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SAT/TOEFL Essays: lesson notes, questions & answers

Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku BA, English & Literature-in-English, University of Benin (1994). MA English, Moshood Abiola University, Akoka, Lagos,(2003)


Copyright Š 2012 Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku Bob MajiriOghene Communications, 70 Kur Mohammed Street Opposite NEXIM Bank, Abuja, Nigeria. bmcommunications32@yahoo.com

A catalogue record for this book is available from the National Library of Nigeria under the following : ISBN 978-978-919-669-2 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means including but not limited to photocopying and recording without prior written permission of the Copyright holder, application for which should be addressed to the author and publisher. Such written permission must also be obtained before any part of the publication is stored in a retrieval system of any nature. For copies of this book, workshops,inquiries and seminars contact the author and publisher. bmcommunications32@yahoo.com Editorial Consultants: Dr. Isi Agboaye: Stepout Creatives, Birmingham, United Kingdom Alex Okumo: former editor of National Standard Newspaper, and of Business Eye, Nigeria. Also by Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku Deep Sighs - 7 short stories Tears for a Birthday & other poems Secrets of a Diary – a novel Mamud & the Moringa Tree


Dedication To the memory of Johnson & Helen Etemiku – rest in peace Dad & Mum. It is so sad that you are not here to hold my fourth book in your arms to kiss it and bless it. And to Sam Kargbo, whose school, Crescent Hall College, Ikeja, Lagos I first began to teach the SAT, TOEFL, IGCSE, IELTS and Advanced Level Literature-in-English classes. To the Efetevbias & Eramehs especially Mama, Tony, Efe, Jude, and Deborah for taking care of and helping me through first university‌ Also dedicated to Dr. Henry Chineke, my secondary school father, who, even though was frustrated that I could not read Nelkon, Bajah, Goshelong, Akinwumi and Ababio from front to back covers ten times, still took a keen interest in my affairs even unto adulthood. To Kelikume Ikechukwu, two schools school mate, friend and political economist, as he traverses the oceans and hills and mountains and the skies in search of academic fulfillment, and for the 36 blocks in a bag of cement! To Mrs Maureen Nwochei, who enters your life when the world moves out on you. And usually, I could not have done this without you Papa the Mekadishkem, the Elohim and the Jehovah El Gilboa.


Introduction You can write a great essay in the SAT/TOEFL. You can write a great essay as well for any other test that requires you to write. And this book tries to help you do this. But first, let me shed some light on the heavy shadow of ignorance among students who wish to get a scholarship and to study abroad. We had some students in my old school who really wanted scholarships but assumed that the Cambridge A Level exams should do the trick. They spent nine months studying for the Cambridge course but failed to meet the required grades for admission. If only we knew, and if only they too knew what to do. We only found this out after we did a postmortem on many of the results that came in. Quite frankly, it is nearly impossible for any candidate to expect to get a scholarship with the A levels even though they scored straight As. What the A Levels would do for you if you scored straight As is get you into one of the Ivy League schools like Harvard, Princeton, MIT and the rest. In a certain year, there were many A Level students in the UK who scored an average of A, A, B. However, that did not get them anywhere near those schools, and most had to settle for schools with a lower pedigree. What the A Level tells the admission officer is that you are not an academic green horn. The A Level curriculum is a rigorous one, almost as rigorous as the ones in most universities. In most countries, if you have a good A/Level result, you could qualify to resume as a second-year student in any of the faculties of your choice. Of a fact, most schools abroad require that international students must come with an Advanced Level result because that is the one way to gauge a candidate’s academic potentials. To clinch a scholarship to a good school, you would have to score very good points in the new SAT or TOEFL. The new SAT - it was introduced recently when the College Board found out that many candidates were flunking the tests because of the very tricky module in the tests known as ‘Analogy sets’. As a consequence of the presence of those analogy sets, the test was not often seen as a true reflection of a candidate’s abilities. What the College Board did (and I agree with them absolutely) was to expunge the analogy sets and introduce an essay writing component that effectively and efficiently neutralizes the deficiencies in assessing a candidate’s real potentials .


