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California State University, Dominguez Hills. Promoting Excellence in Graduate Studies. Est. 2010. DISCLAIMER:.

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California State University, Dominguez Hills

Promoting Excellence in Graduate Studies

Est. 2010


All workshops and workshop materials are the sole property of PEGS and are for student and faculty use only; as such, they may not be published, copied, or disseminated without prior written approval from PEGS. 310-243-2700

test day
Test Day

Avoid stress that will only take away from your ability to focus and do well on the test:

  • Arrive early for class.
  • Make sure you have all the materials you need – bluebook(s), pen, dictionary, etc.
  • Clear your mind.
  • Relax and know that you know the material.
analyze the prompt
Analyze the Prompt
  • Read the question(s) carefully several times to make sure you understand the prompt and what your instructor wants you to do.
  • Circle unfamiliar words and look them up or ask the instructor for help.
  • Imperatives or words that specify actionindicate the tasks you must perform.
  • Underline important points, key phrases or concepts, and make sure you understand what your instructor expects you to do.
  • Develop a master key systemto identify key phrases, concepts, and tasks.
  • Try to separategeneralbackground information from the subject of the essay.
  • Try to unravel question clusters and link them to the background information.
  • Recognize the parameters of the essay.

For notes and more information, click here.

sample prompt
Sample Prompt

"For many Americans, the concept of success is a source of confusion. As a people, we Americans greatly prize success. We are taught to celebrate and admire the one who gets the highest grades, the one voted most attractive or most likely to succeed. But while we often rejoice in the success of people far removed from ourselves—people who work in another profession, live in another community, or are endowed with a talent that we do not especially want for ourselves—we tend to regard the success of people close at hand, within our own small group, as a threat."

—adapted from Margaret Mead’s The Egalitarian Error

Explain Mead's argument and discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with her analysis. Support your position, providing reasons and examples from your own experience, observations, or reading.

sample prompt analysis
Sample Prompt: Analysis

Statement #1

Statement #2

Statement #2

Statement #2

"For many Americans, the concept of success is a source of confusion. As a people, we Americans greatly prize success. We are taught to celebrate and admire the one who gets the highest grades, the one voted most attractive or most likely to succeed. Butwhile we often rejoice in the success of people far removed from ourselves—people who work in another profession, live in another community, or are endowed with a talent that we do not especially want for ourselves—wetend to regard the success of people close at hand, within our own small group, as a threat."

—adapted from Margaret Mead’s The Egalitarian Error

responding to instructions
Responding to Instructions

Explain Mead's argument and discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with her analysis. Support your position, providingreasonsand examples from your own experience, observations, or reading.

  • Please remember that “reasons” are not the same as “examples.”
    • You may want to argue that the reason a person feels threatened by the success of others is because s/he fears looking like a loser.
    • You may offer an example for this claim by explaining how a co-worker or friend made you look bad because they did so well.

Click here for more notes on analyzing and responding to prompts.

synthesize ideas
Synthesize Ideas
  • The essay is your opportunity to show how well you understand the ideas you’ve been studying.
  • Graduate level critical thinking and writing requires more than just repeating facts. The instructor needs to see that you thoroughly understand concepts and their broader implications.
  • Look for connections between the concepts you have read and the ideas discussed in lectures, handouts, and other texts.
  • Synthesize what you have read and learned in class to make a cogent, logical argument in which you connect the ideas you’ve learned to each other, to the prompt, and to your argument.
  • For more information on synthesizing arguments, please see the PEGS
t he thesis
  • The thesis is basically the main ideathat you will argue stated in one or two sentences.
  • Make sure your thesis directly addresses the prompt.
  • Determine what points you will use to support your thesis, then preview them in the introduction.
  • Use your thesis and preview as a guide for writing the essay.
developing the thesis

Often, the best way to generate a strong and elegant thesis is to first generate a powerful and elegant question.

  • Ask yourself simply: what am I trying to prove/say? then answer the question as succinctly (as elegantly) as possible.
    • You can use a two-part approach to develop your thesis:
        • In this essay I will argue ________;
        • it is important/significant because __________.
  • Make sure you can support your argument with examples and concepts from your reading and lectures.
outline your argument
Outline Your Argument
  • Organize the information that you have brainstormed into anoutlinethat supports your thesis and flows in a logical progression from one point to the next to build a strong argument.
  • Group related ideas together.
  • Your argument should flow from general points to more specific material, from weaker to stronger arguments, from abstract concepts to more concrete examples.

