High School English II: Composition Study Guide for the STAAR test
This task takes up only one question on the test, but its score is worth 16 of the possible total of 68 points, so your performance on it will make up about 24% of your English II test score. It involves attempting to satisfy many of the same requirements as the English I composition, but there are some differences. For specific information about the writing process, look at our High School English II: Composition Study Guide for the STAAR.
For the English II composition, you’ll be asked to write a persuasive essay, instead of an expository one that just gives information. During the course of English II, you studied the composition of expository texts, as well, but you’ll be tested on writing one of the persuasive variety.
As with the rest of the English II test, the composition section requires you to recall things you learned in English I, as well as incorporate a few new things from English II. Since assessing an essay for skill level could seem subjective and, thus, sort of a mystery, we’ll go over exactly what the assessors will look for when they read your composition. If you still have questions, refer to our English Basics Study Guides entitled Capitalization, Cleaning Up English, Parts of Speech, Punctuation, Sentence Structure, The Writing Process, and Word Usage.
We do not provide practice questions or flashcards for the STAAR® high school English composition tests as they would not be good tools for preparation. The best practice for a writing test is to write and get a good writer or teacher to evaluate your work and suggest ways to improve.
The Writing Process
We know you’ve probably been using the writing process in school for years but, since someone is going to be carefully looking at your essay for all of its parts, we think a quick review would be helpful.
The first step to writing a strong composition is to spend some time planning. In a testing situation, as fatigue starts to set in and the passage of time looms overhead, it’s a critical step that should not be skipped. Even if you only spend a few minutes planning what you are going to write about, what examples will best support your ideas, and how everything should be organized, you’ll be in better shape than if you just jump straight into writing.
Because there are time constraints in a testing environment, it’s important to allocate some time to planning, but not too much, as the only writing that will be assessed is your composition itself. Consider spending about 5 to 7 minutes to create an outline, where you list all of the major ideas and examples you want to include and figure out what order they make the most sense to go in. Even a quick brainstorm where you jot down your ideas about the subject, maybe without as much structure or organization as an outline, will help ensure that great ideas are less likely to be forgotten. You might prefer a kind of graphic organizer, like a web map, to help you see how your ideas are connected and how to present them in your text. See the middle section on this page of one of our other study guides to find two suggestions for graphically organizing your plan.
Remember that, in a persuasive text, you are trying to convince your audience to do something, believe something, or accept an idea with which they may not originally agree. Therefore, it’s important to anticipate their counterarguments and have a plan to rebut them. Include those possible counterarguments and rebuttals as part of your planning process.
Using your planning tool (whichever format you determined works best for your writing style), draft your composition. The planning you did now serves as a guide and helps you develop your ideas in a logical way.
When drafting your composition, be aware of transitions and rhetorical devices. Effective transitions help move your readers from one idea to the next, from one paragraph to the next. Be sure to include them so that the readers are able to follow your line of logic and hopefully be persuaded by it. Understanding your audience and using rhetorical devices that will appeal to their sense of logic and values and help them trust you as someone whose voice should be considered and listened to.
Although you are writing under some time pressure, you should not skip the revising or editing steps of the writing process. Revising means rereading your text and looking for ways to improve what you see. This may include replacing tired, overused words with ones that are more vivid, precise, or exact. Including some figurative language, making comparisons with which the audience can relate, and ensuring you have sentence variety are all things to consider during the revising phase.
This is also the point at which you should review the overall content. Do you have a clear thesis? Are your examples and supporting evidence relevant to your argument? Have you considered the counterargument and formed an adequate rebuttal to what the opposition might say? Does the organization of the essay make sense?
All revisions made should come as a result of reflecting on and understanding your purpose, to persuade, and your target audience.
In addition to “big picture” revising of your text, spend a few minutes editing, as well. Easy-to-spot mistakes in grammar, mechanics, or spelling will negatively affect your grade if you don’t look for and fix them before submitting your exam. So read carefully, line by line, and make sure standard conventions of English are followed. Because you have spent so much time writing the text, your brain may not process what your eyes actually see. Consider editing your text from the end, starting with the conclusion paragraph and going backward. In this way, your mind may be more open to seeing actual mistakes instead of seeing what it wants to see.
Persuasive writing intends to change the minds of your readers, to convince them that your position, your argument, and your stance is the one they should take as well. An argumentative essay just puts forth a different perspective as a viable consideration, but a persuasive essay requires that the writer take the next step to convince the reader to believe it, too. Persuasive texts influence the attitudes or actions of a specific audience on specific issues. Knowing who you are writing for and what doubts they might bring with them with regard to the topic of your argument will help you form counterarguments that you can rebut to convince them that your stance is one with which they should agree.
The thesis statement guides your entire composition, so drafting a clear, concise statement that presents your topic to the reader and provides your position about that topic is critical to the development of the rest of your text. Everything in your composition should relate back to your thesis statement as an example or support. The body paragraphs will be structured to provide logical reasons for your argument, supported by precise and relevant evidence, all of which tie back to your thesis statement.
The structure of your persuasive essay is determined by you as the author. Considering your purpose and audience, you may choose to organize your composition with an engaging introductory paragraph that provides background information about your subject, defines any terms your reader might need to know (and understand in the same way that you understand them), and a thesis statement with your main argument. Then, body paragraphs that support your thesis would follow.
A common question is “how many body paragraphs do I need to write?” The answer is “as many as it takes to prove your point and persuade your reader.” A classic five-paragraph essay will have three body paragraphs, but it may be that you need slightly more, though probably not less. The essay will conclude with a conclusion paragraph that ties all of the arguments together and leaves the reader with something to think about or action to complete. Remember in persuasive writing that you must address the opposition. Sometimes this is done in its own paragraph; sometimes, it is done argument by argument in each body paragraph. You should determine how you will organize the counterarguments and your rebuttals in your writing during the planning stage.
To persuade your reader, you must include relevant, trustworthy evidence. In the same way that you analyze the evidence in the texts you read, your audience will do the same with the information and evidence you provide to them. As a result, be sure that the data, facts, and evidence you choose in support of your argument are relevant to your intended audience and credible as fact. Don’t make things up—your audience will be able to tell, it will destroy your credibility and trustworthiness as an author, and the reader will not be persuaded by what you have to say. Select evidence that comes from credible sources (and give those sources credit) or personal experience.
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