4.3 Sample Essay Exam Questions and Answers
This final lesson presents some sample essay exam assignments and several sample responses. The responses are analyzed to give you a clearer sense of what constitutes a high- and a low-scoring essay.
When you’re faced with any new task, it’s helpful to see how others have performed it. That’s why this final lesson is devoted to sample essay prompts and responses. There are three sample exams, based on the kinds of prompts used on the IELTS, TOEFL, ACT, GED, Regents’, and SAT exams. Six answers are given that cover a range of scores.
It’s important to understand why each response received the score it did. You can study the scoring rubric for your exam either online or in a book, but you’ll learn more by seeing what essays at each level look like. This criterion/rubric is based on those used to score the IELTS, TOEFL, ACT, GED, Regents’, and SAT essays.
Sample Essay Exam #1
Solar energy is becoming more and more popular as a source of household energy in many countries around the world. What are the advantages and disadvantages of solar energy?
Time allowed: 40 minutes
It seems that traffic and air pollution are insoluble problems in some countries. One of the suggestions to solve these problems is increasing the price of petrol. To a certain extent, I agree that it can decrease the traffic and air pollution; however, I believe that there are some better strategies to deal with these problems.
There are some reasons that may justify the increase in the gasoline price by governments. Firstly, this limitation enforces people to use a different type of public transportations such as metros, buses, or taxis. Consequently, it may prevent the use of private cars in crowded cities. Secondly, it can put a strain on some industries, which use petrol as a raw material, to transform their previous methods into some more sustainable methods and less fuel consuming machines.
On the other hand, I believe that these kinds of limitations should be accompanied by providing several essential requirements. In other words, if the cost of gasoline is raised, while there are not sufficient public transportation systems, it may exacerbate the traffic problem. As a result, it is argued that the main role of government to solve these problems is supporting and providing the public transportation systems, and maybe in parallel with public transportation improvement, they should eventually raise the price of petrol.
In summary, there are some advantages to growing petrol price; however, several better programs can be taken into account to tackle traffic and air pollution problems by governments.
That was great writing! The only problem is with your second paragraph where you were supposed to write only about other measures you suggest (based on the thesis statement you have written). It was better to start it with a contrasting word like HOWEVER, and point to some other measures. This pattern reduces your coherence mark. The other thing which may boost your band score is to try to hide your trigger words and just make a smooth transition between sentences. For more information, please see the table of the band descriptors at the bottom of this document. I highlighted some tips for you. Your estimated band score is as follows:
Task achievement 8.5 Coherence/Cohesion 8.0 Lexical resource 8.0 Grammar and Accuracy 7.5
Estimated band score: 8.0
Sample Essay Exam #2
The photograph or picture that moved me the most is ___________________
Visual images have the power to inspire thought, evoke emotion, create mood, and even make political statements. Complete the statement and write an essay that explains your choice of image. You may choose any image, including a family photograph, famous work of art, drawing or painting done by a friend, or even a book illustration. Support your choice by using appropriate examples and details.
Time allowed: 25 minutes
You might think a memorable picture would have vivid color, an appealing or inspirational theme, or be something you might want to display and look at every day. That is not the case with the picture that is most memorable to me. Rather, it is a large mural, painted in 1937 by the Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, to protest the bombing of a small village in northern Spain.
Surprisingly, there is no vivid red color to show the flowing blood. One must imagine this, for the mural is startlingly gray, black, and white. But there is no avoiding the horror of the images. The figures are not realistically drawn but are cubist and abstract, and it is apparent that innocent civilians are being slaughtered. A mother screams with her mouth wide open, her head tipped back in heart-rending anguish, as she holds her dead baby. A soldier lies dead on the ground, clutching his broken sword, and three other people are shown in shock and agony. Animals, including a tortured horse and a crying bird, are also portrayed as innocent victims of the massacre.
Some symbols are open to interpretation. What is the meaning of the bull, which seems simply to be observed, or of the light bulb emitting rays at the top of the mural? Does the bull symbolize brute force, and does the light bulb signify that there is hope? Yet there is no doubt that the distorted, horrible images are intended to shock the viewer. This depiction of human grief is a profound statement of the cruelty and senselessness of war. Limiting the picture to black and white adds a funereal element to the shocking depiction of the catastrophe.
