Page 1 Writing Study Guide for the TSI

How to Prepare for the Writing Section of the TSI Assessment

General Information

Being a good writer is imperative for success in college. Colleges and universities do not want to see their enrollees sinking under writing struggles, so they usually test this ability even before enrollment. Then, remediation can be provided before the issues become insurmountable.

The TSI Assessment Writing test is actually two tests in one. There is a multiple-choice section in which you find corrections for writing errors in text. Then, you must write your own essay using all the principles of good writing, from structure to punctuation and everything in between.

The material included in most of this guide applies to both sections of the test. The first four major topics deal with what you need to know to answer the multiple-choice questions and to complete your own essay competently. Then, we have included a special section at the end that explains the way your essay will be scored. It won’t be a matter of someone saying, “Yeah, that’s good writing” or “That’s not good writing.” There are guidelines or “parameters” scorers use to evaluate your writing and you’ll earn a higher score if you purposefully address all of them.

Essay Revision

Taking a second or third look at your own writing is never a bad idea, but, to be effective, you must know what to look for. You probably won’t want to spend a lot of time on this during the essay portion, so it helps to be alert for specific things. The TSI Assessment multiple-choice writing section will require you to revise another person’s writing, so these ideas will help with that, as well.


Regardless of the genre, all writing must be organized in a meaningful way so that it effectively communicates its message to the reader. Good writers don’t write haphazardly; they have a plan and they spend some time organizing their ideas before they start writing so they can guide their audience through a beginning, middle, and end. When faced with a pressured writing situation, many people skip this important pre-writing step claiming they just want to get started and jump right into the writing so they don’t forget anything.

In fact, you will write better and in a more organized manner, often producing better-supported essays, if you sacrifice just a few minutes, in the beginning, to gather your thoughts and sketch out a rough outline. In this way, you can make sure that you have all supporting ideas and details accounted for so you don’t get to the end of your writing and say, “Oh! I meant to include X! How can I fit it in?” A few minutes of brainstorming and planning, in the beginning, can help you avoid major revision and reorganization issues at the end, as it’s never easy to just go back and “stick something in” when you’ve finished writing.

A General Essay Plan

Spending 3-5 minutes working on a general outline of your writing before diving in can help you stay organized and feel empowered to effectively tackle your writing task. Because the TSI Assessment requires a five-paragraph essay, it is easy to “plug in” the following categories to a brainstorm outline: Introduction, Point #1, Point #2, Point #3, and Conclusion.

Begin your brainstorm by identifying your topic and then your main idea (what do you have to say about the topic?). Then consider the supporting details or examples that will help explain things to your reader. What order should they go in to be the most effective? What might the opposition say to the argument or claim you have made? Why is that interpretation faulty? How can you wrap everything up for your reader in the most effective way? In addressing these types of issues before you start writing, you are better able to drive the organization of your writing and ensure that things make sense and you will score well.

Plan for each of the paragraphs to have five to seven sentences. Here is a more detailed description for a five-paragraph essay:

  • Paragraph 1: (Introduction)—Introduce the topic and your position on it, if necessary for the type of essay required. Provide some background for the reader to be able to better understand the topic and the issue(s) surrounding it. Then, you can briefly mention the three areas you will discuss in the next three paragraphs. Conclude with a sentence (sometimes referred to as a thesis statement) that succinctly states your claim with regard to the topic and leads your reader into the body paragraphs. This sentence is important because it serves as the roadmap for the rest of your essay and helps keep you on track as a writer (everything should link back to the claim made in this sentence) and helps your reader know what to expect in the upcoming paragraphs.

  • Paragraph 2: (First Body Paragraph)—Introduce the point of support, give three pieces of information about just this piece of support, being sure to explain how each one relates to your position and how it is evidence of the point you are making in this paragraph. Conclude with a summary statement about this, the first of your three points, and transition your reader to the next point with a strong transition sentence.

  • Paragraph 3: (Second Body Paragraph)—Same as paragraph 2, but using the second point of support for your essay topic.

  • Paragraph 4: (Third Body Paragraph)—Same as paragraphs 2 and 3, but using the third point of support for your essay topic.

  • Paragraph 5: (Conclusion)—Restate your position or make a summarizing statement about your essay topic. Briefly touch on the topic of each of the three supporting paragraphs. Then wrap it up with a final position or summarizing statement for the entire essay.

Note: Some parts of this design may seem to be repetitive, so be sure to reword your information in succeeding paragraphs.

Sometimes, it helps to have blank spaces to fill in, instead of a totally blank sheet of paper. If you need a simple format for planning, here are two ideas. As you begin your quick plan, it is easy to sketch out one of the basic forms below—omitting the words in parentheses—and fill in the blanks with the items in parentheses ( ). Then, as you write, it will simply be a matter of writing sentences to cover the words in your notes. Notice that there are no sentences in the plan—these are merely notes to remind you what to write about. You’ll do the writing in your essay.

List Plan

You might like this one if you tend to be a “list person” and can visualize things better when they are laid out in list form.


Example—Let’s suppose your task is to write about the costs associated with owning a pet. Your three main points involve food, vet costs, and a category of miscellaneous expenses. This is what a list plan might look like when filled in:


Map Plan

If you are the type of person who prefers to see things in “picture” or “map” form, this type of plan may work better for you.


Then, you can fill in the words as you would for the list plan. Just add introduction and conclusion paragraphs, form sentences from your notes, and you have an essay!

Types of Essay Organization

There are many different ways to organize an essay and it is important to consider the genre and purpose as you select how you are going to do this. It will also help to identify an organization pattern when you evaluate the writing of others, as you will need to do during the multiple-choice part of the TSI Assessment Writing test.

