Learning Resource Center
UWC - GWT-Preparation
GWT Practice Topics
- Select a topic from the list below, read it a couple of times and note what it requires you to do. Make sure you complete all the tasks of the assignment.
- You have one hour and 15 minutes to write on the essay topic. Take a few minutes to plan and organize your essay before you begin to write. Scratch outlines, brainstorming, or clustering are often quite helpful. In this short time, however, you will probably not have time to write a rough draft and then recopy it.
- Try to think of specific evidence and concrete examples to support or illustrate your general points.
- Allow yourself enough time after writing to go back over your essay, proofread for errors and omissions, and make the necessary corrections.
- The essay topic is designed to give you an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to write clearly and effectively. Perfection is not expected, but you should try to produce the best essay possible in the time allotted.
The University Writing Center recruits tutors from all disciplines. Every tutor applicant must:
- Demonstrate good writing ability.
- Have a basic knowledge of the conventions of formal writing.
- Be a successful student (unofficial transcripts required).
- During the recruitment process, each applicant is asked to respond to a sample of student writing and describe how he or she would work with that student. There is no one right way to respond--the important thing is to have some insight into how to interact with a struggling writer.
- Complete a multiple choice "proofreading" test.
Note: After you have finished your practice essay, you may want to make an appointment with a Writing Center tutor to go over your paper. The best way to learn to improve your writing skills is to practice, get feedback, develop a revision plan, and re-write your essay.
In the Weeks Before the Test
- Write practice essays on practice topics available in the Writing Center. Give yourself 75 minutes, and write on the topic just like you were taking the exam. Make an appointment with a tutor to go over your practice essay.
- Read the editorial pages of the newspaper at least once a week. As you read each editorial, look for the thesis, and look at how that thesis is developed and supported.
On the Day of the Test
(Adapted from Learning Resource Center materials prepared by Laura Topalian)
- To help prevent anxiety, try to arrive a little early for our test.. Try staying alone--in your car or in a private space on campus--if this will help you to remain calm. Do keep in mind that if you are late, you will not be admitted to the test.
- Bring your student ID and at least two pencils and two pens with you. The pencils are for bubbling in an information questionnaire before the test. Ink is officially required for the test. Do not bring white-out for the test. (Just cross out neatly with a single line.)
- Keep track of time while you take the test: 10-15 minutes to brainstorm and cluster ideas; 45 to 50 minutes to write; and 5-10 minutes to proofread.
- Pay attention to the controlling verbs in your assignment. These verbs are the commands that give you directions and help you organize your essay. Some controlling verbs are: ANALYZE, COMPARE, CONTRAST, DEFINE, DESCRIBE, DISCUSS, EVALUATE, EXPLAIN, ILLUSTRATE, PROVE, and STATE.
- State your thesis and summarize your supporting points in your introduction. Make sure your thesis is something that someone could agree or disagree with.
- State the topic of each supporting paragraph early in the paragraph.
- Do not introduce new supporting points in your conclusion.
- Avoid using sarcasm. Attacking the topic or making fun of it is a risky strategy. In general, try to sound sincere and convincing.
- In your supporting paragraphs, use details to make the discussion of your points convincing and interesting. For example, you could include a person’s name, the time (which month, which season, which year, which quarter) when an incident occurred, a place name, and other kinds of specific details. Here are a couple of shorthand devices for helping you generate ideas and supporting details quickly.
the acronym FRIED was coined by Dr. Karen Russikoff, a Cal Poly Pomona English professor. If you keep the word FRIED in your mind, it can give you cues that are easy to remember on ways in which to develop your supporting points with specific detail. FRIED stands for:
The Five W’s:
Newspaper reporters have to remember the five W’s: Who, What, When, Where and Why. If you are telling a story to support one of your points, the five W’s will help you remember to include all of the details.
- Use transition words to connect your ideas together. However, do not force yourself to use a transition if it detracts from the logic of your sentences. Transitions include words or phrases such as also, in addition, on the other hand, besides, and furthermore.
- The GWT essay is a personal essay. Most GWT topics expect you to write about your opinions in the first person (my opinion, I believe, when I was about eight years old, etc.).
- If you tend to make grammatical errors, be especially careful to proofread for the following kinds of errors: incorrect verb tense or verb forms, lack of agreement (singular/plural) between a subject and verb, omission of articles (the, a, an) or using unnecessary articles, omitting plural endings (-s) or adding a plural ending to a singular or uncountable noun, omitting periods (run-on or fused sentence), or using a comma where a period is needed (comma splice). Try to avoid making spelling errors.
- Ink is preferred even if you need to cross out words, sentences or paragraphs. The graders would rather read an essay written in ink even if there are cross outs. They are not expecting perfection because they know that the GWT is a rough draft. Just cross out with a neat line, because white-out wastes time and interrupts your writing process. Under no circumstances copy a draft over. Write only one version of your essay and make your revisions on it.
- Leave margins on both sides and write on every line. Most GWT essays are about two pages long.
- If you don’t have time to write a concluding paragraph, make sure that there is at least some sense of ending. Don’t just stop in mid-sentence. Even writing “Sorry, ran out of time,” is better than no conclusion at all.
