CBEST Writing Samples

Below is a sample response to each of our CBEST Practice Essays. Review these responses for an example of two high-scoring essays. These CBEST sample essays follow the template that’s in our CBEST Writing Guide. Below each example is a short commentary which explains why it is an effective essay and why it would receive a high score.

Topic 1

We all face obstacles in our lives, but there are no obstacles that are more frustrating than the ones we construct ourselves. The biggest obstacle I have had to overcome in my life is my fear of failure. It’s kept me from studying, it’s kept me from engaging in class, and it’s kept me from taking risks. It wasn’t until my Sophomore year that I realized that my educational wounds were self-inflicted, and that a simple change in my attitude could make all the difference.

I can’t even count the number of teachers who have told me, “you could be doing so much better if you just applied yourself.” I liked giving that impression to my teachers. I was an eternal source of hope, and their disappointment was not in my failure, but in my lack of effort. In high school, though, I found it more difficult to slack off and still get the grades I was used to. My grades dropped, and I gradually lost more and more interest in school. After my Freshman year, I was depressed all summer and dreaded having to walk into that building again. In the first month of school, though, my English teacher pulled me aside. I was ready for the same tired speech, but she had something new to say, and it sparked me to make a change that has lasted me until now.

My English teacher pulled me aside and instead of telling me to do better, she asked me what was wrong. She refused to let me off the hook, so I finally told her how I lazy I was last year, how my grades had dropped, and how I didn’t want to be in school anymore. She looked at me and said, “you can always start new. The most disappointing thing you can do right now is give up. There’s nothing wrong with failing if you try your hardest. Real failure is not trying at all.” Looking back, this speech was not revolutionary advice, but it did help me realize my problem. I wasn’t lazy; I was trying to avoid failure by not trying at all.

My transformation started first in English class. I started doing the assigned readings, trying on my homework, and engaging in class. Not only did my grades go up, but I found I was less stressed out. Not doing my work had apparently been causing me more stress than doing my work would have caused. I actually liked what we were studying in class and I really got involved. I started trying in my other classes, too. I was so much happier and relaxed walking into my classes knowing that I had my homework or that I had prepared for the day’s test. My fear of failing had paralyzed me, and I was final able to move.

It can be difficult sometimes for us to see what’s holding us back, and there’s nothing more embarrassing than realizing that we had been constructing the obstacles ourselves. I was like a bricklayer, building a wall in front of me and then wondering why I couldn’t walk forward. The moment I realized I could stop building the wall was the moment I was free. I still struggle with my fear of failure to this day. That type of fear never fully goes away. But I have learned to recognize when I am getting in my own way, and how to move and let myself succeed.



According to the CBEST Writing Score Scale, essays are given a score ranging from 0–4. This essay would receive a score of a 4. It is a well-written example of a response to a Type 1 Essay Question.

From the beginning, the essay addresses the question with a story about an obstacle the writer has had to overcome, by writing, “We all face obstacles in our lives, but there are no obstacles that are more frustrating than the ones we construct ourselves. The biggest obstacle I have had to overcome in my life is my fear of failure.” The writer chooses to discuss an obstacle that he has constructed for himself, which is a major focus of the entire response. He clearly states his main idea and maintains it throughout the rest of the response.

The following paragraphs explore the moment that the writer learned how to overcome his fear of failure. He begins by explaining (1) how this obstacle has affected him. He then describes (2) the precipitating event that helps him make a change. He finally finishes the story by explaining (3) how things have changed since he has learned to overcome the obstacle. The story is engaging, makes sense, and remains focused on addressing the essay question. The conclusion brings the story back together with the prompt and even discusses how this event will help the writer in the future.

Additionally, the writer’s style is clear, focused, and entertaining. Instead of just dryly responding to the question asked, the writer weaves an entertaining story that proves his point. He spends just the right amount of time telling the story so that it has an impact on the readers without boring them, and effectively concludes in a way that ties the response up nicely and neatly.

Topic 2

We may never know exactly what causes people to act the way that they do. But, I believe that people are more influenced by their environment than by their instinctive human nature. I think people like to say that human nature is more influential only because it gives them an excuse not to change. Around the world, we can see how people are shaped by their cultures, their religions, even the weather near their homes. We may all have the natural instinct to find food, to find water, or to survive, but these natural instincts don’t have a profound effect on our personalities. Those are shaped by our families, by our culture, and by the experiences that affect us most.

Experts often say that the clearest indicator of whether a student is going to succeed in school or not is whether their family is going to be a part of their learning. Students whose families reach out to the school, respond to teachers, follow their children’s grades, and go to important school functions are more likely to succeed than other students. A good support system at home creates a healthy learning environment for students and gives them more reason to succeed. This has nothing to do with the student’s human nature, and everything to do with the environment in which they are raised.

Most literature even stresses how extremely people are influenced by their environment. In one of my favorite novels from high school, Lord of the Flies, a group of children get deserted on an island after a plane crash. The plane was evacuating the students from their school because of a war that was going on. Without adult supervision, the children turn into savages, even killing each other. Some look at this novel as an indication of true human nature, arguing that the boys’ savagery shows us what people are really like. But, the children wouldn’t be acting like savages if their environment hadn’t changed. Without adult supervision, they’re not prepared to watch over themselves. Their environment ultimately causes them to act the way they do.

Finally, we can look at how different people are in our world today. A child who grows up in China is going to act differently than a child who grows up in America. For better or worse, we are the product of the culture in which we are raised. If you were to take two twins and split them up and give them to families in different parts of the world, with different customs and different religions, those two children would grow up to be very different adults, despite the fact that they share the same DNA. The environment in which we are raised has much more to do with our personalities than our genetic background.

While no one has yet designed a scientifically valid study that gives us a definitive conclusion to this argument, the evidence is overwhelming. There is no more important influence on a child than how he or she is raised. Our environment shapes us every day, and both traumatic and wonderful events in our childhood have a profound impact on who we become. There is no doubt that nurture influences people much more than nature.



According to the CBEST Writing Score Scale, essays are given a score ranging from 0–4. This essay would receive a score of a 4. It is a well-written example of a response to a Type 2 Essay Question.

The introduction to the essay presents a clear thesis, as the writer declares, “I believe that people are more influenced by their environment than by their instinctive human nature.” The writer manages to focus on proving that thesis throughout the rest of the response, using several different examples to support her position.

The examples provided in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th paragraphs remain on topic, and effectively support the writer’s overall thesis. The writer discusses (1) the impact families have on a student’s success, (2) how The Lord of the Flies proves her point by telling the story of children shaped by their environment, and (3) how people are shaped by the cultural beliefs of the people around them. The logic of these examples make sense, and even though some of the analysis the writer makes is arguable, it is still convincing and effective. The conclusion brings all of the writer’s examples together to drive home the writer’s thesis statement.

Additionally, the writer’s response is focused, clear, and well-supported. The writer’s logic is easy-to-follow and convincing, and she does a great job proving her point. There are no real errors in grammar or mechanics either, which helps elevate this response to a high score.

You should now be fully prepared for the CBEST Writing Section. To review how to create high-scoring essays like the samples above, revisit our CBEST Writing Guide. For CBEST Reading and Math practice please visit CBEST Practice Test.