Click here for more notes on developing a thesis and outline.

structuring the timed essay
Structuringthe Timed Essay
  • For timed essays, the five paragraph format or a variation is the simplest and most direct approach.
  • Using this format will help you focus on what you want to say, content,rather than how you are going to say it.
  • This format consists of an introduction, three or morebody paragraphs, and a conclusion.
  • The form can be expanded to include as many body paragraphs as you need to support your argument.
the introduction
The Introduction
  • Often, you can use the language of the prompt to structure your response.
  • Introduce the topicin the first sentence.
  • Explain the significance of the topic, provide background informationon the topic, or create interest in the topic.
  • State the main idea of the essay, your thesis, in one or two sentences.
  • Preview the essay by listing the point(s) that you will argue.
  • End the paragraph with a transition sentence that prepares the reader for the next idea/paragraph.

Paragraph Sandwich: Introduction

Introduce topic

Expand/explain significance of topic

Respond to topic (Thesis)

Preview support points

  • Transition Sentence

*note: 1 paragraph = 1 idea

sample response 1 introduction
Sample Response #1: Introduction
  • Introduces topic & claim
  • Expands/explains background & significance of topic
  • Completes explanation of Mead’s argument
  • Response to Mead’s argument – Thesis
  • Preview of support points.
  • Transition sentence

According to Margaret Mead, success is a source of confusion for many Americans. We are taught to admire success, and we easily applaud the achievements of celebrities, strangers, and those who succeed in areas that do not interest us. However, when someone close to us excels, we tend to feel threatened. Mead’s assessment is correct.Although we applaud the achievements of celebrities or strangers, the success of friends and family threatens usbecause(1)we fear that we will fall short in comparison to them, (2)they will receive the honors and recognition that we want, or (3)they will set a standard that we cannot reach. Competition with those we know can cause confusion between what we have been taught and what we feel.

sample response 2 introduction
Sample Response #2: Introduction

Margaret Mead states that success is a source of confusion for many Americans. Even though we are taught to admire those who succeed, we tend to feel threatened by the achievements of people close to us. Although some insecure people may feel threatened by the success of family and friends, others will realize that the accomplishments of people close to us should encourage rather than intimidate us. Successful friends and relatives can serve as role models, showing us that we can succeed in just as they have. Also, unlike a celebrity or stranger, people we know are easily accessible, and we can call on them for advice or to serve as mentors. Additionally, because people close to us come from similar circumstances, they expand our perception of the possibilities available to us and increase our belief that we, too, can succeed. Rather than feeling threatened by the success of those we know, we should view it as a source of inspiration that promotes clarity rather than confusion.

body paragraphs
Body Paragraphs
  • Each body paragraph should begin with a topic sentence that explains the focus of the paragraph.
  • Each paragraph should focus on one idea.
  • Expand on the idea presented in the topic sentence by explaining background information, discussing the significance of the topic, offering a quote, or giving an example.
  • Incorporateconcepts from readings and lectures to support, explain, define, defend, elaborate on, and/or justify your position.
  • Analyze your support information or exampleto deepen the reader’s understanding of your argument.
  • End the paragraph with a transition sentence that prepares reader for the next point/paragraph.

“A good writer arranges material in a way that suits his [sic] theme.”

– from The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing by Michael Harvey, p. 76