This essay format is really a formula for an instant essay organization. Essays written in this style are often simplistic and formulaic, but it is possible to write a good essay if you have good content and think about your readers a bit. This format is especially useful for timed essay exams.
Sample topic: What is the purpose of a college education, and does Cal Poly Pomona fulfill this purpose?
Lead or Hook.
Thesis statement. (At left it is underlined, but you don't have to underline
most students graduate from high school, they are tired of school. They
don’t want to go to school for four more years. However, without a college
degree, it is hard to get a good job. In my opinion, the purpose of
college is to prepare you for a good career. Cal Poly Pomona prepares
you because it has many popular degree programs. It also has many good
teachers and a “learn by doing” philosophy.
Sentence about point 1.
details: facts, reasons, examples, arguments.
degree programs at Cal Poly lead directly into good jobs in industry.
For example, the Hotel and Restaurant Management program prepares students
for a career in the hospitality industry. The Electrical and Computer
Engineering program is also popular in our high tech society. (Add more)
phrase, topic sentence about point 2.
details: facts, reasons, examples, arguments.
benefit at Cal Poly is the high quality faculty. For example, my Engineering
professor worked for many years in industry, and really knows what companies
are looking for. (Add more)
phrase, topic sentence about point 3.
details: facts, reasons, examples, arguments.
addition, Cal Poly has a hands on, “learn by doing” teaching philosophy.
This means that students work on real projects with real materials, plants
and animals. For example . . . (Add more)
summary of information.
the right college or university can make a big difference in preparing
you for a career. Cal Poly Pomona is the right university for me because
of its attractive degree programs, good teachers, and hands on teaching
methods. It might be the right choice for you too.
Organizing Your Essay
Many high school students have learned a type of organization called the “five-paragraph essay.” The pattern works like this:
- Introduction: Thesis and three reasons.
- Body Paragraph One: Discuss reason number one.
- Body Paragraph Two: Discuss reason number two.
- Body Paragraph Three: Discuss reason number three.
- Conclusion: Summarize.
Although the five-paragraph essay format does provide a basic organizational structure, there are many potential problems. To list a few:
- Most newspaper editorials, magazine essays, scholarly articles, and other examples of writing of this general type don’t have five paragraphs. (The closest thing to a five-paragraph essay in the real world is probably the unsigned editorials in the opinion section of the local newspaper, but even these do not always have five paragraphs.)
- The reader usually needs some sort of context for the thesis, some idea of why he or she should be interested in reading about this now. In general this format doesn’t do much to engage the reader.
- Such essays are usually too short to require a summary at the end. The summary repeats ideas that the reader has just read about and hasn’t had time to forget.
- The format encourages too much repetition—often the same three phrases are repeated in the introduction, the body paragraphs, and the conclusion. The reader gets bored.
- If you follow this format too strictly, you are letting the form generate the content. In other words, you are putting far more emphasis on how you organize the content than on what you want to say, the purpose you have in mind, and what your readers need.
Contrary to what many students believe, there is no rule that says that a college essay, or any other kind of essay, must have five paragraphs and five paragraphs only. Paragraph divisions perform two functions: 1) they help the reader understand the text by organizing it into groups of ideas that work together, and 2) they help the eye return to the proper place in the text after looking away for a brief moment. A text without enough breaks is difficult to read because you keep losing your place.
Thus, paragraph divisions should simply help the reader read and understand the text. How many paragraphs you have depends on the nature of your ideas and how much you have to say. What follows is a different way of thinking about the college essay.
An Essay is Like a Journey
Introduction : Your introduction is like a signpost or a map at the beginning of a trail. It tells readers where you are going to take them, what ideas you will explore, and what they will see along the way. It should create a feeling of anticipation and interest. It should provide a broad context for your ideas, a strong thesis or focusing idea, and a brief summary of the points the essay will develop. Ask yourself:
- What is my main idea or thesis?
- Who are my readers? What do they know and believe?
- Why is my idea important here and now?
- How do I want my readers to respond?
Body : The body of the essay moves the reader along toward the destination or goal. It might have one paragraph, but usually it has several. Each paragraph is related to one of the points you want to show the readers along the way. Some points may take more than one paragraph to develop completely. There should be connections and transitions between the points you show the reader. Ask yourself:
- What points do I want to make to help my readers understand my idea?
- What examples can I use to help the reader understand each point?
- What evidence do I have that each point is true?
- How can I keep the reader interested in following my ideas?
- What is this paragraph about?
- What does this paragraph do for the reader?
Conclusion : The conclusion is the end of the journey. It looks back on the points you have shown the reader, and reinforces, but does not necessarily repeat, the main idea. It also should create a feeling of ending, a farewell to the reader. Ask yourself:
- How has the reader's mind been changed by following my points and examples?
- If we continued this journey, where would we go next?
- If the reader ignores the points you have made, what might happen?
Becoming More Familiar with the Essay Form
Reading the opinion section of the local newspaper is a good way to become familiar with the essay format used in the GWT. The unsigned editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper’s editorial board, and are very similar to GWT essays. The signed (with a byline) editorials are written by guest columnists, usually professional writers and influential people. The letters to the editor are written by ordinary citizens who have a strong opinion about an issue, or an article in a previous edition of the newspaper.
For many GWT topics, you could not go far wrong imagining yourself writing a letter to the editor of the newspaper.