Common Errors
  1. Misunderstanding or misreading the excerpts

    In recent test administrations, the LAST writing assessment has required a candidate read two opposing points of view on a particular topic.  Each reading will offer an argument for why its take on the issue is justifiable, but will also incorporate discussion of counter-arguments, a consideration of points that the opposition might offer.  Often students misunderstand these points as supportive of the larger argument.  For example, if a person was trying to convince another that being a vegetarian is a positive diet and lifestyle choice, the arguer might engage and explain away other viewpoints on the topic.  Just because an argument considers its opposition does not mean it accepts that point of view.

    To protect against misreading the arguments, just remember the arguments will almost always be opposed to each other.  One side will advocate one response to the issue (a "yes" side), and the other side will support another response (usually the "no" side).  To put it another way, a question might pose, "Should school teachers be required to re-certify every five years?" If you saw a topic/question like this one, you could assume that one position would offer "yes" or "pro" reasons for forcing teachers to re-certify, and that another position would offer "no" or "con" reasons on the topic.

  2. Misrepresenting or just re-presenting the excerpts

    Connected with ensuring that you understand the arguments that you read in order to write the essay, you must present those arguments--in your own words--in an accurate way.  In a sense, you need to imagine you are writing about the argument to friends or classmates who have never heard the arguments before, and you have to do it in a way that matches what the writers say.  Understanding how to paraphrase is critical--for more information on paragraphing from Purdue University, click here.

  3. Flawed or insufficient development of paragraphs or the essay in general

    While most examiners will not publicly admit it, the size and development of essays does influence the scores they receive.  Short, minimal essays pale in comparison to long, well-developed essays.  Unless you write unusually small or in an elegantly concise manner, writing less than two pages in the booklet likely will not garner a passing score--there's typically not enough to make a judgment.  Shooting toward three to four (of the four available sheets) is a more reasonable goal; however, the examiners are well-aware of schemes to write big or to skip lines to make the essays seem bigger than they actually are.

    Besides sufficiently developing the whole essay, a candidate must have a concern for appropriate paragraph development.  An essay with just one to two paragraphs covering a couple pages is problematic, while short, choppy sentences comprising three to four lines poses problems too.  Generally speaking, paragraphs should have three and six sentences and should also have topic sentences that bring unity and focus to the paragraph's main idea.  For more information on paragraphing, click here.

  4. A lack of Sentence Variety

    Among the more critical skills to learn for the LAST is the ability to write sentences with a variety of structures.  While most of us speak in everyday discourse with a high level of syntax sophistication, something about writing under the pressures prompts us to use rather simplistic sentences--those with only one thought presented.  Better performing essays often use sentences that deploy:
    A) compound sentences--combine two otherwise simple sentences with a coordinating conjunction (and, yet, but, or, so).
    B) complex sentences--combine one sentence that could stand alone, with another that is dependent using a subordinating conjunction (when, titlehough, as, if, etc.)
    C) compound-complex sentences--combine two sentences that could stand alone by using a coordinating conjunction with one thought that is dependent using a subordinating conjunction.

    For more information on sentence variety, click here.

  5. Sentence-level error (syntax, grammar, and punctuation)

    Most sentence-level error is not egregious, but the incidence of it can have a cumulative effect on your essay score.  In most cases, the types of error you make are individual, so reflecting on your past writing feedback from professors, supervisors, or friends can be helpful.  Follow the link at the bottom of the page of the frame on the other side of this page to get some feedback from one of the center's tutors if you are unaware of the types of error you make.  Though we cannot offer a complete or comprehensive assessment, we can start a conversation there.  Otherwise, a general strategy for editing your writing can be helpful.  For more information from Temple University's OWL, click here.

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