Topic Sentence

Example 1


Example 2

Topic Sentence


Example 1

Example 1.5

  • Transition Sentence


Example 2

Topic Sentence


Example 1A

  • Transition Sentence


Example 1B


Example 1C


  • Transition Sentence
sample body paragraph
Sample Body Paragraph

Often, when a family member or friend excels at something, others compare us to that person. In elementary school, I usually earned “A”s in English and math. My older brother, on the other hand, had problems with reading comprehension and mathematical concepts, and he rarely received a grade above a “C-” in either subject. My father constantly compared Chino’s grades to mine, accusing him of daydreaming or not working hard enough. Throughout his childhood, my brother heard, “Why can’t you be more like your little sister?” My dad’s criticism only made Chino feel resentful and unappreciated instead of encouraging him to do better. As the years passed, my brother fell farther and farther behind in his studies, often giving up without trying. Comparison not only breeds insecurity, it can also lead to apathy. The achievements of someone close to him made Chino feel threatened because his efforts looked weak in comparison. Success often involves competition and comparison. Though others seldom consider comparing our accomplishments to those of strangers or celebrities, they feel no compunctions about measuring our success against that of family and friends. Thus, those close to us emphasize our inadequacies. They not only make us look bad, they also receive the honors that we feel should come to us.

the conclusion
The Conclusion
  • On in-class essays, the instructor understands time constraints, so conclusions can be brief.
  • To conclude your essay,restate the main points of your argument and their significance, telling the reader what s/he should have learned from reading your essay.
  • If you run out of time, don’t panic. Simply restate the general idea of the thesis.

Click here for more notes on structuring the essay.

final tips review and revise
Final Tips: Review and Revise
  • Is your thesis clearly stated in the first paragraph?
  • Does each paragraph have a topic sentence that relates to the thesis?
  • Did you stay on topic? Does your essay prove your thesis?
  • Are your facts and examples accurate?
  • Did you omit any words or ideas? Insert missing information if necessary.
  • Checkfor punctuation, spelling, and grammar.
  • Does the conclusion tie everything together and end the essay appropriately?
  • If you run out of time, again, don’t panic. Instructors tend to be more understanding about errors on in-class essays.
final tips write simple concise sentences
Final Tips: Write Simple, ConciseSentences
  • Don’t ramble, be direct: use details, evidence, and examples that clearly relate to and support your argument.
  • Write neatly and skip lines unless instructed otherwise: this allows the instructor to read more easily and lets you insert words or sentences you may have omitted or want to add later.
  • The timed essay is not the place to start using fancy words that you don’t really understand or know how to use. Write simple sentences in clear, concise prose.
  • Impress the reader with the depth of your content, not the length of your words!
final tips test preparation
Final Tips: Test Preparation

University Standard: A minimum of three hours of out-of-class study for every one hour spent in class.

  • Timed essays startlong before the actual exam, so begin studying at least a week beforethe exam.
  • Try answering some practice questions in advance and time yourself to see how well you can develop an essay within those time limitations.
  • Form a study group and quiz each other regularly.
  • Meet with a tutor regularly to strengthen skills reading, writing, and comprehension skills.
  • Meet with your professor during office hours.
  • Use the PEGS online workshops and resources: located at

Click here for more notes on preparation, reviewing, and revising.

timed essay exercise
Timed Essay Exercise
  • To practice the concepts presented in this workshop, please refer to the timed essay handout.
  • The exercise provides a prompt and a selection of quotes as source material.
  • The student will respond to the prompt using three sources to support an argument or counterargument.
  • Instead of writing an entire essay, the student will develop a thesis, outline, and introduction that provide support points.
  • The student may refer to the quotes in either the introduction or the outline as long as s/he indicates how they will be used.
  • The exercise is designed to help you organize your time and practice the process of synthesizing source materials.

Click here for the timed exercise handout.

need further help
Need further help?
    • Check out PEGS (Promoting Excellence in Graduate Studies)!
      • Group tutoring sessions in grammar, composition, research
      • One-on-one capstone and thesis support and tutoring
  • Make an appointment or browse our online workshops:
    • (310) 243-2700
    • (E-MAIL)
  • Library Reference Desk
    • (310) 243-3586 or (310) 243-3582
works cited
Works Cited

Andrews, Robert, ed. The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations. New York: Columbia UP, 1993. Print.

“Creative Writing.” Photograph. Creative Writing at AACC. Anne Arundel Community College. Web. 1 August 2013.

Harvey, Michael. The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 2003. Print.

Mead, Margaret. The Egalitarian Error: A Way of Seeing. New York: McCall Publishing, 1970. 73-76. Print.

“Taking an Essay Exam.” Writing Tutorial Services (WTS). Indiana University Bloomington, 27 April 2004. Web. 23 July 2013.

“Written.” Photograph. Usegrid. Web. 24 July 2013.