Our focus here is on only one section of the SAT/TOEFL - and how the candidate can use it to enchance his or her chances of clinching a scholarship. The verbal component of the new SAT has three sections and they are sentence completion, critical reading/listening completion and essay or composition writing. For the TOEFL test, the relevant sections are reading and listening comprehension, speaking, and writing. Students who have written local examinations in their countries should be familiar with the first two - the phrase ‘sentence completion’ represents those types of questions that require candidates to complete sentences with the proper grammatical structures on the basis of vocabulary, lexis, syntax and logic. Both are timed tests. Therefore, if the candidate is conversant with the rudiments of literature, politics, and government of the UK and of the United States, history, Geography, Sociology, Economics and some elements of law, the reading comprehension passages are as good as nearly in the bag. Therefore, it is your essay - your essay is the most likely component of the SAT/TOEFL or any other test that strategically positions you for consideration for a scholarship. I met a certain candidate who wrote a great essay and who eventually had a full scholarship of $40,000.00 for his four-year university adventure. I must admit however, that it was not just the quality of his essay that got him the $40,000.00 scholarship. There were other considerations. But the reason the assessors introduced the essay is that it gives them the opportunity to assess your overall psychological, physiological, mental and academic strengths and weaknesses. The word that aptly describes this is German - the Weltanschauung: a candidate’s overall world view. The Math, the sentence completion, the critical reading, the algebra, all of these do not say much about you. These are subjects that you were introduced to much later and much closer to your life as a young adult. What about those things that influenced and helped you to form your peculiar view of life? Where and when were you born, and what were the things that shaped your thinking and thought? What kind of pre-school activities were you engaged and engaged you? What was your parentage like? What schools did you attend? What kind of friends did you make? Did you like sports? Are you sport? Are you religious? Why? Are you political or apolitical? The ETS and College Board are hardly directly interested in these matters but indirectly want to know, and how these matters have influenced and helped to shape you as the unique person that you are. If you hand write an essay - not with the computer – it would be so easy for the assessors to determine your personality traits and likely antecedents. It would be easy to know whether or not you can cross your Ts and


dot your Is. To put it very simply, the essay resembles Sigmund Freud’s couch. Freud was a psychoanalyst - what you may call a shrink. He made his patients lie on a couch and asked them to talk while he seemingly just sat down and took notes. Very unbeknownst, his patients revealed inner secrets, character traits and laid bare their very souls before Freud. That is what nearly happens with your essay for either the ETS or College Board or any body asking you to write an essay. So take it very seriously if you are writing for a scholarship now or in the near future. The assessors examining your essay do so independently. They take an average score based on their individual scores for your essay. The areas they are mostly interested are word choice or your vocabulary, sentence structure, organization of the essay and idea development. Let us discuss all of these very briefly. ‘Word choice’ examines your registers and how appropriately or inappropriately you have deployed them. Registers are words used in a professional language environment. For instance, there are certain words that are peculiar to certain professions and vocations like law, medicine, sports, religion, education and etcetera. ‘Sentence structure’ is about how the candidate has ensured that he does not have one sentence structure (like the simple, compound, complex and compound-complex) as the only dominant type of structure in the essay. Let us see these sentence structures in a little detail, shall we? (a) A simple sentence has only one clause [a part of a sentence with its own subject and predicate]. It is usually an assertion or one that makes a declaration. An example of a simple sentence is: Spiders have eight legs. One important feature of the simple sentence is that it is often a short but powerful statement. It resembles a thesis statement. (b) A compound sentence usually has two main clauses joined together by one of the following coordinating conjunctions – and, but, yet, either…or, neither…nor. The role of coordinating conjunctions is to connect two simple sentences and in effect, two different ideas or assumptions – as in, ‘John adores Susan but she despises him’. (c) A Complex sentence has one main clause and a subordinate clause joined together by a subordinating conjunction. Some subordinating conjunctions include words like after, because, until, if, before, as soon as, unless, as long as, so that, though, except that, and etcetera. The idea behind the complex sentence is for you to be able to use it in logical arguments to show contrasts, or reason or condition. Look at this sentence: John is interested in her because she is rich.


