8 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a Paper

Mistakes To Avoid When Writing A Paper

Writing a paper for class? Lock down an “A” with these helpful tips from San Diego tutoNatalie S

Over the course of your academic career, you will be expected to write multiple papers that will span a number of different subjects and purposes. While there are many ways to write a paper, below are a few of the common mistakes to avoid that are true for all types of papers.

1) Create a strong thesis BEFORE you start writing the paper.

Do not begin the writing process without a thesis statement in place. A thesis is the argument in the introductory paragraph that you prove throughout the entire paper. This statement drives your paper and dictates which subjects, examples, quotations, and statistics you include. Creating your thesis statement is the hardest part of writing a paper, but it’s also the most important. It is the single piece that guides you and your readers. You know you have a strong thesis argument if someone can hear it and say, “No, I disagree with that” and if you can respond back, “No, my statement is correct and here are three reasons why I’m correct.” Learn more about writing a thesis statement here.

2) Create an outline BEFORE you start writing the paper.

Once you write your thesis statement, it becomes much easier to organize the rest of the paper. Now, you can create an outline that will help you even further to organize your paper. The goal is to do a lot of legwork in the beginning, so when you are ready to write the paper, all you have to do is thread together all of your notes into a cohesive essay. In your outline, choose three supporting statements and then two to three supporting examples, quotations, and/or facts from the text to back up each of those statements.

3) Don’t make assumptions about the essay prompt.

Here’s a fun fact that teachers generally do not want their students to know: teachers aren’t perfect, and their assignments aren’t always perfect either. Sometimes, teachers write vague or ambivalent essay prompts. For example, in 2006, the College Board wrote an essay question for the AP English Literature exam that asked for students to write about a novel that “establishes a country setting.” Students interpreted country to mean a nation, but the College Board meant a pastoral setting. Thousands of students wrote on the wrong topic because the question was vaguely worded. When in doubt, ask your teacher to clarify his or her intentions, so you can fulfill those expectations when writing your paper.

4) Stay focused. Remember, the thesis is your guiding statement throughout the paper.

You need to write out your thesis statement clearly, and then you need to support that argument with clear examples, quotations, and facts from the book. Follow your outline to stay focused on your main topic, and avoid rambling on about characters, facts, or your own opinions that do not directly relate to the topic at hand.

5) Don’t just summarize the text.

When you are writing a paper, you are supposed to make inferences and draw conclusions to create an argument that you can prove throughout your paper. Your teacher is not asking you to summarize the text or the story. Stay away from repeating the same points, and refer back to your outline to come up with original ideas. Instead of talking in circles, find new arguments to add to your essay that expand your argument, instead of just repeating it.

6) Don’t forget to use citations.

So many students are unduly suspected of plagiarism because they forget to cite their sources when they write a research paper. Just to be clear on whether to cite or not, always consider whether the fact or piece of information is considered basic or common knowledge. If it isn’t, then you need to cite it.

7) Never play with the spacing.

This is more of a formatting flaw than a writing one, but important to note nonetheless. Sometime students alter the margins, font size, and spacing of their essays to make it look like they wrote more than they did. Teachers look at papers all day, and they can see who altered the margins and who wrote the required amount. Keep the margins at one inch, and organize your thesis statement and your outline thoroughly from the beginning, and you’ll have plenty to write about.

8) Don’t forget to proofread!

Remember, even seasoned adults can make typos or grammatical mistakes, so always check over your work before you submit it. If you’re struggling with clarity, ask an adult to read your paper and tell you what they think your thesis is. Proofread for both grammar and spelling before you turn your work in, and if you need additional assistance, you can always ask a tutor!

What is one of your favorite tips or tricks for writing a paper? Leave a comment to share with us!

Natalie S.Natalie S. tutors English, ESL, History, Phonics, Reading, and test prep in San Diego, as well as through online lessons. She received her BA in English Education at the University of Delaware, and her MA in English Literature at San Diego State University. Learn more about Natalie here!



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5 Simple Ways To Self-Edit Your Writing

steps to writing an essay

Editing your work is one of the most important steps to writing an essay! Create your checklist using these tips from Woburn, MA teacher Belynda C...


