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HSPA Language Arts. The HSPA is an exam administered statewide in March to high school juniors. It is designed to test our students’ proficiencies in Mathematics and Language Arts. A passing score of 200 in each section is necessary for graduation.

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HSPA Language Arts

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The HSPA is an exam administered statewide in March to high school juniors. It is designed to test our students’ proficiencies in Mathematics and Language Arts. A passing score of 200 in each section is necessary for graduation.


The Language Arts Literacy (LAL) Section of the HSPA is divided into two cluster areas. Each of these clusters reflects knowledge and skills specified in New Jersey’s Core Curriculum Content Standards.


Task: Students will read a quote, adage or universally accessible topic and respond in an educated, thought-provoking essay.


“Early to bed, early to rise…”

“Harder, better faster, stronger…”

“To be or not to be…”

Types of Prompts:

·    Quotes- famous quotations by historians, authors, politicians, etc. Example: “Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.”

·    Adages- short, memorable sayings that have great meaning attached. Example: Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you react to it.

·    Universally Accessible Topic- Food for thought that is not attached to curriculum or studies, but rather an idea formed from life experience. Example: Some say that love is the most powerful emotion. Others think love is simply a reaction.

???Can your imagination reach its full potential on this picture???



  • Aim for a 4-paragraph response (at a minimum) which uses various cohesive devices (think- transitions!).
  • Remember that this is all expository (explanatory) not narrative (telling a story).
  • You will need: an opening and a closing; a well-developed, cohesive, single focus; organization and logical progression
  • You will also need at least two well-developed examples, using vivid details, that directly relate to the prompt.

Be familiar with common wording:

You will see the same set of directions embedded in each prompt: “Using an example from literature, history, science, film, or your own experience or observation, write an essay analyzing…”



  • Grab the reader’s attention
  • Integrate the quote, adage or topic
  • Find background information to introduce the topic
  • Thesis statement or main idea

Example(s) from literature, history, science, film

· You can actually study for this part, because themes are UNIVERSAL

Think about some major novels that you have read thus far and/or some historical figures. Figure out what they stand for, what themes they exemplify, and be ready to work that into whatever prompt presents itself.

Body Paragraph


Body Paragraph

Example(s) from your own experience or observation

You will write this as an explanation, not a narration.

Do not be tempted to relive the story; speak about it with an academic voice.



Generate final remarks without introducing brand new examples

Unify and Summarize your ideas

Remind the audience of your main point / thesis

Use a satisfactory close / clincher (could tie back into intro)



Students will write in response to a current controversyrelated to an interpersonal, school/community, or societal issue.

This piece of writing may be required to be in the form of a letter, a formal essay, an editorial, or a speech.


Interpersonal controversies- when two or more individuals disagree about choices, decisions, behaviors, or ideas. Example: You and a friend are arguing about whether or not to attend a party this weekend.

  • School/Community controversies- when two or more groups of people disagree about rules, behaviors, procedures, conditions, or ideas. Example: Proposition of including a HSPA Class as a requirement for all students.
  • Societal controversies- when people disagree about laws, conditions, and ideas. Example: Mandatory curfew for teenagers.

Types of Prompts


Before You Begin

Read the “Directions For Writing” and figure out what MODE (format- for example, a letter) you should be writing in. Then decide on a position- you should choose whichever will be easier to write about, even if you do not necessarily agree with it.



The more you plan, the easier it is to execute your essay. It is tempting to start right away, because it is a timed assignment. However, it will save you time, in the long run, if you put aside 15 minutes to plan. Use the 3 and 3 method. Plan out your 3 main ideas. Then think of 3 support comments for each. When planning, think about WHO is affected by the problem or HOW it would affect someone.



Third Main Idea: (best)

Second Main Idea: (worst)

First Main Idea: (mid)

Statement or Proposal:

Statement or Proposal:

Third Main Idea: (best)

Second Main Idea: (worst)

First Main Idea: (mid)

1st Support Statement:

2nd Support Statement:

3rd Support Statement:

1st Support Statement:

1st Support Statement:

2nd Support Statement:

2nd Support Statement:

3rd Support Statement:

3rd Support Statement:

1st Support Statement:

2nd Support Statement:

3rd Support Statement:



The Formula



Introduction- RANT:

·        Restate the problem / scenario,

·        Agree or Disagree with the proposed solution,

·        Name your 3 main ideas,

·        THESIS STATEMENT (the overall gist of why you have taken this point of view).

Body Paragraphs- TEST:

·        TRANSITION (to move from the previous idea).

·        Explain your main idea in a general statement.

·        Support with at least 3 support ideas (facts, examples, reasons, evidence).

·        Tie up with a general concluding sentence.