(d) A Compound-complex or Complex-compound sentence has two or more main clauses, and another construction that has a main and subordinate clause. For instance this sentence: I studied in two universities and taught English for at least a decade before I wrote a book which became an instant bestseller’. Therefore, if there are to be twenty sentences in your first paragraph, we will expect the opening sentence to be a simple sentence like the one at the beginning of this introduction - and there should be at least three simple sentences used together with the compound and complex. If you have done this, your paragraphs should be relatively organized in such a way that develops your idea(s). But the most common yet most important way to develop your idea(s) would be to cite, cite and cite as many examples as possible to build up your essay. The candidates must read books, magazines, listen to radio and watch a lot of documentaries: and they must be familiar with the subjects mentioned in paragraph four of this introduction. They should just be a little more sensitive to their environment and to the world around them more than the other candidate. They should listen more to CNN, BBC, VOA, and Aljazeera, and to their local radio and television stations as well. Reading magazines and newspapers and listening more to CNN, BBC, VOA and Aljazeera does not just score an academic point: but being a little bit more interested in your environment and what goes on is certainly one very good way to prepare to write.


Foreword Thanks to my former student Joseph Isiramen of the SAT Class of 2006, Crescent Hall College, Ikeja, GRA, Lagos, for kind permission to reproduce the lecture notes we gave him while he took the SAT/TOEFL course. Worthy of course of mention is the painstaking effort that Alex Okumo, my classmate from the University of Benin put in, in thoroughly reading through this book as a manuscript. There were other people who shied from doing the dirty job but not Alex – he went through it as if he held a microscope to every word and sentence and helped to enhance the mechanical accuracy of this book. I owe you a huge debt, Lex. Also to Chika Bonaventure Nwagu and Gloria Ezepue of the law firm of Jackson, Kargbo & Associates, Abuja Nigeria for kindly taking time out of their very busy scholarly endeavours and administrative duties to read this‌thank you. Thank you Chima Okereke esq for being there for me in a time of desperate need. You are a great supporter of aspiration who offered praises instead of condemnation for modest achievement.


LESSON ONE Chapter 1 The SAT/TOEFL Essay

There is a previous essay on the subject of the SAT/TOEFL test - Clinching a scholarship with the SAT - published in www.nigeriansinamerica.com The author said that the one other way candidates could clinch a scholarship to study abroad is to write a good essay. Now, there are a thousand-and-one ways that have been suggested as recipes for a good enough essay for a scholarship. This book is an addition to the other recipes, hopefully to help the candidate compose that winning essay.

1.1 Definition of the key item - essay What is an essay? The terms ‘essay’ and ‘composition’ are synonyms. If we should consult any good dictionary, we would find out that length is what separates an essay from a composition. The word ‘composition’ is a noun derivable from the to infinitive verb, ‘to compose’. You could compose a poem, a song, a letter, an essay and the like. What this presupposes is that in the composition of a poem, a song, or a letter and the like, there are several elements and a process that the composition must follow. It is the same thing with an essay. Writing an essay is a process and a coming-together of certain sensitive factors. Therefore, we should attempt a ‘definition’ and say that a composition can be an essay and an essay can be a composition, leaving out all of that unnecessary controversy concerning the status or otherwise of both names.

1.2 Types of essays on the SAT/TOEFL A close examination of the character of the essay questions posed to candidates reveals that they are usually the following:


Description/explanation essays Argument essays Narration essays Description essays: In an essay where you are asked to describe or explain, you should pay close attention to the what, the why, the where and all of the Ws. For instance in journalism, the writer tries to say the most important thing first in a ‘lead’ paragraph. This means that he has to tell the story by mentioning the most important things first. To do this, he answers the Ws- where did it happen? When did it happen? Why did it happen? How did it happen? Who did it happen to? Any of these Ws can come first, and this depends on what the candidate considers most important. Another aspect of a description or expository essay is, if you are asked to write about a place or a country, or a person, it is compulsory that you mention the name of the person or country or culture to be described. If you do not do this, you do not stand much of a chance to convince the assessors that you know what you are talking about. The most important thing about the description essay is what is known as the dominant impression(s). After you may have discussed one or two of the Ws, you must try to answer this question: what is it that is unique about this person or place or incident or occasion or culture that leaves a lasting impression? Mention it - if they are many, mention them as part of your conclusion.

Argument essays: There are some essays that ask you to take sides. In this case, you must declare your stand from the onset either in the very obvious manner in school debates or you use one or two of the methods we have suggested in that part of this essay sub-titled ‘the introductory paragraph’. What we have observed with most advice given to students by some experts is that candidates should first of all talk about the good and bad parts of the topic on hand and go on from there to take a stand. That is ok if the candidate has all of the time in the world or is writing a term paper. But in a test where you have only twenty-five minutes to write an essay of about two to three hundred words, talking about both advantages and disadvantages first before taking a stand and defending it is waste of valuable time. It results in circumlocution. Go on - take a firm stand. Express that firm stand in your title and first paragraph, and with a simple sentence – then defend it till the very end.