Editing is not simply about typos. There are many steps to writing an essay between the initial preparation, research, writing, and finally editing and proofreading your finished work. While proper spelling and grammar are important, there are other aspects to polished prose that need your attention. Some of these items include repetitive words, commonly misused/confused words, missing words, and issues of style and formatting.

Your Personal Top 10 List

Variety is the spice of life; it’s also the spice of engaging essays. Despite this, every writer (including me!) has a list of words that seem to pop up more often than others. Singling out overused words is a great way to make your writing appear more finished. Look through your current essay as well as your past writing. Most writers can identify five to 10 words that appear too often in their work. One good way to spot them is to use the search function in your word processor. If you see an adjective or a verb more than twice while reading, pop it into your search field to see how many times it occurs throughout your document. You can do this for multiple documents, and keep a list of your heavy hitters. That way, you can search for this list of words in any new writing as a first step to your editing process.

Check Against A List Of Common Word Issues

Some grammatical errors just keep turning up. No matter how many times we see humorous posts on Facebook, errors like their/there/they’re and your/you’re continue to plague us. These kinds of mistakes can instantly detract from your essay and ding your credibility. To avoid this issue, build a check system into your editing for common mistakes, and you’ll catch far more than you would by just skimming over the page.

Read Out Loud

To best catch your mistakes, rely on your ears instead of your eyes. Reading your essay out loud is a great way to identify all manner of errors and omissions in your writing. The reason is simple: the human brain was doing auto-correct long before your iPhone made it popular. It achieves this trick by recognizing patterns that commonly occur in written language. It then irons out the kinks as you read. Unfortunately, this means you most likely won’t see the minor errors (or “nits”) in your work—but you will hear them. Reading out loud requires you to analyze and verbalize each word in the sentence—a far slower (but more thorough) process than reading it “in your head.” Some word processing programs will even read documents aloud, so you can truly check your work with fresh ears!

Use A Style Guide

Depending on your subject matter, your essay should adhere to one of several style guides issued by various publishers. These guides cover everything from hyphenation to proper citation of sources. Some of the most common style guides are the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, and the American Psychological Association (APA) Stylebook.

A Fresh Set Of Eyes

When in doubt, hand it out. Find a sharp-eyed peer editor to read over your essay. This could be a writing tutor, or even a friend or family member. Outside readers take in written information more slowly because they are analyzing the material as they read. Thus, they will catch mistakes that you may have missed. The more important the essay, the more “guest editors” you should employ. Find a few people you trust, have them read the work, and ask them to mark up changes or suggestions to incorporate.

In making sure you cover the many steps to writing an essay, you can save a lot of time in revisions—and a lot of frustration by avoiding missed punctuation or skipped words.

Still need help? Find a tutor in your area, or check out these additional resources for improving your writing. Enjoy!

Belyndaelynda C. teaches writing and knitting in Woburn, MA. She earned her Bachelor of Science in English from Northeastern University. She holds a Bachelor of Science in English from Northeastern University, and has extensive experience in writing fiction, literary non-fiction, and freelance writing for clients. Learn more about Belynda here! 


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How to Analyze an Argument in an Essay | 4 Easy Steps

argument essay

At some point in your academic career, you’ll need to know how to analyze an argument properly. Here, tutor Andrew P. shares his guide to success…


As a college student, you’ll be expected at some point to understand, restate, comment on, or discuss someone’s assertion (strongly stated position).

An argument is a reason(s) for a conclusion.

  • He is dense (reason); therefore, I won’t talk with him (conclusion).
  • I won’t talk with him (conclusion) because he is dense (reason).

When asked to analyze an argument, you are expected to explain how and why something works or does not work.

  • My car will not start. I realize that I left the interior lights on overnight (“you stupid idiot”)—no analysis necessary.
  • My car will not start. The battery is fairly new, and the engine started right up yesterday. So, I open the hood. As soon as I begin probing to search for the reason, I am analyzing (whether or not I find the answer).