Conclusion- RATE:

·        Restate the problem / scenario,

·        Approach your 3 examples by REPHRASING (not restating) them,

·        Thematic Clincher,

·        Edit your work using the only tool you have, the writer’s checklist.


Let's try one together...

Writing Situation: Your state legislators have proposed a new law. It would be illegal for anyone other than emergency personnel to stop or linger at an accident. This proposed law has caused controversy in your state. You decide to write a letter to your state legislator expressing your opinion on this proposed law.

Directions for Writing: Write a letter to your state legislator either supporting or opposing a law that would prohibit anyone other than emergency personnel to stop or linger at an accident. Use reasons, facts, examples, and other evidence to support your position.


First Main Idea: (mid)

Cause more accidents

by rubber-necking

Second Main Idea: (worst)


Third Main Idea: (best)

Get in the way of emergency personnel

Statement or Proposal:

Agree with this new law proposing that anyone other than emergency personnel will not be allowed to stop or linger at an accident.

1st Support Statement:

Change of speed for observation causes drivers to become distracted

1st Support Statement:

 60% of highway traffic congestion is caused by rubbernecking at accident scenes

1st Support Statement:

Emergency personnel are trained responders  

2nd Support Statement:

 Change of focus to others at the sight of an accident lessens one’s ability to drive defensively and be aware

2nd Support Statement:

 Affects 2-way flow, as opposed to merely the side of the road on which the incident occurred

Because each driver has to wait, since the previous drivers have slowed to look at the accident scene, they too feel a right to pause

2nd Support Statement:

Added congestion provides more obstacles around which to work

3rd Support Statement:

saw a distracted driver slam into the car in front of him… complicated accident scene… responders to the first crash diverted to scene of subsequent accident

3rd Support Statement:

3rd Support Statement:

Many times, emergency personnel have to cordon off a safety perimeter



Honorable State Legislator,(Remember the Mode… this is a letter)I understand that a new law has been proposed that would make it illegal for anyone other than emergency personnel to stop or linger at the scene of an accident. (Restate the Question)I strongly agree with this new law for the safety and convenience of all motorists. (Agree or disagree with the proposal)Not only do rubbernecking delays cause more accidents, but they also cause traffic jams and road congestion. In addition, these onlookers can get in the way of emergency personnel who have been dispatched to the scene.(Name your 3 reasons- this should be in a sentence or two)A law banning this loitering at accident scenes will help control the number of subsequent mishaps while also deterring people from allowing their curiosity to interfere with others’ safety. (Thesis Statement)

Sample Introduction


A Word on

Your Thesis

  • A thesis is the main point of your paper. Here are some sample theses for this topic:
  • Lingering at an accident is a dangerous hassle to everyone involved.
  • Lessening the number of motorists who stop to gawk at an existing accident will, in turn, help to lessen subsequent incidents.
  • This law will help to make traveling safer and more efficient for all motorists.
  • A law banning this loitering at accident scenes will help control the number of subsequent mishaps while also deterring people from allowing their curiosity to interfere with others’ safety.

Sample Body #1

It is, in fact, this very curiosity that causes motorists to change their speed in order to effectively gawk at an accident scene. (Transition- this can be a single word or it can be more sophisticated… see how I took the last idea from my thesis and integrated it here)Whether it is the sight of bent steel or the lure of flashing lights, drivers change their focus, lessening their ability to drive defensively and disengaging their awareness of the road around them. This, in turn, leads to an increase in subsequent accidents. Just yesterday, as I was passing the scene of a small fender bender, I watched a distracted driver slam into the car in front of him. This certainly complicated the accident scene, as responders to the first crash were diverted to check the scene of the successive accident. In fact, the resulting accident produced more damage than the previous one.(Explain your point and support with details- Incorporate your 3 sub-reasons from your 3-by-3. My anecdote is made up, but the scorers don’t need to know that! Be creative yet structured.)The current reactions to accident sites are providing further danger for all highway motorists.(Tie up with a closing.)


Sample Body #2

Even in instances in which there is no ensuing accident, there are residual consequences to rubbernecking. The most frequent effect is in traffic. Statistics show that sixty percent of highway congestion is caused by those lingering at accident scenes. This affects, not only the roadway that is directly impacted by the obstruction, but also the motorists on the other side of the roadway. As each driver slows in reaction to the scene, the backup increases exponentially. As each driver waits for the previous drivers to slow to look at an accident scene, he then feels entitled to slow, in turn. If each driver pauses for only five seconds, then every twelve cars become a minute delay. In a metropolitan area like North Jersey, you can imagine the ramifications, as accident-related traffic is blocking up our roadways every day.

You can see the same body format here. Note my made up “fact”… just make it plausible, and the scorer won’t know the difference!


