Page 1 High School English II: Writing Study Guide for the STAAR® test
How to Prepare for the Writing Questions on the STAAR® High School English II Test
The STAAR® High School English II test, like the test for English I, covers both reading and writing, including a composition component. This study guide gives details about the concepts tested only by the multiple-choice questions related to writing. We have separate study guides to help you study for the reading questions and prepare to write the composition. However, this guide can also help with your preparation for the composition by reviewing the level of competency the assessors will be looking for in your writing.
The English II test assumes that you know all the content covered in English I, so we will not go over that again. Instead, we will focus on concepts that are newly taught during English II level studies in high school. You are encouraged to review our English I study guide, practice questions, and flashcards as well as those for English II to ensure that you are totally prepared and haven’t forgotten things from either course.
The percentage of writing questions on the English II test is the same as that for English I: 18 of the 52 multiple-choice questions (26%) concern writing skills and you will be expected to use these skills when writing the composition.
So, here are the concepts you should add to your skillset in addition to the writing skills you learned in English I:
- Again, you’ll be working with passages in which each sentence is numbered.
- You’ll be asked to provide the best way to revise or edit this content, according to standard English guidelines.
- The passages will range from about 300 to 500 words in length and could be persuasive, informative/expository, or literary in nature.
- There will be about 4-5 questions on each passage and you will have access to the passage while answering the questions.
The following outline contains the English II skills that could appear on the test.
Writing is a process, and two of the most important steps in the process are revising and editing. Although often used synonymously, these two steps are distinctly different. Revision is the step where, after a text has been written, the author looks at it as a whole to determine how well it flows, if there are any gaps, and if the organization makes sense. It’s a look at the “big picture” of the text and a review of the content, the structure, and the clarity of the message.
The Writing Process
The writing process starts with the planning stage of determining topic, brainstorming examples, and determining audience and purpose. When there is a rough plan in place, often in the form of an outline or some sort of graphic, the drafting stage begins and those ideas that were brainstormed during the planning stage are now developed into complete sentences and linked together with transitions into multiple coherent paragraphs.
After the draft is complete, an author will revise his or her work, which means reviewing the text as a whole, determining places where more information or evidence might be needed, deleting unnecessary information or irrelevant examples, and perhaps considering counterarguments and rebuttals, depending on the type of writing. By carefully reviewing their work, authors will often be able to find ways to improve these aspects of their writing:
- word choice
- use of figurative language
- sentence variety
- appropriateness for intended audience
- achievement of writing purpose
- adherence to appropriate genre
Revision focuses on the big picture, but the editing step focuses on the details of the writing. This is where grammar, spelling, punctuation, diction, and the like are evaluated and strengthened, as needed.
When everything looks good, the author publishes the text, meaning he or she shares it with the intended audience, such as turning in the work to a teacher. After publishing, the author may receive feedback that causes the author to return to the writing process and perhaps do some more revising and editing. Thus, the idea that writing is a “process” and that a text is never “done” or “perfect.”
Revision of procedural or expository texts is to ensure that all the required components are present. Procedural or expository texts communicate ideas and information to a particular audience for a particular reason. In the revision of such text, the author should review to make sure the text has an effective introductory paragraph that contains a clear and relevant thesis statement and well-developed body paragraphs that expose the reader to the idea presented in the thesis statement. There should also be a concluding paragraph that adequately wraps up the essence of the text and leaves the readers satisfied to know they have reached the end. The paragraphs should be logically organized and easy for the intended audience to follow, have effective transition sentences between ideas and paragraphs, and provide relevant information presented using rhetorical devices appropriate to audience and purpose.
Persuasive texts are intended to convince or sway the attitudes or beliefs of an audience about a particular topic or issue. When revising a persuasive text, it is important to make sure that there is a clear thesis in the introduction paragraph that explains the author’s position or argument.
That position or argument must then be supported by logical reasoning and relevant evidence, which should be presented in well-organized body paragraphs. Included in those body paragraphs should be a sense of the counterargument, or what the opposition will have to say about the topic. It is not enough just to mention the other side, however. The author must also include a rebuttal to those counterarguments so the audience is again focused on the author’s side of the argument.
The revision step is also the time to evaluate the effectiveness of the evidence: are the examples used relevant to the intended audience? Are they credible? If the answer to these questions is ever “no,” some revision and replacement of evidence should take place.