To analyze an author’s argument, take it one step at a time:

  • Briefly note the main assertion (what does the writer want me to believe or do?)
  • Make a note of the first reason the author makes to support his/her conclusion
  • Write down every other reason
  • Underline the most important reason

Here’s an example, with the analysis of the argument following:

Reasonable Risk-taking

Part of my philosophy is that a life worth living involves taking reasonable risks, whatever that may mean to a person. Without that openness, responsiveness, a person sees very little possibility for change and can sink into a rut of routines. I have known many who define themselves by their routines–and little else. These are the people an American educator spoke of when he said, “Many people should have written on their tombstones: ‘Died at 30, buried at 60.'” How sad! I think that one of the most horrible feelings a person must have is to be on the deathbed, regretting the many things never tried, and many things done that cannot be undone. I live my life to minimize possibilities of regrets, as I hope you do. Did you ever see the Sandra Bullock movie 28 Days? She plays an alcoholic in a destructive relationship with a guy who wants only to have fun. A staff person at the clinic where she is sentenced to spend 28 days for rehab explained: “Insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over and expecting different results.” Maybe more people should watch that movie.  The world may not go out of its way to help you–the world does not owe us fairness–but the world is there with more possibilities than most of us imagine. If we are responsible to ourselves–and response-able, we can continue growing in directions that are good for us. We do not need to understand the future, which, after all, does not exist, has not yet been created.

Main assertion: Worthwhile life = taking reasonable risks


  • Being open to possibilities vs rut of routines
  • Dying with regrets for actions and inactions is horrible
  • Repeating same behaviors will prevent change
  • Ability to respond to new possibilities, including risks, results in growth

You can now summarize the author’s position and, if required, agree or disagree in part or in whole, offering examples from your own experiences.

Complicated, huh? Yes, it is, until you get used to developing such a reaction paper. A writing tutor can be very helpful in guiding you through this process of how to analyze an argument, step by step, until you feel confident working with this important college skill.

AndyCAndrew P. teaches English and writing in Milton, VT, as well as through online lessons. He taught English courses at colleges and universities in five states for 35 years before retiring in 2013. Learn more about Andrew here!



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7 Simple Rules for Remembering Spelling


Never be stumped again! Here, New York tutor Lauren P. shares some tips to remember tricky rules and get the spelling help you need…


To preface, not every word follows a strict spelling rule. There are always exceptions and irregular forms. Therefore, keep this in mind before memorizing any of the following rules.

1) Use funny memory tools for complicated spellings

There are many creative ways to remember irregular words with double letters or an assortment of vowels. The weirder the better! Here are a couple of ideas:

• Tomorrow: Tom borrows bees tomorrow.
• Address: I saw an ad for a dress at this address.
• Dessert vs. Desert: I’ll have seconds of dessert but no extra desert please.
• Separate: Keep me away from the rat in separate.

2) Silent e helps a vowel say its name

You can often determine spelling based on pronunciation. When a word ends in a vowel, consonant, and silent e, the vowel is long, which means it is pronounced like the alphabet letter itself. When a word ends in a consonant, then the vowel is normally short. Listen to the vowel pronunciations in the following examples:

• Fat vs. fate
• Rid vs. ride
• Dud vs. dude
• Tot vs. tote
• Red vs. recede

When spelling words in the future, decide if there is a silent e by sounding out the long or short vowel.

3) When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking

When there are two vowels in a row, the first usually has a long sound and the second is silent. For example: Beam, moat, wait weave, soar.

4) A for actions and e for events

Many words sound alike but mean different things in writing. Remember the correct spelling for the more common words that sound alike. For accept versus except, affect versus effect, and than versus then, remember that a stands for action words and e stands for events.

• Accept: To receive or agree (verb) — He accepted their apology.
• Except: Other than (preposition) — Everyone went to the beach except Tyler.
• Affect: To influence (verb) — Will lack of sleep affect your mood?
• Effect: Result (noun) — Will lack of sleep have an effect on your mood?
• Than: Comparison — He is richer than she is.
• Then: Order of events — First we must study, then we can play.

Accept and affect are both actions, while except and effect refer to events. Similarly, than compares (a verb or action) two things, while then refers to the order of events.

5) Are you ible or able?

