ELAR: Writing Study Guide for the TSIA2

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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.

Both reading and writing are assessed by the TSIA2 English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) test. Questions about writing make up exactly half of the test, with the remaining portion devoted to reading skills. The first test you’ll take, the College Readiness Classification test (CRC), contains 15 writing items, and the Diagnostic test has 24. Skills covered are mostly the same in both tests, with the longer Diagnostic test covering just a few more writing skills than the CRC..

In this study guide, you’ll be given an outline of the writing skills that will be covered in the ELAR test and some information you should know about writing before taking it. Also, use our free practice questions and flashcards for the TSIA2 to aid in preparation and seek further assistance if there are areas about which you have questions.

It’s best to go ahead and prepare for both tests. You won’t know if you need to take the Diagnostic Test until after you take the CRC.

Note: Depending on your test results, you may be asked to write an essay after either the CRC or the Diagnostic test. You won’t know until after you take at least one of the tests, so it would be best to access our essay test prep for the TSIA2, as well.

The material included in this study guide applies to the multiple choice questions you will see on the writing parts of the ELAR CRC and Diagnostic tests, but it will also help you if you need to take the essay-writing part of the TSIA2.

And, if you have any questions about writing concepts, check out our English Basics materials. We have sections specifically dealing with many of the concepts below.

Writing Tasks on This Test

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. Knowing how to “fix” things in another’s writing will help you revise and edit your own writing. You’ll find that being aware of the concepts in this study guide will help you to be alert for specific problems contained in all writing.

You will not do any actual writing on either of the ELAR tests (CRC or Diagnostic). Rather, you will be reviewing the writing of others and determining if it is clearly written and free of errors. If you find errors or instances in which the writing could be improved, you’ll need to choose the answer that corrects the problem. These are all multiple-choice questions and there are two types.

Revising and Editing Essays

The first few writing questions on both the CRC and the Diagnostic ELAR tests involve reviewing essays for everything from structure to Standard English conventions. You’ll be looking for errors and choosing ways to correct them, if any correction is needed. There are four questions about one essay on the CRC test and three essays with four questions each on the Diagnostic test. All of the essays will be written in prose.

Revising, Editing, and Completing Sentences

Following the essay revising and editing tasks, you will encounter a number of similar questions about single sentences. Some of these may require you to choose an answer that completes a sentence appropriately. There are 11 of these on the CRC test and you’ll see 12 of them on the Diagnostic test.

Essay Revision and Editing Skills

The questions about essay revision and editing tend to focus more on the whole piece, rather than on details in specific sentences. You’ll be concerned with things that contribute to the clarity and overall effectiveness of the essay.


Development, in a piece of writing, simply refers to the additional details and support a writer gives to the main idea of the piece. Each paragraph should develop the main idea of the entire essay. Within each paragraph, more details should support the main idea or point of that paragraph. So, a writer does not simply make a statement, but must use other ideas and supportive statements to “prove” that his or her idea is valid and should be considered.

In a narrative piece, the development is of the characters involved. Bit by bit, more is revealed about them until the reader has a detailed idea of who they are and what they are like.


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.

Types of Essay Organization

The very fact that an essay is organized is most important, but there are several classic organizational plans that help people organize to write. Knowing about them will also help you assess the writing of others. The first three organizational patterns below are most appropriate for writing a persuasive essay. The last three are generally not appropriate for persuasive writing, but you may encounter them in other types of text.

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, the author persuades the reader that the chain of events, as the author interprets 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.


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 the author persuades their audience that the problem identified is, in fact, a problem they should care about and that the author’s solution 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, etc.

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 a person is asked to compare different authors, works, or time periods. It is persuasive in the sense that the writer is generally using their 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 the author 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.


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.


In a chronological essay, ideas are presented in terms of time, either forward or backward. Whichever is chosen, it’s important to be consistent! It’s not good to jump around in terms of time. This pattern is good for writing about historical events.


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.

Beginning and Ending

In addition to the bulk of information contained in an essay, how it starts and how it ends plays a major role in its effectiveness.


The introduction serves several very important purposes:

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

As a result, it is important to make sure that the introduction is clear and focused so that it sets the 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. It is important not to “run out of time” and skip writing a conclusion. Even if there is only time for a sentence or two, an author should wrap up the writing somehow.

Organization Within a Paragraph

Paragraph organization affects the reader’s ability to follow the writer’s train of thought. It is important to lead the reader through the writing and make sure to not 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.

The Topic Sentence and Support

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 the thesis? What connection is the reader supposed to see? A writer should not assume readers will draw the same conclusion or interpret something in the same way as the author does. Instead, the writer should specifically lead them to the desired conclusion by explaining the connections between the main idea and the given examples.


Before ending, each paragraph should conclude with a transition sentence that will help your reader move to the next point more easily. It should both wrap up the information in the current paragraph and lead on to the point of the next paragraph.


Especially in a persuasive essay, it is important for a writer to identify and acknowledge what the opposition might think or say about the author’s 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 a writer is going to effectively persuade an audience, there must also be a rebuttal to those counterarguments provided.


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


Especially in persuasive writing, it is not enough just to state an opinion and hope that the reader will feel the same way about the topic. The most effective way to persuade a reader is to use evidence throughout the writing that will help to convince the reader to interpret the facts of a situation in the same way. An author should use a variety of evidence that will support his or her position and argument.

Evidence can be facts or statistics as well personal anecdotes of relevant experiences that help to support a claim. Restating or repeating a position will not convince anyone of anything, but providing evidence and support for the claim may change a reader’s mind and may get them on the author’s side of the argument. The more evidence and support used, the more convincing and solid the argument. And remember, it’s not enough just to stick evidence in; it must be explained as to why it’s there and what it means in support of a claim.