Since editing has the same requirements at the English I and II levels, we will just briefly review them in this guide. However, you are encouraged to find more information about the entire writing process in our STAAR® High School English I Writing study guide.
Editing picks apart a text sentence by sentence and focuses on the small details as opposed to the big picture that is the focus of the revision step. By this point, the content should be good because the revisions have taken place. Now it is the delivery that is examined carefully. Line by line, editing requires close, careful review of grammar conventions.
Part of the Writing Process
Editing is the last step of the writing process before a text is published, meaning that it is presented to an audience for them to read. Therefore, it’s the last opportunity to find those little mistakes or typos that might have been overlooked in previous reviews of the text.
Writing elements such as capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and grammar are the focus of conventions. When editing for conventions, also consider the use of academic language in a text. Diction is critical and academic language will elevate your writing to something the audience is more likely to remember and appreciate. As you edit for conventions, look at word choice and diction and see where higher level vocabulary words can smoothly be substituted. You don’t want it to sound like you were using the thesaurus app, but you do want to use vocabulary that presents the text in an academic way.
Parts of Speech and Clauses
There are eight parts of speech in the English language, and it’s important that you understand the role of each so that you can determine if and when they are being used incorrectly and then know how to fix those mistakes. Sentences are made up of clauses (dependent and independent), so understanding what those are and being able to identify them and when they are used correctly or incorrectly in a text will help you on the test.
Verbs— Verbs are action words or states of being. Actions can take place in the past, the present, or the future. As a result, verbs can be conjugated in many ways. Be sure to review verbs and verbals (see our STAAR® High School English I Writing Study Guide for more details on gerunds, participles, and infinitives). When reviewing active and passive voice, remember that the determination of voice is not dependent on the time in which the action takes place (past, present, or future).
Clauses— Clauses are the building blocks of sentences. Independent clauses can stand by themselves as complete sentences, or be joined together to create more complex sentences (and add sentence variety to a text). Dependent clauses cannot form complete sentences on their own and must be linked to an independent clause if they want to join a sentence. Clauses can be restrictive, meaning that they are essential to the basic understanding of a sentence, or non-restrictive, meaning they’re nice to have in the sentence and they provide more information or details, but they are not necessary to understanding the sentence.
Reciprocal Pronouns— Reciprocal pronouns (one another or each other) are often misused because people think they are interchangeable. Each serves its own distinct purpose, however. When there are two people, things, or groups exchanging action, each is used. For example, “The dog and the cat cannot be in the same room as each other without a fight breaking out.” When there are more than two people, things, or groups involved in the action, one is used. For example, “The workers at the factory all supported one another during the strike.”
To add variety to a text and to keep the reader engaged, authors will use a variety of correctly structured sentences. This includes compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences. Simple sentences may also be used and are often relied on by authors to make a particular point clearly and directly to the reader. It’s hard to misunderstand the meaning in a simple sentence.
In addition to sentence structure, effectively using clauses, and properly using parts of speech, the editing step of the writing process also addresses other writing convention concerns. These include things like capitalization, punctuation, and spelling.
Remember that capital letters serve a purpose and can affect the tone of a text (think about how you read something when it is in ALL CAPITALS as opposed to properly capitalized). In formal, academic writing, it is important to apply all standard rules of capitalization. For a review of those rules, please visit our STAAR® High School English I Writing Study Guide, linked above.
The editing step of the writing process also includes looking over punctuation to ensure that everything is used correctly. Quotation marks used to indicate irony or sarcasm, commas in nonrestrictive phrases or clauses, and colons vs. semi-colons each offer punctuation pitfalls that need to be avoided. For a review of all types of punctuation, visit our English Basics Punctuation Study Guide.
More and more we rely on spell check and autocorrect to handle misspellings in our writing. For the STAAR® test, however, you must be able to not only identify when a word in the text is misspelled, but also know how to fix it and what the correct spelling is. Our English Basics Study Guide for Word Usage has multiple lists of commonly misspelled (and misused) words.
Also be aware that, just because you see a word spelled one way in one source, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is correct. As you study, if you question the spelling of a word, be sure to access a reliable source, such as one of the many online dictionaries, to confirm the proper spelling and cement it into your written vocabulary.