Able can stand alone as its own word but ible cannot. The same will be true for their respective root words. If a root word is not a complete word on its own, add ible. If a root is a complete word on its own, or is a complete word ending in e, drop the e and add able. For example:

• Visible, horrible, terrible, possible, edible, eligible, incredible
• Acceptable, fashionable, laughable, suitable, dependable, comfortable
• Excusable, advisable , desirable, valuable, debatable

There are, however, some exceptions: Contemptible, digestible, flexible, responsible, irritable, inevitable.

6) Choose the right version of the word

For all of the following word forms, remember that an apostrophe is used as a contraction to combine and condense two words: It’s stands for it is, they’re stands for they are, we’re stands for we are, and you’re stands for you are. Take note of the following word forms:

• It’s: It is or it has.
• Its: Possessive (shows that something belongs to another) — The doll had a ribbon in its hair.

• They’re: They are.
• Their: Possessive — Give back their chairs
• There: A place word, containing the word here (both here and there answer the question, where?) — I parked my car over there.

• To: Preposition — They went to the lake to swim.
• Too: Very or also (notice the double o represents a double emphasis) — He was too tired to stay awake. I was hungry, too.
• Two: Number — Two minutes until close.

• We’re: We are.
• Where: A place word, containing the word here — Where are you going?
• Were: Past tense of are — They were going to the store.

• You’re: You are.
• Your: Possessive — Your bag is new.

7) I/E Rule

One of the most well-known spelling help phrases is: Write i before e, except after c, or when it sounds like an a, as in neighbor and weigh. Examples:

• Relief, believe, niece, chief, sieve, field, yield
• Receive, deceive, ceiling, conceit, vein, sleigh, freight, eight

• Exceptions: Seize, either, weird, height, foreign, leisure, species, counterfeit, forfeit, neither
Cien exceptions: Ancient, efficient, sufficient, science, conscience

While you can memorize the most common spelling rules, make a habit of using funny rhymes or imaginative mnemonic devices to commit new words to memory. Need extra spelling help? TakeLessons tutors are here to help — book lessons with me or find another English, reading, or writing tutor in your area!

LaurenPLauren tutors in various subjects in New York, NY. She has her Master’s Degree in Education (with a concentration in students with learning disabilities), and is a certified NYC Special Education teacher. Learn more about Lauren here!



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4 Simple Steps to Writing an Exceptional Research Paper

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Worried about an upcoming writing assignment? Here, Tampa, FL tutor Anna M. reviews the steps to writing a research paper that will help you earn an “A”


Starting as early as middle school, students are writing research papers. The first time your teacher asks you to write a research paper, you might have no clue where to start. This article will give you systematic instructions for writing a research paper.

1. The Topic

The first, and arguably most important, step to writing a research paper is deciding on the topic. Of course, if your professor gives you your topic, that makes things much easier, but usually you will not be that lucky.

A good topic will:
• Be interesting to you
• Be relevant to your class
• Have several legitimate sources related to it

Most people do not write research papers for fun. So, in order to make this assignment easier on you, select a topic that you enjoy. For example, if the paper is for an English class and your favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, write it on that. If your favorite animal is giraffes and the paper is for a biology class, write it on the behaviors of giraffes.

If you are in a class that requires a research paper on something you’re not interested in, then at least write the paper on something that will benefit you in the future. For example, if you are in an economics class and have to write a paper, but find economics incredible boring, try writing the paper on how to make a budget, or current economic events in your country.

Another important thing to consider when you choose your topic is the amount of related sources that exist. For example, writing a research paper on water quality would be a good idea because there are hundreds of research papers published on this topic from established universities around the world. However, writing a paper on how your astrological sign affects your life would not be a good idea because there are few research papers published on this topic.

2. The Question

When you write a research paper, you are basing it off an initial question, which will be the title of your paper. This question should give the reader a general idea of what the focus of the paper will be. For example, instead of writing your paper on “Flavors of ice cream,” write it on “What are the preferred flavors of ice cream among a focus group?” Instead of “Elephant behaviors,” write it on “What are the normal behaviors of African elephants during the African dry season?”

3. The Research

Before you write a single word of your paper, you need to educate yourself on the topic. A good place to start your research is online. Avoid websites that can be easily edited by the public, as well as any social media sites. The best online sources have references for all of the information. The websites of established research journals will also have good information, as well as websites run by professors. Another good place to do your research is university or college libraries. Most schools offer temporary library cards to high school students. These libraries offer much more information than your local public libraries, so take advantage of this if possible.

