How to Write a Theme Essay

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Many college entrance exams require students to write short essays on a given theme. The prompt will include a statement, such as a famous quote, to set the stage and then ask specific questions to be addressed. Each of the tasks assigned by the prompt must be fulfilled to get full credit. You will be graded on your writing style and how well you address the prompt.

1 Preparing Your Answer

Carefully read the prompt and everything you must respond to. Take notes on the parts of the question and then double check that you covered everything. Look for key words like “describe,” “compare,” “analyze” and “effects” that will tell you how to proceed. Be prepared to define terms in your own words, describe events and processes, and show connections between ideas. Note how much time you have to respond and budget your time accordingly. If you have one hour to complete the essay, allot 10 minutes to prewriting, 40 minutes to writing and 10 minutes to revising. Use the same ratio if you have more or less time to write your essay.

2 Planning Your Essay

Begin by creating an outline. Respond to each part of the prompt with a short phrase or sentence. For example, a sample question from Greece Central School District asks students to list two nonpolitical revolutions and describe how they created intellectual, social or economic change by describing one change and its impact on the larger society. You would need to list your revolutions and then, for each one, describe the change it created and the impact of that change. Once you have your short outline, look for a way to tie it together. For example, you may have chosen the civil rights movement in the 1960s and the women’s rights movement of the 1970s, and you could connect them through their impact on modern America.

3 Writing Your Essay

Include a brief introduction that creates context for your response and provide the thesis statement. For example, identify the two political movements and list the changes created by them and the impacts of those changes. Each point should have its own paragraph. Use examples that you learned from class to support your claims. You may write, for instance, that the civil rights movement limited the impact of racism and allowed more minorities to enter the middle class. In the next paragraph, you could write that the women’s rights movement meant that women could not be fired from jobs as easily, which allowed them to enter the middle class on their own. Goshen Central School District suggests ending each body paragraph with a concluding sentence that wraps up that point.

4 Finishing Your Essay

The conclusion should briefly restate your thesis and points in new words. End with a parting thought that shows why your essay is significant. For example, you could end your essay on the two social movements by saying that both made the nation more fair and increased the average wealth of Americans. Go back through your essay to make sure you have answered all parts of the prompt. Check to see if you have fully explained all of your claims and that your examples make sense. Read through the prompt again to be certain. Once you are sure of your content, go back through your essay to check for grammatical and spelling errors.

Residing in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., Buddy Shay has been in higher education since 2003 with experience in the classroom and in academic support. He holds a Master of Arts in English. Shay is also a certified practitioner of the MBTI personality instrument and has previous experience working with secondary students.