CBEST Writing Guide

The writing section of the CBEST Basic Educational Skills Test requires you to compose short essay responses to two essay questions. For one of the essay questions, you will be asked to write about a remembered experience. For the other essay question, you will be asked to write an expository prose to display your analytic thinking. You will be scored based on the following criteria:

  • Clarity: Is the response easy to comprehend?
  • Focused: Is the response organized in a way that keeps the reader on track?
  • Development: Is the response well-supported and developed?
  • Conventions: Does the writer have a command of standard written English?
  • Relevance: Does the writer maintain the overall focus throughout the response, without non-sequiturs, internal contradictions, unwarranted conclusions, and/or confusion of facts and opinions?

There are two types of questions that will appear on every writing section of the CBEST assessment, and they will not appear in any particular order.

  1. Expressive Aim: This question will ask you to write and expressive essay in which you reveal and support your own personal opinion on a subject.
  2. Referential Aim: This question will ask you to write an expository essay in which you demonstrate your analytical writing skills.

As you know, you will have 4 hours to complete all sections CBEST Basic Educational Skills Test (reading, mathematics, and writing) including 15 minutes for introduction and administrative tasks. When the time begins, it will be up to you to decide how to allocate those four hours among the 3 sections. Here is our recommendation for how you should try to allocate your time:

  • Reading: 1 hour, 15 minutes
  • Mathematics: 1 hour, 10 minutes
  • Writing: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Following this timetable will give you 40 minutes for each essay question. Here is how you should spend the 40 minutes you have allocated for each essay:

  • 5 Minutes — Read Question Prompt
  • 5 Minutes — Outline your Essay
  • 25 Minutes — Write your Essay
  • 5 Minutes — Read and Edit your Essay

If you spend a full 10 minutes analyzing the prompt and planning your essay, then it will be easy to write 5 paragraphs in 25 minutes. To best prepare, you will need to familiarize yourself with both types of essay questions and practice writing at least one of each type in order to gain the experience you need to succeed on Test Day.

Type 1 Question Response vs. Type 2 Question Response

Since both types of questions are scored using the same rubric, following this guide will prepare you for both. However, it’s important to note that responding to the different questions does require you to adjust your writing a little.

  Type 1 Type 2
Type of essay Expressive essay Expository essay
Topic Write about yourself Write analytically
Purpose Relate an experience to the topic Break down and/or explore your opinion on a topic
Structure Storytelling with a relevant point Argument supported with releveant examples

 

CBEST Type 1 Essay Question: Strategies & Sample

To ensure you complete your essays, it’s important that you allocate enough time to fully plan out what you will write about before you start writing. The scorer will be looking for focused and clear writing, so the time you spend planning will pay off in the end. The organization of our CBEST Type 1 Essay will (ideally) have four or five paragraphs and follow this format:

  • Paragraph 1 — Beginning of story
  • Paragraph 2 — 1st example that furthers story
  • Paragraph 3 — 2nd example that furthers story
  • Paragraph 4 — 3rd example that furthers story
  • Paragraph 5 — Conclusion that drives home the point of the story

As you outline your response, remember that you must:

  • Address the question in the introductory paragraph
  • use topic sentences with transition words and phrases to begin each new paragraph
  • end your essay with a succinct conclusion that brings the story together to make a larger point

Paragraph 1 — Beginning of the story

Since this question will ask you about an experience you have had, it’s hard for us to work off of a template. However, here is a sample version of an introduction to a Type 1 essay question that you can use to see what the scorers are looking for:

Question: Most people have experienced a time in their lives when they disappointed a loved one. These disappointments could stem from immaturity, lack of judgment, or even malignance. In an essay to be read by an audience of educated adults, identify one time you disappointed a loved one and how you handled the situation.

When I was 15, my parents were excited for me to learn how to drive. Not only was this a rite of passage for me, but it would mean they would be free from always having to drive me everywhere. My mother was a little too eager to practice driving with me and I realized the power I now had in my hands. They wanted this too much, and I knew I could use it against them. I didn’t stop to think how my behavior was going to affect my mother, though.

In this sample opening paragraph, the writer accomplishes three goals:

  • Immediately responds to the question
  • Leaves the reader wanting to know more
  • Displays the writer’s strong writing style with no errors in grammar or mechanics

Remember, the purpose of your response to a Type 1 question is to tell a story that responds to the questions, remains focused, and displays your strong writing abilities. Try to avoid giving any concrete examples or plot points in the first paragraph. This will give you more to write about in later paragraphs as well as keep the reader in suspense. If the scorers want to keep reading, they will likely give you a strong score.

Paragraphs 2, 3, 4 — Supporting Examples

Paragraphs 2, 3, and 4 provide the specific plot points of your story. You can structure these paragraphs so that they are different examples that tell the same story, or so that they each take you through a detailed telling of one plot point. The way you structure your writing should depend on the memory or memories you are using to respond to the question. Here is an example of a supporting paragraph that continues the example response from above:

Now, my mother was a rather nervous person. I noticed during our first lesson that she would grip the handle above the passenger-side door and squeeze it whenever I had to press the brakes or go around a turn. I realized I could use this to my advantage. After our first lesson, I told my mother that I noticed each time she gripped the handle harder and that it made it difficult for me to focus on my driving. The next time we went out practicing, I could see her consciously trying to change her behavior, but I still told her it was making me nervous. Maybe it would be better if I practiced with Dad, I suggested.

