DSST Principles of Advanced English Composition Study Guide

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DSST Principles of Advanced English Composition Study Guide

The exam for DSST Principles of Advanced English Composition assesses students' knowledge of the writing process, the compositional elements, and essay types. Students taking this exam have the opportunity to earn entry-level college credit if they receive DSST test scores of 400 or more. Students must complete 64 select-response questions in the two-hour timeframe.

Questions could cover topics including thesis statements, argumentative tactics, brainstorming techniques, evidential support, and other areas related to writing. Students need to understand how English composition functions at college and upper high school levels. This DSST test concentrates on four content areas, as the DSST Principles of Advance English Composition study guide describes below.

Content Areas % of Questions
Types of Writing 4% (≈ 1 question)
Elements of Effective Writing 32% (≈ 21 questions)
Reading and Writing Arguments 32% (≈ 21 questions)
Using Secondary Sources 32% (≈ 21 questions)
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Types of Writing

This content area concentrates on four varieties of writing and the characteristics of each. As the shortest section of the exam, students should be able to identify each type. Students should know the following:

  • Creative Writing
  • Expository and Argumentative Writing
  • Analytical Writing

Questions in this area focus solely on types of writing and distinguishing the differences between each type listed above. Test takers need a background in understanding when to employ different types of writing structures and which writing prompts would elicit each type. Students should comprehend narrative (creative) writing and the elements that are included, such as dialogue, characters, settings, and plot. To understand what expository (informative) writing is, examinees should now how it differs from argumentative writing in structure and content. Students should also be able to identify argumentative writing versus persuasive writing for their slight contrasts. Finally, test takers must describe critical, or analytical, responses and when they should be utilized as opposed to the other types of writing.

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Elements of Effective Writing

One of the main content areas, Elements of Effective Writing, focuses on how to curate good writing, especially essays. Students should have a strong understanding of the writing process. Core concepts in this area include:

  • Writing an essay draft
  • Planning and editing an essay
  • Analyzing main Ideas

For this content area, students should be able to identify the audience an author is trying to reach and their purpose for doing so by analyzing a given piece of writing. In addition, students must understand how an author's intent is related to the planning stages of writing an essay, including interpreting reading material, determining different brainstorming techniques, and pinpointing organizational approaches. Then, test takers must be able to connect pre-writing to drafting and how to transition from planning to writing. When it comes to understanding drafting, students need to know how to structure essays effectively from introductions to body paragraphs to conclusions. Within that overall structure, examinees must also be aware of how to organize their thoughts in each paragraph. Lastly, students need to have knowledge of essay revision and what goes into editing an essay after it is drafted.

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Reading and Writing Arguments

Throughout the Reading and Writing Arguments content area, students will be asked about crafting argumentative writing and analyzing arguments for sound evidential support. The main objectives are:

  • Thesis Statements
  • Supporting Evidence and Commentary
  • Counterclaims and Assumptions

Students should be prepared to go through the argumentative writing process and understand how acquire good sources to support strong claims. Again, test takers must grasp paragraph organization and essay structure for argumentative writing as well as oral argumentative debates. To show competency in supporting evidence, examinees need to explain what the different varieties of evidence are and how evidence differs from assumptions. Students must also know key argument terms, such as claim and counterclaim as well as strategies and appeals for arguments, such as logos, pathos, and ethos. Based on their study of key terms, test takers should be able to identify when an argument is strong and when an argument is weak given the evidence presented. Students will ultimately have to acknowledge both sides of a potential argument.

Using Secondary Sources

The final content area, Using Secondary Sources, concentrates solely on sources and how they are an integral part of the writing process. Core concepts include:

  • Source Credibility and Types
  • Source Implementation in Writing
  • Citations

During this content area, students need to understand how evidence works in accordance with providing support for assertions in writing. Students should know where to find reputable sources and what types of sources work for different types of writing. By analyzing sources, test takers can comprehend how they might support a project and whether or not they have fallacious intent. Students should also understand when to cite evidence in a document and how evidence can look in an essay, such as a specific quote or a paraphrased summary of a few lines. Examinees, then, must know the different types of citation formats from MLA to CMS and what each citation format is for. Finally, students should apply those citation formats both in-text and on a citation page.

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