Sample Body 3

Aside from the residual effect of accidents on subsequent motorists, there are also implications for the initial victims. It is important to note that emergency personnel are trained responders. They need clear access to accident victims in order to respond promptly and effectively. Added congestion from stalled drivers and inquisitive onlookers provides unnecessary obstacles around which they have to work. Part of this process includes cordoning off a safety perimeter, a task that is much easier when the area is not swarmed with hungry spectators. Personal safety of the victims and the emergency personnel should rank higher than the nosiness of trifling observers.

I think you are getting the process!


Transition, Explain, Support, Tie up!


Sample Conclusion

As a commuter on New Jersey’s bustling highways, I am so grateful for this new law proposing that it become illegal for anyone other than emergency personnel to stop or linger at an accident. (Restate the problem and proposal)If imposed, there will be an immediate decrease in the number of subsequent accidents and in the amount of accident-related traffic.More importantly, it will provide a safer and more efficient atmosphere wherein trained emergency personnel can respond to the scene. (Approach your 3 examples)Much like speed limits and traffic signs help dictate the flow of traffic, this new law will help provide safety and direction for all New Jersey motorists. (Thematic Clincher)


Mel Reinhard

(Remember the Mode… Finish your letter!)



Read a story (approx. 4 pages)

and answer 10 multiple choice

and 2 open-ended questions.


A NARRATIVE TEXT is written primarily to tell a story. This story will establish or develop a conflict and address common aspects of human existence. Because appropriate literature may contain unsettling or disturbing issues or events, text selected for the assessment will provide a positive resolution and affirm the dignity of the human spirit.



Read a story (approx. 3 pages)

and answer 10 multiple choice

and 2 open-ended questions.


A PERSUASIVE TEXT is a text in which the writer attempts to sway the reader to a specific point of view. Because persuasive writing is based on a personal vision, it is inherently controversial. Exploring these controversial issues develops and enhances students' critical thinking skills. Persuasive passages are selected from previously published text. Students will respond to open-ended and multiple choice questions about these passages to assess literal and inferential thinking through understanding, analyzing, and assessing texts.


Types of MC Questions

  • recognize a theme or central idea.
  • recognize details that develop or support the main idea.
  • extrapolate information and/or follow directions.
  • paraphrase, retell, interpret phrases / sentences from the text.
  • recognize a purpose for reading.
  • make tentative predictions of meaning.
  • make judgments, form opinions, draw conclusions from the text.
  • use context clues to define vocabulary words

Multiple Choice Tips

for General Questions

  • Recognize the author’s main idea- what is (s)he trying to sell, make you believe, or make you do?
  • Understand the author’s main points- the arguments supporting the point of view.
  • Look for support ideas- usually details that include quotes, anecdotes, details, examples, or statistics.
  • Know the author’s purpose- look for the action that (s)he wants from the reader.
  • Read the question and all answers thoroughly before selecting an answer. Note that many answers will seem plausible, and in some cases several answers will be correct, but one will be the best answer.
  • If you aren’t sure of the correct answer, try to eliminate incorrect answers.
  • For questions that refer to the text, go back and read the whole section of text from which the sample comes.
  • Watch out for “concrete” language meant to throw you off (ex- Always, Never, Everyone, Nobody, Must). Look, instead, for “soft” words (ex- Some, Often, May, Many, Sometimes). Soft language is usually used in the correct answer!

Multiple Choice Tips

for Vocabulary Questions

  • Put your finger over the word that you are trying to define. Then read the sentence filling in your choices as a replacement. Do any of them read funny? Rule them out!
  • Figure out the part of speech: adjective, noun, verb? Then rule out any choices that are of a different part of speech!
  • Look at the connotation of the word. Is it positive or negative? Any choices that have a conflicting connotation? Rule them out!
  • Look back at the surrounding paragraph and assess the tone. From your remaining choices, can you determine which option best fits the paragraph? If the language is harsh and an answer option seems mild… rule it out!
  • Once you complete steps 1-4 you should be left with your BEST option!

Open-Ended Tips

  • The first bullet is usually "close to the text" / to apply what you know.
  • The second bullet is usually "beyond the text" / to extend what you know.
  • Reword the question to create your topic sentence. Use pieces of the statement and the bullet question. This helps you to focus and lets the scorer know what you are writing about.
  • Frame out your answer using several text examples. It is always good to correctly work quotes into your response. Use 5-8 sentences per paragraph (and at least 1 paragraph for each bullet) for a full response.
  • Close your open-ended response with a concluding sentence similar to your topic sentence.
  • Even if you can’t answer completely, make an attempt. These questions are scored from 0-4 points and are worth 44% of the total reading score. A partial answer can earn you some points.