This would most likely be an example of a 2nd paragraph. We can tell by the transition “now” at the beginning of the paragraph, and by the fact that the writer is introducing the mother. Just like the 1st paragraph, this 2nd paragraph accomplishes three goals:

  • Provides an example that supports what the writer introduced in the 1st
  • Builds tension and suspense to make the reader want to read more.
  • Displays the writer’s style

Paragraph 5 — Conclusion

Finally, you will conclude your story and solidify your story’s connection to the essay question. Here is an example of a sample conclusion, answering the same essay question as the samples above:

I only got to see the look of disappointment in my mother’s eyes because she didn’t know I was watching; she never would have shown that to me. But the vision of my mother crying in our dining room is forever etched in my brain. Maybe my next action was because I felt guilty for how I had treated her, or maybe it was just because I wanted to stop her from crying, but I immediately changed my plan. The next day, I went to my mother and asked her to help me practice driving. Her reaction as subtle, but I could tell how happy she was to hear me ask this. We had a great time together that day, and we never talked about it again. I never told her what really happened, that I was manipulating her out of selfishness. Without having to fess up to what I had done, though, I had learned my lesson. I never wanted to see that look of disappointment in a loved one’s eyes again.

With this Conclusion paragraph template, we accomplish three goals:

  • Conclude the story in a satisfying way
  • Relate the story back to the essay question
  • Display the writer’s style

CBEST Type 2 Essay Question: Strategies & Sample

To ensure you complete your essays, it’s important that you allocate enough time to fully plan out what you will write about before you start writing. The scorer will be looking for focused and clear writing, so the time you spend planning will pay off in the end. The organization of our CBEST Type 1 Essay will (ideally) have four or five paragraphs and follow this format:

  • Paragraph 1 — Introduction
  • Paragraph 2 — 1st example
  • Paragraph 3 — 2nd example
  • Paragraph 4 — 3rd example
  • Paragraph 5 — Conclusion

As you outline your response, remember that you must:

  • Address the question in the introductory paragraph with a clear thesis.
  • use topic sentences with transition words and phrases to begin each new paragraph.
  • end your essay with a succinct conclusion that summarizes your main points, restates your thesis, and if possible, connects your argument to a larger issue.

Paragraph 1 — Introduction

While Type 2 essay questions will ask you to draw on personal experiences, you are not focusing your entire response on a memory, like in Type 1. Instead you are expressing your opinion and supporting it with a logical argument. For this reason, it would be difficult for you to work off of a template, but here is a sample version of an introduction to a Type 2 essay question that you can use to see what the scorers are looking for:

Question: Salman Rushdie once wrote that “the only people who see the whole picture are the ones who step out of the frame.” In an essay to be read by an audience of educated adults, state whether you agree or disagree with Rushdie’s observation. Support your opinion with logical arguments and specific examples.

Salman Rushdie’s analogy that people need to step out of the frame to see the whole picture is absolutely correct. Whether you are working on something for school, trying to solve a problem at work, or just trying to deal with a personal situation, being too close to the problem can make solving it much harder. Everyone has experienced a situation where they cannot find the solution to a problem no matter how hard they work on it, only to then figure out a solution in the shower when they weren’t even thinking of the problem at all. That’s because our brains sometimes get too focused on the details that we can’t see “the whole picture,” as Rushdie says.

In this sample opening paragraph, the writer accomplishes three goals:

  • Introduces the topic
  • Provides a thesis that responds to the question
  • Displays the writer’s strong writing style with no errors in grammar or mechanics

Paragraphs 2, 3, 4 — Supporting Examples

Paragraphs 2, 3, and 4 provide examples that support your opinion. The type of examples you provide will depend upon the essay questions that is asked. Here is an example of a supporting paragraph that continues the example response from above:

In a school or work setting, people have a tendency to focus too much on small details and often forget about the bigger picture. When I was in high school, for example, my friends and I always complained about the food in the cafeteria. We were complaining to our teacher one day about how the school needs to hire better chefs, when she pointed out that the food quality probably isn’t the cafeteria staff’s fault. She explained that the cafeteria has a set budget, and they may not be able to get the greatest ingredients with the money they have. That budget is set by the school board and often voted on by the town. So, if we are upset about the quality of food in the cafeteria, we really need to complain about the school’s lack of funding. We wouldn’t have realized this on our own; it took someone outside the frame to point it out to us.

In this paragraph, the writer provides a specific example from her life that illustrates the quote provided in the essay question. This paragraph accomplishes three goals:

  • Provides an example that supports the thesis from the introduction
  • Explores the example thoroughly enough to make her point
  • Displays the writer’s style

Paragraph 5 — Conclusion

Finally, you will conclude your argument. Here is an example of a sample conclusion, answering the same essay question as the samples above:

It can be easy to find yourself so surrounded by the problem you are trying to solve that you miss the easy solution. The only way to combat this is to learn to recognize when you are stuck because you’re too close to the problem. Once you realize this, take a step back and focus on something else. This will give your brain the chance to rest so that you can approach the problem in a different way. The most important part of Rushdie’s quote is that the bigger picture is seen by those who “step out of the frame.” You can always step out of the frame; you just need to first realize that you’re stuck in one.

With this sample Conclusion paragraph, we accomplish three goals:

  • Re-state the thesis in a meaningful way
  • Summarize the examples provided earlier in the prompt
  • Connect the argument to a larger purpose.

CBEST Essay Practice

Now you’re ready to write two practice essays: CBEST Practice Essay Questions.