: before, after, later, meanwhile, recently, subsequently, then
  • To show cause and effect: consequently, hence, therefore, thus, as a result
  • To show emphasis or example: clearly, for example, for instance, namely, to illustrate
  • To show conclusion or summary: finally, thus, to conclude, in summary

When writing an opinion or argument, mindfully use transitions to help move your reader through your text so they can follow your train of thought and understand the connections you are trying to make for them. Questions on the CAT portion of the SBAC that assess your understanding of transitions might ask you to choose the transition sentence that would improve the connection between the ideas presented in the first and second paragraph, or to select the best transition to happen between two sentences. Understanding the purpose of different types of transition words will help you select the most effective one for the job.

In addition to transitions, clear writing also employs thoughtful syntax, which is to say that the author carefully considers word choice and word order to create clear, well-formed, effective sentences. These sentences are then linked together through the use of transition words to guide the reader through the text.

Vocabulary

It is expected that when writing or revising an opinion or argument text, you strategically select the most precise, appropriate language based on audience and purpose. This means using academic and domain-specific vocabulary and elevating the word choice to reflect purposeful diction. Questions assessing vocabulary use may ask which words are better replacements for underlined words in a text. You would need to determine which option(s) are more concrete or specific and would advance the claim most effectively.

Conclusion

The conclusion of an opinion or argument text may be one of the most important paragraphs. It is the writer’s last chance to wrap it all up for the reader, to clarify anything that might still be unclear, to make sure the reader understands the claim as the writer intended it, and to review the evidence that was used in support of that claim. The conclusion paragraph should be appropriate to the audience and purpose and should not include any new information or ideas that have not previously been introduced and explained in the body paragraphs. The conclusion paragraph is another form of support for the overall claim or argument put forth by the writer. Conclusion assessments may be short answer-type questions where you write an appropriate conclusion to the text that follows logically from the information presented, or you may be asked to select the best conclusion statement from several options.

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