The narration essay: The narration essay has three components encoded in an acronym known as PEP. P is for people; E stands for events; and P is for places. Therefore, the narration is an essay that tells a story either about people, events or places. In a narrative, the story that you tell must be told like an essay. It is fiction, that is, it is just a story that passes a message across to whomsoever will read it. Whether it is a real story or not, it does not matter. Sometimes however, the candidate could be creative and make his essay interesting by introducing things which may not have happened to what indeed happened. There is no problem with this. That technique is known as faction. Even though the subject matter of the essay may be real or a figment of the imagination of the candidate, there is nothing wrong with it being so insofar as these elements are ingrained or embedded. The ‘characters’ or people in the essay are usually flat. This means they represent a single human virtue or vice or that they are archetypes, stereotypes or caricatures. Most stories happen in a place or a location or a setting: it could be anywhere as long as the place or location is mentioned and the unique character of the location is brought to bear on the resolution of the subject matter. For instance, if the event takes place in a place like New York, we should expect that that event would have a profound effect on the rest of the world. There must be something about a place or location that gives it that unique edge of influence on a person or people (the dominant impression). Places influence people and sociologists refer to this as behaviorism. Finally, we will talk about the last component of the narrative, the event. We expect the essay to be written in the past tense. In Quirk et all (1983: 42) an action in the past may be seen:

(1) as having taken place at a particular point of time; or (2) over a period; if the latter, it may be seen as (a) extending to the present, or (b) relating only to the past; if the latter, it may be viewed as (i) having been completed, or as (ii) not having been completed The candidate would do well to show that he/she is familiar with the progressive (how to use the ing), the perfective (how to use the past perfect tenses) and the simple past tense forms of the verb in the narrative essay.


Chapter 2

Parts of a SAT/TOEFL essay The SAT/TOEFL essay or composition (hereinafter referred to as the ‘essay’) should have four distinct parts namely: [a] title, [b] introduction, [c]body of the essay [d] and the conclusion. The usual or normal SAT/TOEFL essay is deemed to be complete without a title. But in our classes we go the hog. We mostly deal with the title and introduction parts of the essay and let the student or candidate carry the can for the body and conclusion of the essay. And that is what we should do here. But because we have talked about other parts of the essay elsewhere, we should talk about it briefly here too. Let us also be quickly reminded as well that the SAT/TOEFL essay should be between two to three hundred words. The reason for this requirement is that with just that number of words, it is possible for any candidate who knows his onions to do justice to any assigned topic. Further, we have found out that if the candidate is familiar with the assigned topic, there is a tendency to over-indulge or write too much: the more you write the more mistakes you may likely make and the more you may unnecessarily spend time on the essay. As a matter of fact, an essay of that number of words should not be more than two or three well-developed paragraphs and should not take more than 20-25 minutes to write, revise and to correct any typos.

2.1

Title of the essay

The title of your essay is the identity of your essay. Your essay title also expresses your individuality. It is just the same way your name or your school’s name is the identity that you have


or your school has. We tell our students that in every SAT/TOEFL essay question, they could craft as many as ten possible titles from the question. Take for example this possible question: Your school won $50,000.00 in a sports competition. How do you think this money should be spent? Give reasons for your answer. Now, as practise, craft as many as ten titles from this question and you should use only the best as your title. Please remember that we are not asking that you write down ten titles for your essay – no please. We are merely saying that it is an easy thing to do if you recognize that there are ten or more options to choose from, and that only the best of the ten should do. My first should be: Spending the prize money. Second: Spending our prize money on a computer lab. The third: ‘Should we spend our prize on computers?’ We could go on and on. An essay title for that kind of question could be written with any of the following templates:

(a) a word. For instance, Prizes. (b) a phrase (a group of words without a {finite} verb). For instance: After the prize. (c) a clause or sentence. For instance: How I will spend the prize (d) a question. For instance: How should secondary school students spend a big prize? The choice of whether to use this or that style depends entirely on the candidate and how he/she wants to tackle the essay. But there is one intricate tradition concerning the title of your essay. Before we talk about it, we should first of all want to say that it is important that the title of your essay occupies the prime position of your writing paper, that is, the middle or centre of your writing material like this:

SHOULD SECONDARY SCHOOL STUDENTS DRIVE FAST CARS?