In the case of the TSI Assessment Essay, you will be asked to write a persuasive piece, which means that you are trying to persuade or convince your audience of something. In this genre, it is usually most effective to organize your ideas in one of the following ways:

  • cause and effect—The “cause-and-effect” essay structure explains the reasons or causes for something and then identifies the results or effects. In terms of persuasive writing, cause-and-effect structure might have you identifying reasons or results that your readers might not have considered. In that way, you persuade them that the chain of events, as you have interpreted them, is the most accurate way to view the subject. Organizationally, a cause-and-effect essay can be formatted with all of the causes identified and explained in the first half of the essay with the effects of these things explained in the second half or a paragraph of the first cause and its effect, then a new paragraph with a new cause and its effect, and so on.

  • problem-cause-solution—In the “problem-cause-solution” essay, the writer presents a problem, identifies the cause, and proposes possible solution(s). In terms of persuasive writing, this structure requires that you persuade your audience that the problem you’ve identified is, in fact, a problem they should care about and that your solution(s) is something that will help to address the problem in the most effective way. Organizationally, a problem-cause-solution essay can be formatted with the problems and their causes outlined first and the proposed solutions in the second half of the essay, or the paragraphs can go back and forth between problem and cause, solution to that problem, problem and cause, solution to that problem.

  • compare and contrast—Essays that are structured in the “compare-and-contrast” style can be very effective, but it is important to remember both parts of the response. Compare means to show the similarities between two or more things, to identify commonalities and explain them to the reader. The part many people forget in a compare-and-contrast essay is to also show the differences, which is the contrast part. This structure is especially appropriate if you are asked to compare different authors, works, or time periods. It is persuasive in the sense that you are generally using your own interpretations of things to compare and contrast, diving in beyond the superficial or obvious. Organizationally, compare and contrast might be structured as point 1 comparison or contrast, point 2 comparison or contrast, point 3 comparison or contrast; or you could explain three points about one person or thing in the first half of the essay and then three points about the person or thing you are comparing, making sure to also include at least one contrast point.

There are a number of other organizational patterns for writing. They are generally not appropriate for persuasive writing, but you may encounter them in other types of text. These include:

  • categorical—This type of organization, sometimes called topical, has writers organize their essays by category or topic. Information is arranged by sub-category within a broader topic and is good for informational writing.

  • chronological—In a “chronological” essay, ideas are presented in terms of time, either forward or backward (and whichever you choose, be consistent! It’s not good to jump around in terms of time). This pattern is good for writing about historical events.

  • sequential—In this organizational pattern, information is organized in a step-by-step manner. Similar to chronological, it takes the reader through the steps of a process in a logical order. It is most appropriate for writing about how to do something, sometimes called “process writing” or “how to” writing.

Introductions and Conclusions

The introduction serves several very important purposes:

  • It hooks the reader into wanting to read your writing.
  • It provides necessary background information.
  • It allows you to establish your credibility with the reader (what makes you a voice of reason on this topic?).
  • It states your main idea about the topic—the thesis statement—which anchors the rest of your writing.

As a result, it is important to make sure that your introduction is clear and focused so that it sets your reader up to be able to understand and appreciate the rest of the essay.

The conclusion is also important as it is the last opportunity for a writer to reach his/her reader and affect that audience’s thinking. A conclusion should:

  • Restate the main idea (thesis).
  • Summarize the main points.
  • Leave the reader with something interesting to think about and ponder.

A conclusion should not include the introduction of any new material, information, or ideas. It should be planned for and carefully considered. Make sure that you don’t “run out of time” and skip writing a conclusion. Even if you only have time for a sentence or two, be sure to wrap up your writing somehow.

Paragraph Organization

Paragraph organization affects the reader’s ability to follow the writer’s train of thought. It is important to lead your reader through your writing and make sure that you don’t lose them along the way by jumping to conclusions or making connections that aren’t clear to someone who may be unfamiliar with the topic.

Each paragraph should be organized around a topic sentence that connects back to the thesis statement. Examples or support should not only be provided, but also explained to the reader—how does this example really support the claim made in your thesis? What connection is the reader supposed to see? Don’t assume your readers will draw the same conclusion or interpret something in the same way that you do; specifically lead them to the conclusion you want them to draw by explaining the connections that you see between your main idea and your example. While they may not have seen things this way on their own, if you can enlighten them with a new viewpoint, then you are probably doing an effective job of persuading them of your point. This is the purpose of a persuasive essay, like the one on the TSI Assessment. Don’t forget to also include a transition sentence at the end of each body paragraph that will help your reader move to the next point more easily.

As this is a persuasive essay, it is important that you identify and acknowledge what the opposition might think or say about your ideas. This can either be done in each paragraph or all counterarguments can be put in a separate paragraph, usually before the conclusion paragraph. Also remember that it is not enough to just identify the counterargument; if you are going to effectively persuade your audience, then you must also provide a rebuttal to those counterarguments.

Paragraph organization is where those few minutes of brainstorming at the beginning really comes in handy. When you jot these ideas and examples down, you can get a sense for the order they should come in, which examples are your strongest, which points still need examples to support them, counterarguments and rebuttal, and how all of these ideas link together. When you just write without considering these things beforehand, you may get to the end of an essay and realize you’ve veered way off topic or you have forgotten a major component. By then, it’s usually too late to fix it before you’re too exhausted from the pressure of the test.


Coherence is the idea that everything works together as a unified whole in your writing. The paragraphs all relate back to the main idea, the sentences within each paragraph work together to support and explain your main idea about the topic, and your word choice (diction) is appropriate for your audience and purpose. In a persuasive essay, your writing must be logical and your arguments consistent. That will help your message come across to your reader as a unified whole and create coherence.