TSIA2 Essay Guide

You’ve been spending late nights and gone days with little sleep answering hundreds, maybe thousands, of practice multiple choice questions preparing you for the TSIA2 test. You think you’ve got the math portion down pretty well, you’ve nailed down the language arts portion, and you’ve read enough reading passages to know these formats and questions by heart.

But then comes the part where multiple choice doesn’t matter, and where studying sometimes doesn’t come into play. It’s more about how you structure, argue, detail, and lay out a position. It also includes having a strategy and being able to think quickly.

The essay.

Below, we will break down what the TSIA2 essay requires, providing you with some basic information about what to expect, tips to scoring high marks, resources that can help you score well, and sample exemplary essays to review.

What is the TSI Essay?

The essay portion of the TSIA2 will require you to read a short passage on an important and debatable topic. There will then be instructions that include picking a side or point of view and writing a persuasive essay defending your position.

You will be required write approximately 300 to 600 words, scored on the following key areas:

  • Organization/Structure: Your paragraphs should be properly set with an introduction, body paragraphs for each main point, and a conclusion. The paper should flow from one idea to another with transitions connecting points and details.
  • Purpose/Focus: Stay on topic and ensure you’re clearly addressing the issue at hand. Present your information in a unified and coherent way, writing with passion and not deserting your support for your position.
  • Mechanical Conventions: Use proper grammar, punctuation, and capitalization; display mastery of the English language. Common words should be spelled correctly. Many of the things that were included in the writing section of the ELA exam will be included here.
  • Development/Support: Back up your position with evidence and support. Provide examples from the text in your writing and ensure these reinforce your position. Make sure your writing supports your developed thesis statement. Provide clear explanations throughout your writing and include a call to action.
  • Sentence Variety and Style:  Vary your word choice. Write in active voice and use strong action verbs while maintaining a consistent point-of-view.
  • Critical Thinking: Offer logical arguments that are well-presented, well-reasoned, and well-supported. Present your position in a way that is convincing to the average reader. Use valid supporting strategies, including ethos, logos, and pathos techniques.  

The most important thing to remember about the scoring process is that it’s not about what you argue but rather how you argue. The administrators grading your exam are not going to sit there and penalize you if you take a position that’s not a popular one or that disagrees with their view. If this is a concern you have, you can rest assured that won’t be the issue.

Instead, they will grade you on how you make your case. They want to see that you fully understand the topic and are able to successfully make an argument using proper details and evidence.

Keep these grading areas in mind as you write. You will be given a score from 1 to 8, with 8 being the top score. While there is no time limit for your essay, you will be required to complete it as part of the entire TSIA2 examination.

Steps to Writing the Perfect TSIA2 Essay

Take a deep breath and relax. Many students are intimidated by the essay portion, but it’s not as complex as some make it out to be. You just need to know the basics of what the person grading the essay is looking for and then execute that.

Here, we’ve provided you with seven simple steps to writing the perfect essay. Make sure you read these points thoroughly. We also included examples of model essays to look over so you can better see what a perfect paper will look like prior to submitting it.

1. Do Your Due Diligence Ahead of Time

It’s true that you can’t necessarily study for the essay like you can the math and reading portion; however, you can plan, prepare, and even do practice essays. Part of the planning process includes knowing exactly what the administrators grading your essay are looking for. Review the scoring criteria and know the six factors detailed above that will impact your score.

2. Have a Plan on Time and Length

A common complaint from many students writing an essay is they didn’t get a chance to fully write their paper because they ran out of time. One of the reasons for them running out of time is they were writing too much.

Failing to plan is planning to fail.

In terms of length, the essay is required to be 300 to 600 words. Try to keep it within that range. Some students think that they can get extra points for impressing the evaluator with a 1,000-word argument. This is not the case.

Do your best to keep it within the 300 to 600-word limit and have a plan on how long you are going to spend on each portion prior to moving on. For example, if you have 60 minutes left to write your essay, take 10 minutes to read and possibly re-read the prompt, jotting down notes. Then take another 20 minutes to brainstorm and organize, making an outline and taking out key points from the text that you want to include in your paper.

That gives you 30 minutes to fully write the paper. If you properly organize yourself, you can write this in just 20–25 minutes, giving you five minutes to read it over and ensure you have included everything you need.