Observe that all of the words in the title above are all in upper case (CAPITAL) letters. This is one of the ways that the title of the essay should be written if you are not familiar with the other method where you are expected to pay attention to content and structural words. Content words are nouns, verbs, adjectives, verbs and the personal pronoun ‘I’, while structural words are mostly pronouns, prepositions, articles, demonstratives, interjections and conjunctions. These words are generally written in the lower case while content words usually have the first letter in a word written in the


upper case, as you can see with the title above. But because we know that the candidate has just about enough time to write the essay and not to grapple with the intricacies of deciding which one word is either content or structural, we generally ask the candidate to write all of the letters in their title in upper case and not to underline it. Writing the title in upper case is what is referred to as ‘linguistic highlighting’ and that is why underlining the title after you write it in upper case is a bit incongruous.

2.2 The introductory paragraph / theme We refer to the introductory paragraph of your essay as that part that comes immediately after the title. It usually has two parts which are part and parcel of the other - the thesis statement and central idea(s). The thesis statement must state what the entire essay is going to be about while the central idea must hold the various aspects of the topic together. Both the thesis statement with the central idea(s) usually should be in the first paragraph of the essay. The thesis statement or sentence is an initial statement that becomes the theme of your essay or what we may refer to loosely as the topic sentence of the entire essay. For instance, if we say that ‘Chen failed his exams because he was reckless, careless and somewhat indolent’, our thesis sentence or statement in that expression would be, ‘Chen failed his exams…’ Therefore, everything about this essay, we expect, would focus on telling how Chen failed his exams…’ Thereafter, we should expect that paragraph two would say something and cite some examples of how reckless he was; paragraph three should express his carelessness using a topic sentence and then go on to cite examples of his carelessness, while paragraph three should dwell mostly on his indolence and cite examples or instances as well. In most cases however, these ideas are not put across to us in this sort of an open and straightforward way. The beauty of your essay may depend on the literary qualities you deploy in expressing your self. In this wise therefore, we should now examine the various ways by which you could begin an essay using literary rather than mere literal methods.

2.3 The introductory paragraph: how to write it. You can begin an introductory passage in your essay with any of the following ways: (i)

by a definition of key items or content words.

(ii)

by a statement of facts and figures


(iii)

by an apt quotation either from the Bible, Koran or any document that is authoritative

(iv)

by a classification

(v)

by telling a short story or creating an analogy.

(vi)

by a barrage or a staccato of rhetorical questions

2.4 Definition of key items: Define the noun or the verb or the adjective in your title. Define it. There is one big advantage with defining your key words (noun or verb or adjective) from the onset - it eliminates doubt. It establishes your position or argument. You ought to know that in a branch of linguistic study known as semantics (the study of meaning), words may have seven shades of meanings. A word may have: -denotative – primary & lexical -connotative –secondary & non-lexical -idiomatic – having nothing to do with the meaning of the words in the phrase -conceptual – often related to an idea rather than with the meaning of the words -thematic – relying on all the words in the sentence -associative – relying sometimes on past experiences -or literary - relying on pictures in the mind or ‘figures of speech’ meanings. For instance, the everyday word ‘spoon’ immediately takes on another toga of meaning with the introduction of the preposition ‘to’ to it as in ‘to spoon’. Therefore, if there is a key or content word to be defined in the introductory paragraph, we must take care to place it in inverted or quotation marks like this, ‘Spoon’ is… only for the first time that we have made a mention of that noun or verb or adjective or that key or content word. We must also take care to identify the source from which we have gotten a definition. In most cases, definitions are from dictionaries and a good example of how to do this is this: According to the Dictionary of English Language and Culture, a ‘spoon’ is … Thereafter, subsequent mention of spoon in the essay may not need this kind of special handling, though we must mention here that definitions are not to be made only in the introductory part of your essay. If there is a need to define technical terms and concepts in the body of the essay, please go right ahead and do so with the suggestion proffered above.


2.5 Statement of facts and figures: Facts and figures…? Yes, facts and figures usually establish what is true and helps a candidate to argue their case from a position of strength and vitality. For instance, a candidate who has a topic on terror may begin first of all to state the facts and figures of September 11, 2001, the Madrid bombing and of Al Qaeda or of Osama Bin Laden, or of George Bush and all the others. If a candidate does this, he gives the impression that he is up to date and has an idea of what he wants to say.