The memory of the picture cannot be forgotten; it is a metaphor for the senselessness and the horror of war. While it was painted to protest atrocities in a long-ago war, it is as relevant today as the recollection of the horrors of September 11. Perhaps it should be shown to all those who contemplate starting a war. Would it be worth it to have another Guernica?
On a scale of 1–5, this essay received a score of 4.While the writing skills are effective, the organization could be improved. For example, the fact that the painting is black and white is mentioned in the second and third paragraphs, both times noting how the color choice adds to the mood of the painting. Paragraph 3 has a number of major points; it would be less confusing if each point had its own paragraph.
There is a clear point of view, and the writer has obviously studied not only the painting but the language of art criticism as well. Examples are well chosen and numerous. Word choice is varied and sophisticated, and there are very few errors in grammar and mechanics. If the essay were better organized, and the writer had followed the five-paragraph form, it could have received a score of 5.
The picture I remember is Guernica. It is by Picasso. It is not reelist. That means the shapes don’t look real but you know what they are in real life. It is in black and white. It is not in color like most pictures. But it really gets to you. It shows people getting killed or who are already killed. The images make it so you won’t forget it.
What this picture does is to make you know that war kills people and it is just awful. A baby is killed and a soldier is killed. A mother is screaming because her baby is dead. It kills people and it kills animals and even if you are not killed you will probly be screaming or crying. There are lots of ways that life gets destroyed by war. The painting shows many of them.
This picture could be for any war it doesn’t matter. In that way it is a universal message. There is not anything in the picture that tells you where it is happening. You don’t know who the people are. There are wars hapening today. People suffer now like in Guernica. You remeber it because it makes you upset and you wish there would never be a war. Then people wouldn’t have to suffer. This picture is memrable because you remember how the people suffered and they probly didn’t do anything.
On a scale of 1–5, this essay received a 2. Organizationally, it has three paragraphs and each contains a main idea. However, two of them also include the introduction and conclusion.While they don’t detract from or confuse the author’s ideas, there are numerous errors in grammar and spelling. Most sentences are very short, and the lack of variety detracts from the essay. A strong point of view is maintained, but it gets lost in the unsophisticated and overly informal vocabulary.
Sample Essay Exam #3
An influential person is one who leaves a footprint in the sand of our soul. To me, the most influential person I can think of is ____________________________________
Complete the sentence above with an appropriate phrase. Then write an essay supporting your completed statement.
Time allowed: 45 minutes
Have you ever imagined how your life would be different if a key person were not in it, like a mother, father, spouse, or child? Some people are so integral to making us who we are that without them, our very identity would be changed. My grandmother is a key figure in my life who has left an indelible impression on me. She is a woman of great influence because of her stability, her work ethic, and her independent spirit.
Grandma is the matriarch of our family. Because she has a close relationship with us and a great deal of wisdom, her seven children and 16 grandchildren often seek her out for advice. We look to her for advice on everything from how to potty-train a toddler to how to break up with a boyfriend. Grandma relishes the fact that we ask her for advice, but she never offers it without being sought out. She is like a rock: never changing. My own parents got divorced when I was 12, but I always knew that Grandma’s house was a source of stability when the rest of my world seemed tumultuous. This sense of security has helped me face other challenges as they come along in life, like when we moved during my freshman year of high school.
Grandma also inspired me to pursue my goals. Because of the trials she faced without shrinking back, I am able to have the strength to work hard and try to realize my dreams. Grandma didn’t have it easy. Because she was a single parent from a fairly young age, she had to work and sacrifice to support her children. She worked full time cleaning offices to save for her children’s college educations. She received no help from the outside and was totally independent from her own family’s help. Grandma always stressed the importance of education to all of us in achieving our goals. Grandma’s example of hard work and her emphasis on education have strengthened me to pursue a college degree, and eventually a PhD. Even though I will have to work to get through school, I know that if Grandma worked while raising seven children alone, I can handle taking care of myself. Her tireless example is truly inspirational. She has also encouraged me in my chosen career, teaching, because she feels it will blend well with family life when I eventually have my own children.