4. Writing the Paper

At this point, you have your question and are educated on the topic. The rest of the process should be easy. All you have to do now is show your professor that you know what you are talking about in an organized fashion.

A good general outline of your paper should be:

  • Introduction: State your question, introduce your argument (if you have one), mention some of your sources, and give the reader a general idea of what the paper will be about
  • Background: Explain all of the general knowledge you gained about this topic (this should be multiple paragraphs)
  • Method: Only include this if you performed an experiment in order to gain information for your paper — list all of the steps you took in your experiment
  • Results/analysis: Same as above, only include this if you performed an experiment — include data or charts and any statistical analysis
  • Argument: Only include this if your paper is argumentative — present your standpoint on the topic and explain why you think you are correct
  • Discussion: If your paper is based off an experiment, explain your results; if it is an argumentative paper, introduce some counterarguments and show why you think you are more correct in your beliefs
  • Conclusion: Tie all of the other parts together
  • References: MLA or APA formatting

Of course, not all research papers are the same. You may feel the need to combine your discussion and conclusion, or have the topic of your paper not be formatted as a question. Always look to your teacher if you have a specific question about the format of your paper, and if your topic is acceptable. Other than that, these steps to writing a research paper will get you on the right track!

AnnaMAnna M. tutors in Chemistry, Algebra, Calculus, and more in Tampa, FL. She is a Chemistry major at the University of South Florida, and has experience tutoring elementary up to high school students. Learn more about Anna here!



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8 Awesome Resources to Help You Improve Your Writing Skills

Resources and Tips To Help Improve Your Writing Skills

There are so many websites, books, and other resources to help you improve writing skills, study skills, and more. Here are 8 awesome ideas from San Diego, CA tutor Natalie S...

Beginning and completing a piece of writing can be a scary process. To some students, it may feel like there are a lot of unknown variables. It takes a long time to outline an essay. It requires a lot of brainstorming and organization. There isn’t a specific formula. There isn’t a right or a wrong, just a subjective grading system that attempts to follow a detailed rubric. There’s so much pressure to create something that is valuable that many students simply give up in their quest to improve their writing. Luckily, there is a plethora of resources available to help you learn how to write, edit, and grow as both a student and a writer!

1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

This book is one of the most commonly used texts in college creative writing courses, but it actually applies to any genre of writing, including essays. It gives concise and encouraging advice about drafting prose, and it emphasizes that writers shouldn’t stress over the big picture. Instead, Lamott advises writers to calm down, and take it step by step. This is a quick, simple read that can be used by anyone who wants to improve his or her writing skills.

2. Sentence Sense

This online resource offers information about how sentences work and how they should be structured. Use this website to learn grammar rules and to strengthen your prose. Take notes on any grammar tip you didn’t already know, and keep the notes next to you when editing your papers. This is a great resource for high school or college students.


This website quizzes your vocabulary knowledge about the most commonly used words in the English language. This resource works best for high school students, as the lists are often geared toward the SATs. The website includes a leaderboard, blog, and customizable vocabulary lists, so you can learn the words that matter most to you.

4. WriteTrack

Are you having trouble motivating yourself to write even a single word? Improve your writing skills by using a website like WriteTrack, which maps and charts your daily writing progress via your word count. Set a goal for yourself and watch as your graph grows! Need more motivation? Try websites like Written KittenWrite or Die, or Write or Die 2.

5. The Purdue Online Writing Lab

Purdue has gathered writing resources for all ages and levels on their website. Take some time to browse and you’ll find a plethora of information, tools, and practice tests to help you improve your writing skills. Whether your focus is vocabulary, grammar, or research questions, this database can point you toward the answers you’re looking for.

6. Friends, Family, and Tutors

One of the best ways to improve your writing skills is to get other to critique your work! Are you having trouble in a creative writing class? Ask a friend or family member for some honest feedback. Struggling with a history paper? Speak to a classmate and see if they are willing to brainstorm with you. If you aren’t in an academic setting, and you don’t have any peers to review your writing, try joining an online community. Not sure where to start? NaNoWriMo and Friday Night Writes are great options. Finally, working with a writing tutor can be helpful for any age or level.