2.6 An apt quote: Let us assume that the candidate has this as his/her essay question: In what ways do you think music shows the traditions and cultures of a people? Give examples to support your answer. To begin the essay with a quote that is supposed to be relevant and authoritative, the candidate has chosen Shakespeare’s famous quote in the lyrical fugue Twelfth Night:

If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die(Act 1. Scene 1)

Now, would you think this is appropriate? Authoritative it is but appropriate? The essay that the candidate should write did not say anything about music as having something to do with love but with how music can be a tool in understanding the ways of a people. That quote above is barely appropriate. For it to be, it must be relevant to the issues raised in the question. For the quote to be reliable, it is important that the candidate indicate the relevant source and name of the author he or she has quoted. If the candidate knows the page numbers, he can state them. Doing this reveals something of the precise and scholarly deposition of the candidate. However, nothing is as sad as a badly quoted piece of quote - it has often the opposite effect of the one that reveals the precise and scholarly deposition of the candidate. If the quoted material is from a book, you should italicize the name of the text like Twelfth Night was done here. If there is no facility for the book or text to be italicized, please do underline like this: Twelfth Night. It is the same thing with a poem: poems should be written with open and close quotation marks like this: “Sonnet to Sleep”.


And we advise that quoted material from a poem should not be more that two to three lines because of the ins and outs involved with scholarly writing. A two-line extract or quote from Keats’ ‘Sonnet to Sleep’ in your essay should certainly look like this:

O soft embalmer of the still midnight, / Shutting, with careful fingers and benign… Those elliptical dots […] after ‘benign’ above are used to indicate that there are other parts not mentioned probably because they are not relevant to the essay. So what should we do then in the event that we want to quote but do not have page numbers, exact positions of semi-colons and dashes and the exact lines? In that case, do not quote. Quoting from an authoritative source is just one of the ways a candidate can express his belief and passion in what he wants to say. If that is not the case, you could paraphrase the quote or not quote at all and play it safe; after all, the entire essay is not only about a show of your intellectual side, but on your ability to communicate ideas as easily as possible in the English language.

2.7 By a classification: A lot about your essay may have a taxonomic network. The Dictionary of English Language and Culture says that ‘taxonomy’ is ‘a system or process of putting things, especially, plants and animals, into various classes according to their natural relationships’. We could interpret this to mean that it is possible to classify certain content words or key items in our essay title. For instance, in an essay title that has the key word ‘man’ or ‘car’ or ‘woman’, the candidate may begin by saying (if he is writing something about ‘man’): There are many kinds of men: there are the tall and there are the short; there are the weak and there are the strong; there are the ambitious and there are those who are not ambitious; there are the good and there are the bad; there are introverts and there are extroverts; there are the poor and there are the rich. This essay is about the conditions in my country Nigeria that make the one a poor man and the other rich. There is an excerpt from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of two Cities which reads thus as well: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair… 2.8 Introducing with an analogy or a short-short story


Nearly every story has some lesson it passes across. When we were kids, we read quite a lot about American super heroes like Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, Batman, Superman, Thor the god of Thunder, all made popular by Marvel Comics and authored by Stan Lee. What we gleaned from those stories was one fundamental enigma of life: good and evil were always fighting. Just at that moment when all seem lost and evil has the upper hand, good triumphs just at the nick of time. It is the same thing with the very short story that you may choose to narrate as your introductory paragraph. What makes this way of introducing your essay unique is that you, the narrator may choose to narrate your story in either one of the narrative techniques there are - the first person (I ) who is really a ventriloquist that throws his ‘voice’ using a fictional character. The advantage here is that by constantly saying, ‘I did this…’ I did that…’ this character unconsciously reveals something of his personality that he or she may not have wanted to reveal to you just like that. With another narrative technique known as the ‘Omniscient’ narrator, you (the writer) are in that vantage position of knowing and expressing the thoughts and mindset of the characters because you will keep saying something like, ‘He thought…’, She wondered why…’ and so on. This narrative technique is also known as the third person singular (you keep saying He, She, It or They). The dramatic technique on the other hand is one that combines the qualities in the first person with that of the Omniscient narrator. What you should do here is to present action and dialogue in such a way that the reader is left to himself or herself to unravel the theme or subject matter of the story and make up their mind on issues presented from the action and drama - using dialogue presented by you the writer. Buffs at creative writers’ workshops call this ‘showing’ and not ‘telling’. We do not have any advice here concerning the narrative technique you may want to employ in telling that very short story of yours in that first paragraph. The choice is yours, particularly because you are the one telling the story. But we must let you know that you must get someone more knowledgeable than you to look at these attempts. While at it, we want to quickly add that most stories have these three stages:

