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Nadyja Von Ebers

Breaking Down Essay Organization for the GED Extended Response Exam

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The GED extended response exam can seem overwhelming when you first begin to study for it, but really, once you’re familiar with the organizational breakdown of the essay, you’ll feel much more confident about taking it! The key to writing any great essay always comes down to knowing the proper format, and knowing how to bring together all the moving parts.

I’ve discussed an overview of the GED extended response exam and general tips on it in the past, so my goal in this post is to familiarize you with the organizational structure of the exam and to give you some strong examples of the content that should be included in each section of your essay.

As a quick reminder, The GED extended response exam is a 45-minute essay exam in which you will read two (or sometimes more) opposing passages on the same topic, and then construct an essay taking a position on the topic and providing support for your stance.

For the purpose of demonstrating how to craft the parts of the GED extended response essay, let’s use a sample GED extended response prompt, which includes two opposing passages on the subject of “tween” (aka “pre-teen”) cell phone use. In Passage #1, the author argues that tweens should not use cellphones, while the author of passage #2 claims that cellphone are beneficial for tweens. Both authors center their discussion around the issue of tween safety, but each takes a markedly different stance, and uses different types of support to back up their respective arguments.

It is up to you to decide which position you believe is better supported between the two passages, and then take your own clear stance on the subject matter. The goal here is to come up with 2-3 solid main points (your pieces of evidence) supporting your stance. While the following method isn’t the only way to format your support, I highly recommend it, because it provides a very thorough, well-rounded execution of essay.

This method includes crafting three main points:

  • One that provides evidence from the passage with the better supported argument (or, in short, the passage you are more convinced by)
  • One that provides evidence from the passage with less effective support (or the passage you are less convinced by) and an explanation of why you find the support faulty or why you disagree with it.
  • One that provides evidence from your personal life (this is optional, but time permitting, helps strengthen your overall argument greatly).

In my last post on the GED extended response exam, I provided some advice on how to gather and weigh out evidence using argument-support charts to help you choose a side. For the sake of demonstrating essay execution, let’s say that you have read both passages thoroughly, weighed out both arguments, and have come to the stance that:

Tweens should have cell phones.

You could also word this differently, so long as your stance is clear. For example:

It is more beneficial than problematic for tweens to have cell phones.

Cell phones should be given to tweens to promote their own safety.

There are more benefits than downsides to tweens having their own cellphones.

Once you have committed to a stance, your whole driving purpose throughout the GED extended response essay is to prove why this is true. Now that we’ve decided on a stance to take, let’s look at how to present, explore, and support that stance throughout.

Introduction

The purpose of the introduction is to just that: to introduce your readers to the topic at hand, to introduce your stance on the matter, and to preview your main points, which you will elaborate on in the body of the essay. A strong introduction needs:

An attention-getter

An attention-getter should grab the reader’s interest right away or hook them in—which is why sometimes the opening sentence of an essay is called a “hook.” There are many different types of hooks, so choose one you feel comfortable using. They may include a rhetorical question asked directly to the reader, a powerful fact of statistic (that can be taken from one of the passages), a short anecdote about the subject matter, etc. For example:

Rhetorical Question:

Have you ever been in an emergency situation in which you were very thankful to have a cell phone?”

Fact (taken from one of the passages) with brief reflection on it:

According to “A 2012 survey by the National Consumers League . . . almost 60 percent of children ages 8 to 12 already have cell phones” and this number is only rising. Whether you agree or disagree with children having cell phones, the fact is: this is the trend today.

Notice that in both cases, the reader will be able to tell right away what the essay is about.

Thesis

The thesis is your stance or argument, expressed in one, straightforward sentence. A favorite teacher of mine way back used to describe the thesis as a “promise to the reader that you keep throughout the essay.” In other words, your thesis is the argument you promise to prove over the course of the essay. Really, your thesis is just the stance you decided to take (discussed above), made perfectly clear early on in the essay. Again, you can decide how you’d like to word it, but the goal is total clarity on your position. So, for example:

I support tween cell phone usage as it promotes their safety and wellbeing.

Teens should have cell phones for their own convenience and safety.

Preview of main points

This is the sentence following your thesis that briefly states your main points, or in other words, your reasons for taking the stance that you do. For example:

I believe that tweens should have cell phones because cell phones encourage independence, because they increase safety, and because they can be used as learning tools.

You don’t have to elaborate on your support in your introduction (that’s what your body paragraphs are for), but you do want to give the reader a sense of what they can expect to read about throughout the essay.

Also, it helps to list your main points in the order you will discuss them throughout. This isn’t required necessarily, but doing so helps map the essay and increase the overall cohesiveness. And generally speaking, readers like to anticipate what’s coming next—it helps hold their interest!

