Writing an off-topic essay
Students must focus like a laser on the quote in the box and the essay prompt that follows it. Those words must determine the topic of the essay.
Spending too long on the intro paragraph and shortchanging the meat of the essay
This pitfall can be avoided by starting with the body paragraphs, about a third of the way down the first page, and then adding the conclusion and the introduction in their appropriate spots after the body paragraphs are written.
Errors in grammar and punctuation
Students must learn to budget their time, saving 3 minutes at least to proofread.
Wandering, disorganized writing
Students must outline to ensure the essay progresses in a clear, well-reasoned way.
Accidentally proving the other guy’s point
Some students set out to write an essay supporting one idea and, while writing it, find themselves making so many concessions to the other side that their essays end up supporting the other side more than their own.
Students should change the order of their writing. They should practice writing the body paragraphs first, evaluating them afterward to figure out what point they prove best, and let that determine the thesis and conclusion of the essay. After writing the conclusion, they should go back and write the intro paragraph, including the thesis statement.
Under pressure, the student freezes up and can’t think of any examples to prove the chosen position.
Students should create, and practice using, a repertoire of useful fiction, historical events, and personal stories which have material in them that lends itself well to proving the sort of positions suggested by the essay prompts. Abraham Lincoln’s biography, the events of the French Revolution, the story of Huckleberry Finn, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Homer’s Odyssey, and the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet seem to be popular among many students for their broad applicability, but each student must assemble his or her own favorite materials.