(a) a beginning (b) a middle (c) and an end


Some stories begin at the beginning, the linear beginning, where the writer says, ‘Once upon a time, in the deep, dark forests of Uzere‌’ Other story tellers begin at the middle, the Medias rex, where the protagonist experiences some sort of grass to grace or grace to grass kind of experience. The writer brings cohesion to the story by engaging in a flashback, taking us to the beginning of things that were not mentioned from the beginning probably as an artistic style and for the sake of effect. Lastly, accomplished writers actually begin a story right from the end of things and intricately weave a thread that connects from the middle to the beginning and then to the end. For a very short story as your introductory paragraph, we will put our foot down here and advice against using this method in telling your story. Even very accomplished authors and writers have been caught in the intricate web they tried to weave and have had to resort to the incongruous Deus ex machina, a situation where the writer attempts to tie the several loose ends of their story with the introduction of, for instance, an angel, Zeus or something spiritual, or something totally unexpected, to try to resolve their story.

2.9 A salvo of questions The whole of the introductory paragraph can consist of questions, questions, questions and questions: each one coming after the other and linked thematically. These are the other reasons why you could ask questions: first, a question is a statement turned inside out. Quirk et all, (1973:24) recognizes that sentences are made up of assertions and non-assertions. Assertions are either positive or declarative, but non-assertions are interrogative and negative. If that is the case then, when we ask questions we are in fact making assertions and the manner we ask the questions, centering them around the subject matter and key items mostly gives a clue to the theme(s) of the essay. Second, we advise that in less obvious a manner as possible, you should answer all of the questions you posed in the first paragraph in the successive ones. What this means is that if you asked three or four questions in the introductory paragraph, the whole of your essay should be something equal to four short paragraphs, providing answers or responses to the questions that you posed in the introductory paragraph. Answering or responding to the questions in the introductory paragraph should not be too difficult a thing to do: simply use any of the methods of starting an introductory paragraph to begin your paragraphs.


The various methods highlighted here as ways to begin an introductory paragraph can also be used to begin paragraphs in the body of the essay. For instance, if the candidate has defined what a spoon is in his introductory paragraph, we do not see why he or she should not ask this question, ‘What really are the uses of the silver spoon?’, to be the topic sentence of his or her second paragraph, and go on to tell a very short story of maybe six lines in the third paragraph as a sketchy method of giving support to his first and second paragraphs. At this point also, we must insist that the student should know what a paragraph is. Over the years, we have found out that many students/candidates have no idea what the paragraph is and what they think it is, is something completely alien to paragraphing. Some say that the paragraph must be this and not that length and if it is not this or that length, it ceases to be a paragraph. For the purposes of definition, let us say that: -

a paragraph is a unit of speech or thought or writing, and it expresses a dominant or lesser idea or thinking.

If that is the case, then we must also bear it in mind that the introductory paragraph is not limited by any space or length. What determines what you say in the introductory paragraph is what you want to say and the style you employ. While we concede that the introductory paragraph must not be unnecessarily long or short, it must not at the same time, be restricted to a number of sentences (as some students say they were ‘reliably’ taught). Therefore, choosing to use any of the openings suggested above, one must be mindful that that method you have chosen can determine the length of your paragraph. SAT/TOEFL questions are constructed in different ways probably based on the premise that no two students are ever alike, and we should like to suggest that they can be answered in the many different ways as well that students and candidates are different.

SAT/TOEFL Essays: Lesson notes questions & Answers  

SAT/TOEFL Essays is a book for any student anywhere interested in writing the TOEFL or SAT or any essay that leads to the award of a scholar...

SAT/TOEFL Essays: Lesson notes questions & Answers  

SAT/TOEFL Essays is a book for any student anywhere interested in writing the TOEFL or SAT or any essay that leads to the award of a scholar...

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