College Composition

How else can a student earn over $1,000 for two hours of work?

The College Composition CLEP exam assesses writing skills taught in most first-year college composition courses. Give your student a leg up by encouraging him to develop his writing skills before he enters college. Students who pass this exam will earn 6 college credits and save themselves 15 weeks of class time.**

The exam contains 50 multiple-choice questions and two timed essays. Students must pass both parts to receive a passing score on the exam. This is the only exam where you have to wait for your scores in the mail, after the essays are evaluated. Start by assessing your student’s skills on the multiple choice section with these practice questions from The College Board. The Official CLEP Study Guide is a helpful resource, providing sample essays and scoring guidelines. The first essay is based on the student’s own experience, reading or observations. The second essay, according to College Board, will require candidates to develop a position by building an argument in which they synthesize information from two provided sources, which they must cite.

Students are given 30 minutes to write one essay, and 40 to read the sources provided and write the second. The instructions will be similar to this:

First Essay: “To understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must study its major cities.”
Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.

Second Essay: You have 40 minutes to read the information provided from two sources and to compose an essay responding to the topic. Use the information write an argument for or against the issue presented. Your response must include both sources and use correct documentation whether you summarize, paraphrase, and/or quote from the articles. Include the writer’s last name, the title of the work, or any other reference  to clearly attribute the information to its writer.

Preparing for this exam will also help students prepare for other upcoming essays such as those for standardized exams (ACT/SAT), scholarships, and college admission essays. It’s a win-win approach to education, making the most use of his time. Check out the Strategies to turn any essay from Good to Great below.

Practice writing 5-paragraph essays with the free online website Learning Express that can be accessed if your public library subscribes to the online database called Learning Express. Look for “Learning Express”, then the “College Prep” tab, then “ACT Prep” andACT Writing Practice”.  Here is Anoka County Library’s Link that is open to non-subscribers (as of today!). Another good resource to prep this exam is to sign up for the SAT Question of the Day on the College Board site. A question will be e-mailed to you each day. The grammar questions are similar to what you need to know for this exam.  I would encourage your 7th grader to start receiving these.

We completed a year-long course with WriteShop I and finished with The Least You should Know about English (forms A, B, or C are the same, just different practice questions). I also used this list of 501 writing prompts for practice on writing impromptu essay.


Strategies to Turn Any Essay from Good to Great

Information provided by EssayEdge. Permission to reprint granted.

  Strategy 1: Smaller paragraphs are better paragraphs

  • There is no single correct number of paragraphs – 5 does not have to be the magic number.
  • Don’t try to cram too much content in a single paragraph – have a single focus in that paragraph. No paragraph should be longer than 25% of the page.
  • Sometimes an idea needs two paragraphs to fully develop. That’s okay!

Why is this great? Small paragraphs are positive because:

  • The are more visually appealing and digestible (good first impression).
  • They force you to make a point quickly and be succinct.
  • They keep the energy of the essay up – the reader won’t get bogged down in your writing.

Strategy 2: Be specific and avoid generalizations

  • Ask yourself: How is your story/answer unique? Avoid statements that everyone writes: “I want t o become a doctor because I love science and want to save lives.” This would probably true for all medical students. You want to stand out and put a face on your essay. If everyone can write it, you will struggle to stand out. Try: “As a pediatric rheumatologist, I will research treatments for children suffering from juvenile arthritis.” This statement is likely connected to you and only you. A very good thing. It helps your essay pop and your writing stand out.
  • Add some details: Ask yourself – Is this as specified as I can be. “My volunteer experience has opened my eyes to the difficulties faced by the impoverished” is too general. Instead, try: “Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity motivated me to … “ Have a finished essay that can only be written by you and you alone.

Why is this great?

  • It will help your essay stand out. It takes your essay from a pile of papers to having a personality.
  • Essays that are specific tend to have fewer clichés and you want to avoid those.
  • You’ll save space by not stating the obvious. Ask yourself: Is that content absolutely vital? If not, dump it. Be detailed to be more effective.

Strategy 3: Improve your Word Choice

  • Don’t just avoiding generalizations but make your writing more descriptive. “I walked up to the counter and asked to speak with a manager.” Change to: “I swaggered up to the counter and demanded to speak with a manager.” Two words changed, but the picture painted is entirely different. “After adding the chemical to the small container, steam began to come out the top.” Can be improved to: “After pouring sulfuric acid into the beaker, steam began billowing out the top.” This one provides more information, uses fewer words and creates a vivid picture.
  • Use Adjectives and Adverbs sparingly.  “I was extremely tired and my legs were very sore after completing the challenging workout.” Blah, blah. How about: “I finished the 10-mile run exhausted and with cramped legs.” Use better nouns and verbs, not just throw in more adverbs and adjectives. More descriptive without adding length.
  • Banish ‘very’ from your essay.

Why is this great?

  • Better word choice, especially active verbs and descriptive nouns make your writing more engaging and compelling. You want them fully engaged and interested in reading, not just wanting to get through it.
  • You will use fewer forms of the verb “to be.” Anything you can do to cut down on their use will likely make your essay more engaging.
  • Better nouns and verbs help you save space; make every word counts.

More tips are available at EssayEdge.com


* Resource: Many colleges award credit based on the American Council on Education recommendation, which is six credits for the College Composition CLEP. Tuition and fees at Minnesota colleges range from $167 to $1,538 per credit hour. Multiplied by 6 credits equals a savings of $1,002 to $9,228 depending on which college the student attends.

**Always check your individual college’s CLEP policy for variations in the number of credits awarded and their CLEP course equivalency chart.


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© 2016 Cheri Frame. All Rights Reserved.
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