7. MLA Style Guide

This is useful for all English students. Most professors or teachers of humanities courses require students to use MLA style formatting and citations. The MLA style guide will help guarantee that you get full credit for formatting your essays.

8. Read

Most of all, read anything and everything! The best way to become a better writer is to first become a better reader. Find a genre that interests you, and read anything you can get your hands on. Talk to your local library or your teachers for recommendations.

With these simple tips and resources, you can quickly improve both your academic and creative writing no matter what your age.

Natalie S.Natalie S. tutors in English, ESL, History, Phonics, Reading, and Test Prep in San Diego, as well as through online lessons. She received her BA in English Education at the University of Delaware, and her MA in English Literature at San Diego State University. Learn more about Natalie here!



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How to Score a 5 on the AP English Language and Composition Exam

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Getting ready to take the AP English Language and Composition exam? Check out these study tips from Olympia, WA tutor Tali H


The AP English Language and Composition exam is just over three hours, encompassing a 55-question 60-minute multiple-choice section (45% of total score) and a 135-minute time period to write three essays (55% of total score).

The more complicated part of the test, the essays, is what I’ll be focusing on in this article. However, in regard to the multiple-choice section, practice and analysis of AP English Language and Composition exam questions is the best way to go.

Know the Essay Prompts

The free-response portion of the exam contains three essay prompts: the synthesis prompt, the analysis prompt, and the argument prompt. Yes, each essay will be judged based on grammar, vocabulary, fluidity, etc. However, there are quite a few differences in the way each is judged as well. Keep in mind that you are supposed to keep track of your own time! Don’t spend over an hour on any one prompt because that won’t leave you enough time for the other two prompts. Given that the first 15 minutes is “brainstorming” time when you can see the prompts but aren’t allowed to write in your packet, the remaining 120 minutes should be divided equally, allowing for about 40 minutes of writing time with each essay. I recommend spending the brainstorming time outlining your synthesis essay.

1. The Synthesis Essay: This prompt requires you to address an issue by synthesizing information from multiple texts. This essay generally requires the most critical thought, so do it first when your mind is fresh. The texts to be synthesized will be distributed with the tests, so there’s no need to worry about coming up with your own resources (that part comes into play in the argument prompt)!

  • Mark them up. Jot down little notes for how that particular text can be used to enrich the point you’ll be making. Circle statistics, facts, and quotes you may want to use.
  • Most importantly, try to include all of the texts given in your essay. It may seem like a lot, but the whole point of the synthesis essay is to combine different opinions and information to prove your point. If some texts don’t agree with the point you’re making, don’t discard them. You can use them for a concession or you can make a rebuttal, taking their idea and showing why you disagree with it.
  • Make sure to clearly indicate which sources you are drawing from by citing the source, either by using the pre-labeled “Source A” format or by using a descriptor, such as the author. Whatever way you end up choosing, stick with that format! Do not cite a source by using the author’s name in one paragraph and then cite a source as “Source A” in the next paragraph.

2. The Analysis Essay: In the analysis essay, you’ll be given a single text and asked to analyze it in the context of a prompt. For example:

In the following letter, Abigail Adams (1744–1818) writes to her son John Quincy Adams, who is traveling abroad with his father, John Adams, a United States diplomat and later the country’s second president. Read the letter carefully. Then, in a well-developed essay, analyze the rhetorical strategies Adams uses to advise her son. Support your analysis with specific references to the text. (The letter and scoring rubric can be found here.)

  • Don’t be too fancy. Remember that this is a timed essay. There is no need to be profound, so don’t try to impress the judges with vocabulary words that you don’t have a good handle on, and don’t try anything too risky. A clear, concise, grammatically correct, flowing essay is all that you need to score a 7, 8, or 9, all of which should produce a 5 on the AP test as long as you don’t bomb any of the other essays.
  • Rewrite the prompt in your own words. Most mistakes come from students not fully comprehending the prompt and only answering one part of it, or speaking to an off-topic issue. Stay focused! In the above prompt, they use the phrase “rhetorical strategies”–what does that mean? Define it. Also, this phrase is used a lot, so you should know it and have a list of rhetorical strategies you can write about on test day.