Perhaps the most significant legacy Grandma has left me is her example of always voicing her opinion despite what others may think. Grandma would never bow down to prejudice; she never cared what people would say behind her back. In an age where segregation in social circles was common, Grandma’s dinners after church on Sundays would look like a United Nations meeting. She would include all races and nationalities, and became close friends with a very diverse group of people. If someone tried to put down another race, she would quickly voice her disagreement. This refusal to be swayed by “popular” opinion had a huge impact on me, and is a guiding principle in my life today.
I certainly would not be the person I am today, inside or out, without the influence of my grandmother upon my life. I can only aspire to imitate her in her stability, her work ethic, and her refusal to be silenced by other people’s disapproval.
On a scale of 1–5, this essay received a 5. It shows an insightful understanding of the assignment. The writer chose a strong example of an influential person, and then skillfully developed her ideas with specific examples. We learn much about Grandma, and the writer constantly connects these details back to the main idea: that Grandma had a huge impact on her life in three major areas. The writer shows an excellent command of language. There are no grammatical errors, and she varies her sentence structure to make the reading interesting and enjoyable. This essay fully addresses all areas of the rubric in a strong way and is a good example of clear competence in writing.
When someone comes into our lives for a long time, he or she leaves a footprint on our soul. I would say the biggest footprint in my soul comes from my little brother, Mario. Even though we’ve never had a conversation, Mario is a very big influence for three main reasons.
Mario is a peaceful person. He has a brain disease called lissencephaly. That happens when the brain is not bumpy and grooved like it’s supposed to be. He has been like this from birth, and there’s no cure. But Mario is like a little angel. He sits in his wheelchair and plays with his toys. Even though he is 8 years old, he can’t walk or talk. But he has an inner peace that shines in his eyes. He never seems to worry about anything. He hardly ever cries or gets upset. He isn’t impatient like the rest of us. He just takes each day, each hour, each minute as it comes. He has taught me about being peaceful no matter what is going on around me.
Mario has also taught me about unconditional love. Unconditional love means you love someone not because of what they can do for you, or what they have done for you, but just because you love them.
Mario also has influenced me to enjoy the simple gifts in life. I can run, walk, talk, and learn. Most of my friends complain about homework, girlfriends, and petty, stupid fights with their friends. But Mario, without saying anything, reminds me that it’s all good. I have more than he does, and I should be content with what I have. I don’t need to have the newest CD or my own car to be happy.
Not many people have a special gift like Mario in their life. I am really lucky because he has influenced me, I think, to be a better person. I’ve learned a lot about life from him, how to live and how not to live.
On a scale of 1–5, this essay received a 3. The student shows a basic understanding of the assignment, using the example of his brother Mario to develop a response to the prompt. There is good development, particularly in the second paragraph, with specific examples. However, the second body paragraph, about unconditional love, is unsupported. Detracting from the essay are a very basic vocabulary and little sentence variety. This is a fair response with good ideas that would benefit from more sophisticated grammar and vocabulary and more concrete support.
My mother is the person who influenced me the most. She is a very hard worker. She is a very devoted mother, and she is tough.
My mother works at Macy’s, cleaning the rest rooms and straightening up the stock after the store closes. It is not an easy job, she does it from 12 midnight til 8 in the morning. My mother wanted to go to college, but her parents didn’t have no money. She really want us to all go. I would love to make her proud of myself. That would be a great reward to her for all she did for us.
My mother cares about all the things that no other mothers pay no attention to anymore. She won’t let me hang out with my friends without calling, no boys in the house when she’s not home, I have to cook and clean, etc. She is a very devoted mother.
One day, some lady almost ran me over in front of my house. My mother went out there and tryd to find what the cause was. Well, the lady starting screaming at my mother, and she was the one at fault! My mother yelled back and even called the cops on this lady, she isn’t afraid of anybody.
I think I will probably turn out to be just like my mother, and that would be fine with me.
On a scale of 1–5, this essay received a 2. It shows a basic understanding of the assignment, but little development. The writer lays out three ways her mother has been influential in her life but then fails to adequately develop them with examples. In the second body paragraph, the writer never makes a connection between her mother’s strictness and being a devoted mother. In addition, she doesn’t really discuss how this has affected her. There is a weak introduction with no real “hook,” and a short conclusion that weakens the organization of the essay. The sentences are simple and contain noticeable errors, particularly run-on sentences. Overall, this response shows marginal competence in writing.