David Recine

How to Write A Source-based Essay for Praxis Core Writing

There are two essay prompts at the end of the Praxis Core Writing Exam. The first prompt asks you to write about your personal opinions. The second essay requires you to write about the opinions of others. In this second Source-based essay, you’ll read two passages about the same issue. The passages will be written by different authors who hold conflicting opinions about the issue.

The issues in the Source-based Essay are very similar to the issues raised in the Argumentative Essay. In both cases, you’ll be asked to write about an important social issue that some people may find controversial—something like global warming, copyright restrictions, minimum wage, how to help the homeless, and so on. But unlike the argumentative essay, the source-based essay doesn’t ask for your personal opinion. Instead, you simply need to summarize the opinions of the two passage writers.

Many test-takers find summarization to be a bit easier than coming up with an original opinion. Indeed, the task of choosing and defending an opinion on an important societal issue be intimidating. But summarizing multiple sources poses its own challenges as well. Let’s take a look at what you’ll need to do.


Challenge # 1: Getting the facts right

Unless your essay response doesn’t address the topic at all, there’s no such thing as a completely “right” or “completely “wrong” answer on the Praxis Core essays. However, it is possible to summarize the information from the passages in a way that will be “wrong” in the eyes of the ETS scorers who review your Source-based Essay.

As you summarize both readings, be very careful not to misinterpret what’s being said. A clear misstatement of fact can hurt your score a lot. And a failure to understand or properly restate the opinions in the passages can also cost you dearly.

It’s just as important to make sure that you summarize all of the key facts and arguments. Be aware of how both arguments are constructed, and understand the central ideas and evidence each author uses. Include all important information from the original writings in your source-based essay. Again, leaving something important out will make your summary inaccurate and hurt your score.


Challenge # 2: Create a well-constructed argument

As you look at the heading immediately above, you may be thinking “Hey wait a minute! You said to summarize, not make an argument!” Yes, I know that we’re talking about the Source-based essay now, not the Argumentative Essay. But in the Source-based essay, you still need to put forth an argument… in a sense.

As the Praxis Core Writing Study Companion indicates on pages 35-40, you are expected to put forth an argument in your Source-based essay. But in this case, you don’t need to choose your own argument, as you would in the Core Writing Argumentative Essay. Instead, the argument is chosen for you—the Praxis specifically wants you to assert that the issue covered in the passages in an important one. You will further be expected to claim that there is significant public debate surrounding the issue at hand.

To support the argument that the essay prompt issue is an important matter of public debate, you’ll use information from both passages as evidence. The writers of the passages clearly find the issue important—otherwise they wouldn’t be writing opinionated articles about the issue. Look for author-provided evidence of the subject matter’s importance. Then look at the distinct opinions in each piece of writing. Compare these opinions side-by-side to demonstrate the nature of the controversy surrounding the topic.


Challenge # 3: Be objective

Remember that you’re not putting forth your own opinion on this second Core Writing essay. You’re merely summarizing the opinions of others, as seen in separate opinion pieces on the same topic. The idea here isn’t to side with one opinion or the other. Instead you’ll be expected to write a factual report on the issue from the two passages, taking the perspectives of both authors into account. In other words, you’re writing about a social issue and a debate related to the social issue, rather than actually taking a side within a social issue debate.

Never let your personal opinion distract you from the skills being tested in the Praxis Core Source-based Essay: reading comprehension and summarizations. And be sure to consciously shift gears as you begin this second essay task. Many students unthinkingly stay in “personal opinion mode” as they start to write the source-based essay, because they’ve just finished defending their own opinion the inital argument-based essay prompt on the test.


Challenge # 4: Keep an eye on the quality of your writing

On the Praxis Core, the key “good writing” components of the Argumentative Essay are also essential for a top-scoring Source-based Essay. To score well in this second Praxis Core essay, you need to have a logical progression of ideas that is expressed through error-free writing, just as you would in the first Core Writing Essay prompt.



  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he’s helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master’s Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he’s presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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