3. The Argument Essay: In this essay, you are expected to compose an argument supported by evidence and reasoning drawn from your own reading, experiences, and observations. Persuasiveness is key!

Authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman published “The Creativity Crisis” in in July 2010. They reported that the Torrance Test, a test of creativity that has been administered to millions of people worldwide in 50 languages, indicates that the public’s “creativity quotient” has steadily crept downward since 1990. In their article, Bronson and Merryman cite the claim of Professor Kyung Hee Kim at the College of William and Mary: “It’s very clear, and the decrease is very significant.” Kim reports that it is the scores of younger children in America—from kindergarten through sixth grade—for whom the decline is “most serious.”

Bronson and Merryman state that “[t]he potential consequences are sweeping. The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 ‘leadership competency’ of the future. Yet it’s not just about sustaining our nation’s economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others.’

One possible approach to this reputed decline in creativity is to explicitly teach creative thinking in school. Write to your school board explaining what you mean by creativity and arguing for or against the creation of a class in creativity.”

  • Brainstorm First! As you can see, they give you background information and ideas to get started with. As you’re reading the prompt and the concepts are first starting to flow around in your mind, jot down initial ideas, feelings, and anecdotes that might give power to the argument. Try to include things that are relatable.
  • Choose a side! The worst mistake you can make in this essay is to be wishy-washy and indecisive (“I think a creative class could be good, but it could also be bad.”). The whole point is to take a stance. That doesn’t mean you must totally agree or totally disagree. In fact, you should always cover both sides, even concede a point or two, to give more power to your argument. But make sure that up front you state which side you are on, so that the scorers know.

The AP English Language and Composition exam is extremely writing intensive. Be ready for that. But also relax into it and try to get in the flow of writing. One of the challenges of this test is mustering the creativity required for good writing and persuasive arguments under the pressure and time crunch. As always, practice will help. To solidify your test-taking skills and gain confidence in writing essays under pressure, try working with a tutor. TakeLessons has a wide variety of excellent English, writing, and test prep tutors available to cover all your needs.

TaliHTali H. tutors in various academic subjects in Olympia, WA, as well as through online lessons. Since 2010, she has worked with numerous students in elementary, middle, high school, and college in both group settings and one-on-one. Learn more about Tali here! 



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Intro to Writing Types: 5 Types to Know

Writing Tips And Styles

Ready to tackle your next big writing assignment in school? Learn about some of the different writing types in this guest post by San Diego and online tutor Natalie S. to prep yourself…

Throughout your high school and college experience, you will be asked to write many different types of essays. Take a look at our handy guide below to learn the purpose and function of the most common types of writing and see how to best craft them to support your arguments.


The writing type you’ll be asked to use the most in high school is the argumentative essay. In an argumentative essay, the writer makes an initial claim (aka their thesis), and uses the body of the paper to list evidence that supports that claim. Various tactics that can be used to bolster your arguments include addressing counterpoints and refuting them, or using rhetorical devices. An argumentative essay can also be used to analyze literature in English classes.

Compare and Contrast

In a compare and contrast essay, you essentially pick two (or more) books, events, or objects and compare them by examining their similarities and differences. There are two main ways to structure a paper like this. For example, if you’re comparing William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury and Light in August, you can structure your body paragraphs by discussing the first book, then the second book, and then make a direct comparison between the two. This structure is called the Block Method. If you’re up for a challenge, a more difficult way to structure your paper (but also a more interesting way) is for each body paragraph or section to represent a point of comparison. So for the above example, your body paragraphs might discuss race relations, time, and Southern culture as used in both books.

Cause and Effect/Change Over Time

This is one of the writing types that you’ll most likely come across in history class. The cause and effect essay is generally used to analyze historical occurrences. Generally, these essays should be written in chronological order. The intro paragraph needs to include a thesis that states both the cause and the effect that you will be discussing. Your body paragraphs should include (in chronological order) the proof and events that support your thesis. For example, if your thesis is that Europeans caused the decimation of the Native American population, your body paragraphs might include information about the initial population of people within the Americas, European diseases, and eventual wars involving the Native Americans and the Europeans.