While it’s impossible to be able to tell how much time you’ll have left to write following the Language Arts and Math section, be prepared for the possibility of not having much time, especially if you’re a slow test taker. The best way to accomplish this is by doing a practice essay. Have a stopwatch and properly plan your time so you don’t get caught off guard if you only have 45 or 60 minutes left to write your essay.

3. Take Notes and Read Closely

Once you are handed the passage, read the article thoroughly. The administrator will provide you with scratch paper; be sure to use it. As you read, highlight important parts and begin dissecting the key parts as you move along. You should start to get an idea of a direction you will go as you go along.

Another important thing to consider is taking a stance that is easiest to argue. It doesn’t always have to necessarily be one you agree with, but if you can make a better case for one side over the other in your paper, it’s best to go in that direction. Again, remember that the evaluator isn’t grading you on what your opinion on an issue is — they only care about how you make your case and the structure you include.

4. Brainstorm

You’ve read the article, maybe twice. You’ve done your highlighting and made some notes as you read. Now you need to brainstorm what you are going to talk about.

This is where the scratch paper they give you takes on even more importance. For many, making a simple outline of how they want the paper to look like is the perfect technique for structuring your paper. This significantly helps you with step three below, which is organizing and structuring your essay.

Don’t start writing until you’ve written all your thoughts down. On the scratch paper, write your main points and make sub-categories providing details to those points. Most importantly, include evidence from your reading in your outline. This also will help you with organizing your paper, as textual evidence is a critical part of scoring well on your essay.

5. Organize Your Essay

Structure and format is key when laying out your position. Don’t overthink it; in fact, just go back to the days when you learned how to write a five-paragraph essay. When making an argument, it’s a very similar organization. The essay doesn’t necessarily have to be five paragraphs (it can be four, as in the example built throughout these steps), but it will need the structure of an introduction, body paragraphs with each main point being a paragraph of its own, and a conclusion that summarizes your main points.

Begin with a hook that draws the reader in. This can be a quote that stands out in what you read, a glaring and passionate statement that garners attention, or even a question. Finish your introduction by setting up the rest of your paper with a thesis statement, which should be one sentence in which you present your stance and the general reasons for defending it. That being said, don’t overthink your introduction. Keep it short and sweet, no more than a few sentences.

From there, split your paper into paragraphs, with each paragraph highlighting a new point. Within those points, be sure to include details. The administrators want to see evidence and see that you properly use passages and examples from the text in your essay. This can’t be stressed enough. If you fail to include textual evidence, you will be penalized. However, if you can illustrate to the administrator that you can argue your point and use examples from the passage to back up your point, you will be rewarded no matter if the person grading the article agrees with your point or not.

Imagine the following is your essay prompt:


“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me. You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” – Walt Disney


“Is a kick in the teeth” really the best thing in the world for you, and can it truly make you a stronger person?

Sample introduction

Sometimes we have to take a step back in order to move two steps forward. Some may think that when we face a “kick in the teeth,” as Walt Disney put it, or are knocked down, it weakens us and we should simply accept defeat and move on with our life. Instead, we should use it as a learning opportunity to elevate ourselves and make us better. When Michael Jordan was left off the varsity basketball team and was recognized as the “second best Jordan” athlete in the family, he didn’t just “shrug it off.” When Abraham Lincoln lost an election and kept getting bad breaks, he didn’t give up. Michael Jordan and Abraham Lincoln are two perfect examples of people who strengthened themselves after “getting a kick in the teeth.”

This introduction sets up the rest of the essay, which will focus on how Michael Jordan and Abraham Lincoln both faced troubles in their life and experienced a setback but overcame those obstacles. The thesis statement – the last sentence of the introduction – leads you right into the rest of the paper.

6. Connect Your Ideas with Transitions

Part of the grading criteria is your paper’s flow, or the proper connecting of ideas from start to end. One way to do this is through transitions. Here are some good transitions to use throughout your paper:

  • Going from point to point (or idea to idea): First, Second, Next, In addition to, Further, Another…
  • Changing directions (counterpointing): However, Even though, While, On the other hand…
  • Beginning conclusion: All in all, Clearly, To summarize, In conclusion…

7. Be All In and All About It!

Do not, and we repeat, DO NOT, be 50/50, 70/30, or even 90/10 on a stance. You are 100% in on your position and you don’t stray from it. The grader wants to see that you are committed to an argument and can fully make the case using textual evidence. In the example above, don’t argue how Michael Jordan was able to make himself stronger from not making the varsity team or overcome his father’s death to better himself, but then say, “However, there have been moments where Jordan got a kick in the teeth and gave in.” Once you’ve solidified your position, you are all in.