Language Use

An author has many choices that define the effectiveness of his or her writing. The same message can be written by multiple authors and each can have a quite different effect on the reader.

Word Choice

Word choice (also referred to as diction) is important in strong writing and clear communication. Many words in English have the same or similar meaning, but subtle shades of difference between them can affect tone and clarity. As a result, it is important to think about word choice carefully and consider how the reader may respond to a particular word and its shades of meaning. It is generally a good rule of thumb to use more formal diction in writing and to leave out the slang and fillers that sometimes find their way into our oral communication.


Some people write as though the higher the word count, the better the writing. This is not always the case. Good writers know how to be concise; that is, they know how to get their point across using an economy of words. Often, when writing papers for school assignments and trying to hit that magic 500 word count or whatever it is, students will stick in “fluff” to pad the word count. What they are putting in does not add to their message and it does not augment their argument. It just builds the word count.

Effective writers write concisely. They choose the best words to deliver their message and they leave out the fluff. This does not mean that sentences are short or choppy or that ideas are not well developed. It means that they carefully select their sentence construction and their word choice so that every word serves a purpose and adds meaning to the overall message.

An author should consider: what is the simplest way to get the message across? That way will also be the most clear to the reader. This may also include combining sentences to improve clarity of meaning. With conciseness, the goal is to take out everything that is redundant, does not advance the argument, or does not contribute to the main idea.


Using precise word choice is another important tool in writing. Because there are so many similar words, it is important to make sure that the right one is used—the one that delivers the intended meaning. Working together, all of the words convey the intended message. Take, for example, the verb said. Said is a fine verb. It gives the reader the sense that something is being spoken by someone, but it doesn’t have a lot of oomph and its connotation doesn’t help to paint a very vivid picture for the reader.

“‘I’m scared,’ John said.”

But look at what happens when you substitute another verb with similar meaning:

“‘I’m scared,’ John whispered.”
“‘I’m scared,’ John gulped.”

These more precise verbs give the reader a much more vivid image than when he just “said” those words. This is what is meant by precision.

Verbs are the easiest to make precise, but one can also consider precision when using adjectives, adverbs, and other modifiers.

Speaking of modifiers, it is also important that they be used and placed with precision. Consider:

“Alex saw a pack of coyotes on the way to school.”

Hmmm…the coyotes were on their way to school? This is an example of a misplaced modifier. To create precision (and not have anyone misunderstand who was headed where), the sentence would be better written as:

“On his way to school, Alex saw a pack of coyotes.”

In this sentence, it is more clear about who is doing what. This is why precision is important. Word choice and word placement should not be left to chance.


Rhetoric is the use of language to persuade an audience to believe or accept something they might not otherwise be willing to believe or accept. It is language used to “convince” an audience. To be most effective, writers must consider their audience carefully and choose their rhetoric accordingly. Rhetoric is commonly divided into three categories and it is when these three work together harmoniously that the most effective persuasion takes place. The three categories of rhetoric are: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.


Ethos is the credibility a writer brings to a subject. If an author is trying to convince a reader or audience of something, they must give them a reason to trust and believe what is being said. What right does the author have to tell them about the dangers of drinking and driving? Well, maybe the author has had a friend or family member who has been the victim of a drunk driving accident. It gives the writer credibility if this personal story is shared and used as evidence to help support any claim. The author might have studied a particular subject or done extensive research on a particular topic. These experiences all give a writer credibility to act as an “expert” in talking about a certain idea and help convince an audience to seriously consider what they have to say about it.


Pathos is the emotional reaction elicited from an audience based on word choice and sentence structure. Effective writers can lead their readers to feel strongly in response to a topic simply by being aware of what the audience cares about and what biases they may bring to the table. Pathos can elicit feelings of anger, frustration, guilt, sadness, motivation, or inspiration which a writer can then transform to encourage the audience to take action and do something about the issue. Pathos can be very powerful because it moves people from a deep place within.


Logos is the reasonable, rational evidence given to support a claim. Logos appeals to a reasonable person’s sense of logic. Facts, statistics, and scientific findings tend to appeal to a person’s sense of logic and reason. Logos are the arguments made that would cause a reader to nod in agreement and think, “Yes! That makes perfect sense!”

Using Rhetoric

Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher credited with naming and explaining rhetoric, claims that rhetoric is most effective when all three of these types are used together. Knowing your audience and remembering your purpose will help you figure out an appropriate balance among them.

Standard English Conventions

When you submit writing in an academic setting, whether it is a classroom or as part of a test, certain things are expected. These things are often referred to as Standard English Conventions. They are the set of rules governing putting oral language into writing. The purpose of these rules is to make all writing as clear and understandable as possible to any reader. Here is more about these rules.


There are many writing skills that fall under the broad umbrella called grammar. You will probably use these more in the sentence correction part of this test, so they are fully explained below in that section of this study guide. However, you should be aware of all of them in case answering questions in the essay part rely on your knowledge of grammar rules.


Besides using proper grammar, there is often a choice to be made about which word to use and which form of it to select. This can come under the grammar umbrella, but it often involves more than just being correct or incorrect. Usage also encompasses picking the best word to use for the circumstance. There is more about this concept under Language Use, above.


Review basic punctuation guidelines. One of the most common mistakes is overusing commas and there are other often-encountered punctuation errors.

Remember, commas create a pause. A writer should make sure they really want to slow the reader down at that point before inserting one.
Keep question marks and exclamation points to a minimum. Make an impact with your words more so than your punctuation.
Watch out for random apostrophes (’) stuck in places they don’t belong. Apostrophes are used in contractions and to show possession (but not with “it”); they do not make a word plural. For example, the plural of pet is pets not pet’s.


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