Body Paragraph #1
(Main point using support from the passage you think has the stronger argument (or the stance you agree with)

Topic sentence

Think of a topic sentence like a mini-thesis for the paragraph. It should state the main point (or the reason for your stance) right away. For each topic sentence throughout the essay, It’s nice to use transitional words or phrases that help signal to the reader that you are starting a new point. For example:

First of all, tweens should have cell phones because they encourage independence.

Evidence from the passage supporting your stance, with elaboration

This is where you will provide specific examples from the text you feel is better supported. While it is not necessary to provide quotes in your body paragraphs, it can be helpful. Also note that you will need to provide some reflection of your own to avoid simply summarizing or paraphrasing the text. For example:

In her speech “‘Tweens’ Are Ready For Cell Phones” at the “Safter Kid Summit,” Deborah Pendergast explains that young adults can gain a sense of empowerment by having cell phones. She supports this stance very well by providing a quote from Caroline Knorr from Common Sense Media who says, “”We want our kids to be independent, to be able to walk home from school and play at the playground without us. We want them to have that old-fashioned, fun experience of being on their own, and cell phones can help with that.” Pendergast then uses an illustrative anecdote about a parent being late to pick up her child from school and the child not panicking because she has a cell phone and knows her mom is coming.

Both of these pieces of evidence from Pendergast powerfully show that children can be less reliant on their parents if the have an easy means to get a hold of them. I believe it is important for children to have lives outside of their parents, and they are better able to do so if they can get in touch with their parents to communicate their whereabouts and plans. Cell phones help build trust between parents and children, which ultimately encourages children’s independence.

Body Paragraph #2
(Main point refuting the argument from the other passage)

Topic sentence

Additionally, tweens should have cell phones because cell phones promote kids’ safety and wellbeing.

Evidence from the passage opposing your stance with an explanation of why you disagree with it

This is called a refutation, and is a strong way to build an argument in an essay. To refute a piece of evidence means to disprove it, or at least give less power to it. See below:

In her speech “Wait Until They Are Older,” also presented at the “Safer Kids Summit,” Linda Sidner argues against tweens having cell phones because she feels they are unsafe for anyone under sixteen years old. She believes that kids will access inappropriate websites on their cellphones and that they will engage in cyberbullying, both of which threaten kids’ safety, not promote it.

However, I would like to counter these points by saying that important discussions between parents and children can prevent both of these risks. In regards to her first point about dangerous websites, I would note that parents can control internet settings on their kids’ phones or even disable the internet entirely. They can also check their kids’ search histories.

In regards to her second point about cyber-bullying, I recognize that this is a very serious offense. Again, though, parents can prevent this type of behavior by having serious talks with their children about the dire consequences of sending cruel texts to others. We live in the age of the internet and parents cannot ever fully prevent their kids from visiting certain websites or being unkind to others—but teaching tweens how to use cell phones maturely will help them become better and safer communicators.

Furthermore, imagine if a child was in a dangerous situation involving an in-person bully or an encounter with a questionable stranger. The child could use their cell phone to call a parent or even the police if need be.

Body Paragraph #3
(Main point sharing personal experience)

Topic Sentence:

Finally, I believe tweens should have cell phones because cell phones can be used for learning purposes that can boost kids’ awareness and intelligence.

Evidence from personal life and explanation:

Cell phones can be used to help kids stay organized as well as stay educated, both of which increases their overall wellbeing. For example, most cell phones have calendars and note pad features that students can use to store useful information or assignments.

Even more importantly, cell phones can be used to look up important pieces of information, either for school or life in general. When I was in school, I used my cell phone constantly to look up words, search Wikipedia for information, make quizzes on Quizlet, etc. Many kids walk or take public transportation to school and the “maps” feature on their phones can help them avoid getting lost; I know I personally used “maps” constantly to get around. In many ways cell phones save tons of time to gain useful information.

End/Conclusion

  • Re-statement of thesis (using at least slightly different words)
  • Re-cap of each piece of evidence that proves the thesis
  • Good Luck!

    Hopefully seeing some examples in action has helped give you a better sense of what the parts of a strong GED extended response exam look like. Keep in mind that the above examples are all just snippets of what should be found in each paragraph, and that the more examples and explanation you can provide, the better! While the GED extended response exam can seem a bit overwhelming at first, if you stay true to your argument and you provide well-rounded support, you’re well on your way to a successful essay!

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    About Nadyja Von Ebers

    Nadyja von Ebers holds an MA in English from DePaul University and has been an English instructor at the high school and college levels for the last eleven years. She has extensive experience teaching preparation for various AP exams as well as the ACT, SAT, and GED. Nadyja loves helping students reach their maximum potential and thrives in both literal and virtual classrooms. When she's not teaching, she enjoys reading and writing for pleasure and loves spending time in or near the ocean.


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