On top of that, write with passion. Show that you care about what you’re arguing. Ask questions throughout the article that make the reader think. Use effective ethos, pathos, and logos techniques as you move along from start to finish.

8. Recognize the Opposing View

This is the part that a lot of essay writers struggle with: They don’t acknowledge the other side. You need to know the opposing view’s main points, recognize them, and bring them up. Then, you offer counterpoints to demonstrate why your view is stronger and back it up with details.

This is an important part of winning an argument or debate. It illustrates that you are educated on the topic and have thoroughly considered all sides before taking a stance. By making the other side’s point and effectively countering, you are making a positive impression on the administrator reading your essay, displaying that you properly know how to argue an issue.

Here’s a model body paragraph from the sample above about making yourself stronger from a setback.

Abraham Lincoln faced many obstacles and setbacks growing up, but he never gave in. When he was just 22 years old, he started a business that failed. Instead of settling for something less, he tried to do something where he could influence others and got into politics. However, he lost election after election, trying to run for state representative and the U.S. Senate. But Lincoln persevered, learned from his mistakes, and eventually ran for U.S. President and won after never giving up. Additionally, when he was president, he faced major backlash for his positions on slavery and his unwillingness to compromise with the South’s secession. While a compromise with those in opposition was always an option for Lincoln to take, his previous experiences with failure taught him how to persevere, and thus he was able to achieve more for his legacy and the country than he would have without knowing how to face “a kick in the teeth.” His previous challenges were a key factor in knowing how — and why — to overcome the biggest adversity of his life.

In the bold part, the writer introduces the other side, saying that it was possible for Lincoln to avoid conflict by simply “taking his beating” and give in. However, the writer comes back with a counterpoint, saying that because Lincoln didn’t give in and instead persevered, both he and America became stronger in the long run. This counterpoint shows the value of facing and overcoming adversity in a way that would not be possible without addressing the opposing view.

9. Don’t Overthink the Conclusion

This is where you can take a deep breath because you’re almost done. The conclusion should be the easiest part of your paper and the least time-consuming.

Don’t overanalyze it. This can be 50 words or fewer. Simply summarize your argument and restate your thesis. You have the option of finishing it off with an impactful statement that fully makes the paper come full circle. Maybe it ties back into your hook, which is always a good way to impress the reader. 

Here’s an example of a simple and effective conclusion from the model above on Michael Jordan and Abraham Lincoln becoming stronger from their setbacks:

Clearly, Michael Jordan and Abraham Lincoln became stronger as a result of their failures. Because of their troubles and obstacles, they used a “kick in the teeth” as a learning experience and a way to make themselves stronger. As a result, they became two of the most influential people in history in sports, politics, and leadership. Jordan and Lincoln both took a step or two back, but took giant leaps forward and taught a lot of people a positive and valuable lesson.

10. Read Your Essay Over

Hopefully, you’ll have enough time left over where you can proofread your essay and check for mistakes. First and foremost, make sure your essay fully answers the prompt. Go through each of the grading criteria and ensure you’ve met each key area.

If you have extra time, you can always do little things to improve your paper, like adding stronger word choice in different areas and adding a good call to action at the end of the paper if you haven’t already.

Final Thoughts and Tips

You shouldn’t be afraid of the essay section. Instead, you should be motivated and excited. No more answering questions with a right or wrong answer. No more reading passage after passage trying to figure out what the main idea is. No more dealing with numbers and answering a bunch of questions that other people wrote. Now, you have control. You have the power. With the essay portion, you get to speak your mind, make your argument, and be convincing. It’s always important to attack the essay with confidence; don’t let the essay attack you.

While all of these tips are important, the most important is to truly have a plan. Go into the essay knowing what you need to do and how you need to accomplish it. By doing that, you have already won half the battle. Get a good night’s sleep and write as if your future depends on it, because, in some ways, it does.

Again, do as much preparation as you can. Read as many model essays as possible, and even do some practice essays. It doesn’t hurt even getting into a debate with a friend on a controversial topic, whether it be through an email or in person, where you practice making main points and backing it up with details. This is always a great way to get in the frame of mind of backing up a point or opinion with facts and proper supporting techniques.

Just remember to be confident and have the mentality the you are going to succeed. Best of luck to you!