HiSET Essay Writing Guide

The HiSET Language Arts Writing Test is composed of 50 multiple-choice questions and one essay. You will have 50 minutes to complete the essay portion, which will come after the multiple-choice section of the test.

The exam requires you to read two passages and understand them thoroughly before you offer your own opinion. In your response, there are specific criteria upon which you are evaluated. These include:

  • Effective introduction and conclusion
  • Logical sequence of ideas
  • Command of English grammar (few spelling, punctuation mistakes, etc.)
  • Formal style and tone
  • Proper and clear organization
  • A clear central thesis with supporting ideas
  • An acknowledgement of opposing/alternative points of view

You will receive a score between 1 and 6, and a minimum score of 2 is required in order to pass the test.

The Thesis Statement

The word “thesis” might seem intimidating, but remember the thesis is merely a central position. What is the main idea that you want the reader to understand? In other words, what is your opinion on the subject presented? For example, “All students should receive funding for college,” or “Governments around the world must protect the environment for future generations.”

Think of the general topic that the two passages discuss, and then ask yourself, “what do I think about this topic?” Don’t worry about picking a position the test-scorers will agree with—as long as your position is clear and you explain how your examples support your position, you can easily score a 4 or higher.

5 Steps to a Great Essay

In order to finish the essay within 50 minutes, it’s important that you keep track of the clock! Here is how you can best organize your time:

Step 1 – Read the 1st Passage and take notes (5 minutes max)

Step 2 – Read the 2nd Passage and take notes (5 minutes max)

Step 3 – Plan your 5-paragraph essay: pre-write your thesis and supporting ideas (5 min max)

One possible breakdown you can follow is to write 5-paragraphs as follows:

1.) Introduction Paragraph — Introduce both passages and summarize them. State your thesis and the two major ways you will strengthen or support it.

2.) First Idea — State your first supporting idea and back it up with evidence from the passage. Introduce an example from your life to provide further support.

3.) Second Idea — State your second supporting idea and back it up with evidence from the passage. Introduce a second example from your life to provide further support.

4.) The Opposing Side — Acknowledge that some people believe the opposite of your thesis. Explain their position, then refute it with logic or (even better!) additional information from one of the two passages.

5.) Conclusion Paragraph — Re-explain your thesis and emphasize once again that it is correct. This paragraph does not have to be long—two sentences are usually sufficient!

Remember that this is merely a suggestion. If you can only write four paragraphs, then you can combine Paragraphs 4 & 5, and discuss the opposing side in your short conclusion. Writing fewer than 4 paragraphs is unwise if you are aiming for a 5 or 6. Length itself doesn’t matter, but usually 2–3 paragraphs is not enough time to sufficiently develop your thesis.

Step 4 – Write your Essay (30 minutes max)

This may not seem like a lot of time, but your essay doesn’t have to be too long. Thirty minutes is more than enough time to write 5–6 paragraphs, especially since your introduction and conclusion may be short. The biggest mistake students make is not taking enough time to plan out their essay. If you have a plan for each paragraph, then the actual writing should not take you too long. If you’re prepared, you’ll have plenty of time!

Step 5 – Revise your Essay (5 minutes max)

Since too many spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors can distract from your ideas, it’s important to re-read your entire essay once (if not twice!) before the time is up. Ask yourself:

  • Does the “logical flow” of ideas makes sense?
  • Is the thesis convincing?
  • Are the examples logical?
  • Do you use good transition words?

Make any necessary changes prior to your timer running out!

What your Essay Needs in Order to Be Successful

Include a thesis statement as part of your first paragraph: This is just a one-sentence statement that clearly states your position on the issue that is discussed in the passages.

Use evidence from the passages: Your essay needs to reference information that is stated in the passages. For each of your ideas, you should cite at least one fact or supporting statement from the passages.

Use examples from your life: For each of your ideas, you need to use one example from your life or experiences. Don’t be afraid to stretch the truth here a little, but make sure your example is something you have at least partially experienced so it feels organic.

Acknowledge the opposing argument: You can do this in a separate paragraph, or you can just do it in the beginning of your last paragraph. Pick a strong argument from the opposing side that some people believe to be true or that has some merit. Then, prove why it is still not convincing or why it’s logically flawed.

Re-state your thesis in the final paragraph: Your final paragraph should summarize your argument and re-state your thesis.

HiSET Practice Essay

Now you’re ready to write a practice essay: HiSET Essay Practice Question.