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Breaking Down the GED Writing Prompt

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Preparing for the GED Exam? You'll want to read this lesson in order to familiarize yourself with the expectations of the Extended Response portion of the test and the most effective way to break down the writing prompt.

GED Writing

The GED, or General Educational Development Test, can be an intimidating endeavor. A series of tasks to determine if you have mastered a high school level of education seems like an extremely anxiety ridden experience. However, the GED can be very helpful to those who did not finish high school. These students have an opportunity to earn the diploma needed for higher education or to apply for certain jobs.

Since the GED Test verifies the student has attained a level of high school academics, there are different subject areas and skills tested. One such skill is writing, which includes an extended response measuring organization, focus or development of ideas, and mechanics (spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.) This lesson focuses on helping you reason through the Extended Response task.

What to Expect

In order to fully prepare for the writing, you need to know the specific expectations. You will have only 45 minutes to complete this section. In that time, you should write around 4-7 paragraphs (300-500 words) in response to a specifically designed prompt. Before you begin writing, you will read two pieces containing opposing arguments on the same issue. For example, you may be required to read two speeches on whether or not tweens should have personal cell phones. The writing prompt might read something like this:

  • Analyze the opposing views presented in the two speeches. In your response, develop an argument in which you explain which position is better supported. Incorporate relevant and specific evidence from the text to support your claim. Remember, the better argued position is not necessarily the position with which you agree. This task should take approximately 45 minutes to complete.

This may seem like a deeply involved analysis, which could be very overwhelming. However, if you break it down into smaller chunks, you can certainly attack this writing prompt successfully.

Evidence-based Writing

The first step is to understand the idea of evidence, which consists of the reasoning and support for an argument. In the above cell phone example, the speeches would contain evidence to explain why each speaker has formed his/her specific opinion. Imagine if there were a study that showed tweens with cell phones are less likely to join extra-curricular activities at school. This would be evidence to support the argument that tweens should not own cell phones.

You need to be able to spot this evidence in the speech as you read it. You can hardly expect to form a well-developed and supported response to the prompt if you don't first identify and understand the evidence. You will be using this evidence in your response, which means you will also be writing an evidence-based piece. Basically, the response you write will be very similar to the original pieces you read as you must use evidence from the writing to support your own opinion.

Analyze the Arguments

The next step is to analyze the argument, which is the claim that aims to persuade others that an action or idea is right or wrong. Let's return to the sample issue of cell phones for tweens. Each speech will have an argument: one for tweens having cell phones and one against.

In order to analyze each argument, you need to make some notes. How you organize your notes is up to you, but some suggestions include underlining, circling, or boxing in words or phrases, writing in the margins, or creating tables and charts.

The most important purpose of your notes is to mark the strengths and weaknesses of each argument. Remember, you need to come to a decision about which position is best supported, so you need to have reasons for your decision. Your notes will contain those reasons. For example, imagine you are reading the speech supporting tweens having cell phones. You can create a bulleted list with each reason the author makes for his opinion. Then do the same for the second speech. Whichever list is longer, or has the most convincing evidence, that is the best supported position.

However, do not assume the argument with more support must be the best one. Be sure the support is relevant and credible. In order for evidence to be relevant, it needs to pertain to the topic at hand. Furthermore, in order for evidence to be credible, it should come from a trusted source. For instance, if the statistics in the argument against cell phones came from an organization called Mothers Against Cell Phones, you may have biased information. Instead, data collected by an unbiased organization would be more credible.

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