A process paper is designed to explain how something is done. For example, you might write a process paper for an older relative on how to work the remote control, or how to send an email. This writing type is a bit different, as it’s generally written from the second person point of view (using the “you” tense). However, keep in mind that your writing will be stronger if you avoid using the word “you”  and instead write using command phrases. For example, say “First, turn the TV on” instead of “First, you should turn the TV on.”


Narrative essays are most similar to short stories, or something that you might write in a creative writing class. These essays should tell a story, and they are generally written in the first-person point of view. What differentiates a narrative essay from a short story, however, is that a narrative essay needs to have a strong, blatant conclusion as to the point or thesis behind the paper. A short story, on the other hand, can have an ambiguous or oblique thesis driving it.

Now that you have an understanding of the purpose and function of these different writing types, you can better craft and organize your essays and get that A+ grade! For further information, tips, and outlines to help you get started, check out one of my favorite online writing resources. Good luck!

Natalie S.Natalie S. tutors in English, ESL, History, Phonics, Reading, and Test Prep in San Diego, as well as through online lessons. She received her BA in English Education at the University of Delaware, and her MA in English Literature at San Diego State University. Learn more about Natalie here!



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3 Unique Writing Topics for Students


When you’re given a writing assignment – but not a topic – deciding what to write about can be a challenge. Here, teacher Matthew H. shares a few unique writing topics to consider… 


Virtually all students eventually will be required to write an essay on some literary piece they read in class or for homework. Normally, you will be expected to answer a specific question the teacher has posed to provoke a thoughtful response. However, sometimes you will be given the option to write on your own terms. These freestyle papers can be a relief to some students who have no interest in traditional essay questions, or a nightmare to those who have difficulty coming up with unique writing topics for themselves. Below are some interesting approaches that you can apply for successful papers.

1. Comparison with a topical entity.
Often, comparative essays will require you to take two major literary characters (from similar or distinct writing styles) and pit them against each other, noting similarities and differences in their actions and books’ themes. This can make for some really insightful commentary, but how many times can you compare King Lear with Pere Goriot and find something new? Instead, try taking a traditional literary figure and relating him or her to something topical, whether in current events or pop culture. This will make for a unique writing topic that your teacher likely hasn’t read yet and that you will enjoy writing.

2. Focus on a minor element.
Most schools focus on major literary works that the whole world is familiar with (e.g. Hamlet), with emphasis on the primary character or central themes. Change things up a bit by choosing a looked-over component of the piece that perhaps is not as obvious to discuss. This may seem more difficult because it’s riskier to write on something with less material, but it will allow you to have a new perspective on the work. Going back to Hamlet, all of the major characters have been analyzed countless times. Even minor characters such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have inspired brand new works of fiction. Why not take a seemingly minor element and expand on it, such as the concept of boat travel in Hamlet, and see what that could represent. Even if it seems risky to steer away from the traditional components (main characters and obvious themes), your teacher will appreciate that you avoided a safe choice, and you may end up creating some really innovative observations.

3. Discuss the worldview of the time.
While this approach is not uncommon at university settings, high school students often forget that a piece of literature is in some way representative of the particular society at the time it was written. Outside of the witch-hunts of The Crucible having been written as a parallelism to the McCarthyism of the 1950s, many students completely overlook the fact that novels, plays, and poems knowingly or unknowingly serve as responses to the current affairs of that particular generation. Even if during class the teacher discusses how The Fountainhead was Ayn Rand’s personal backlash at communism during the Cold War, when writing essays, students will often focus on the concept of objectivism as it strictly appears in the novel as opposed to connecting the theory to the “bigger picture” of real life at that point in time. Drawing those connections not only makes for a unique writing topic, but shows that you have understood the material at a deeper, more substantial level than would be possible to demonstrate with a more superficial essay topic.

In other words, when coming up with unique writing topics, don’t be afraid to take risks. By taking an approach somewhat outside of the box, you open yourself up to exploring new avenues, not only in literature, but in your life as well. Now get writing!

MatthewHMatthew H. teaches a variety of subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ. He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here! 



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