Cracking the Writing Section of the Compass

Instructor: Ms. Becky Villarreal

Format of a Persuasive Essay | Writing Prompts | Lectures

If you want to meet with Becky Villarreal in the Cypress Creek Learning Lab for help with the writing section, please email her first at

Click here to view her hours in the Learning Lab.

Obtain a blue Assessment Referral form from the Assessments Center (CYP 2116) before coming to the Learning Lab. Contact Assessment at Cypress at 512.223.2020.

Multiple Choice Section

The Writing Skills Test determines whether a student has the skills and knowledge to succeed in the college-level composition course. Students are given 1-4 passages in which they are required to identify errors and then to correctly select an appropriate revision. Students will highlight sentences with the computer mouse and then select the appropriate revision. The passage errors assess sentence structure, grammar and usage, and punctuation. Some of the more common errors deal with comma splices, fragments, agreement, word choice, coordination, subordination, and usage. A final set of questions measures a student’s organizational and rhetorical skills (for example, topic sentences, transitions, etc.).

You will be presented with a split screen--the passage will be on the left and the question will be on the right. Using your mouse, you will highlight each sentence, then choose the best option for editing that sentence (or not). After you click Finished Editing, you cannot return to the passage.

Click here to see a sample split screen.

Click here to complete sample passages.

Click here for Compass Writing Interface; Interface Powerpoint


The Writing Sample

Students are given approximately 75 minutes to complete the writing sample. The prompt will require students to write a persuasive letter, using between 300-600 words-- if you write less than 300 words or more than 600, you will lose points.

The following characteristics are considered in scoring the writing samples:

  • Appropriateness—the extent to which the student addresses the topic and uses language appropriate to the audience and purpose.
  • Unity and Focus—the clarity with which the student states and maintains a main idea or point of view.
  • Development—the supporting detail the student provides.
  • Organization—the clarity and logic of the student's writing.
  • Sentence Structure—the extent to which the student's writing is free of errors in sentence structure.
  • Usage—the extent to which the student's writing is free of errors in usage and shows care and precision in word choice.
  • Mechanical —the student's ability to spell common words and use correct capitalization, grammar, and punctuation.

Click here for the Compass Writing Module.


Your test scores determine which course you are to be placed in:

  • A Writing score of 6 or more (and any objective score) requires no developmental writing
  • An objective score of 44-58, with a Writing score of 5, places you in Writing Skills II
  • An objective score of 0-43, with a Writing score of 5, or a Writing Score of 4 (and any objective score) places you in Writing Skills I
  • A Writing score of 2 or 3 (and any objective score) places you in Fundamentals of Writing
  • A Writing score of less than 2 requires that you take a developmental reading course before starting Writing courses (see counselor)

Helpful Hints

  • Write a five-paragraph essay of about 400 words
  • Double space between paragraphs
  • Include a strong thesis statement in your introduction (the last sentence)
  • Begin each body paragraph with a topic sentence that supports your thesis
  • Give at least two examples for each body paragraph for support--you can even make up stories and statistics
  • Reiterate your thesis in the conclusion
  • Don't worry about writing the essay like a letter--no greetings or closings are necessary
  • Don't worry about the audience--just be sure to write using formal, not casual, language
  • Use key words from the prompt
  • Proofread Proofread Proofread

Format of the Persuasive Essay

Click here for an example of the typical essay prompt for the Compass

Click here for a sample persuasive essay with some helpful tips

In the typical five paragraph essay, there is a specific format to be followed:

I. Introduction

II. Body Paragraph One

III. Body Paragraph Two

IV. Body Paragraph Three

V. Conclusion

For example, the prompt may ask you to write a letter to the school board about whether or not funding for the fine arts programs should be a priority in the public schools.

When taking the Compass test, you will have to take a position. A good idea is to start with a pro-con list (using your scratch paper).

Continue the funding of fine arts
Stop the funding of fine arts

1. Fine arts programs provide a creative outlet for students

1. Fine arts programs are too expensive

2. Studying art, drama, and music builds confidence in students

2. Students need to focus on the basics: English, math, and science

3. Students who are not athletic need extracurricular activities too

Now that you have brainstormed, it's time to choose a position. In this case, let's choose to support funding of the fine arts. Therefore, our thesis statement should say something like this:

Funding for the arts should be provided in public schools.

Once you have a thesis, you can put together your outline using the pro-con list above:

I. Introduction--identify controversy (the lack of funds for the fine arts)
  • Thesis statement: Funding for the arts should be provided in public schools.

II. Body Paragraph One--the arts provide a creative outlet

  • Students need a break from tedious core classes
  • Creativity can help students discover who they are

III. Body Paragraph Two--the arts build confidence

  • Students who are bullied will have a chance to shine
  • Classes like music and drama will help develop presentation skills

IV. Body Paragraph Three--the arts give non-athletic students a chance to participate in school activities

  • A lot of famous actors and musicians were inspired by the arts

V. Conclusion--reiterate thesis and bring paper to a close

Once your outline is solidified, you can draft your paper. Be sure to indent or double space when beginning each new paragraph.


In a persuasive essay, the introduction must:

  • Identify the controversy.
  • Present the other side briefly and quickly come back to your position (optional)
  • Close the paragraph with your thesis statement, taking a strong position on the issue.

This introduction is taken from Dr. Nancy Allen's The Writer's Handbook:

The decision to eliminate or to keep funding for the fine arts programs in the public schools presents the school board the opportunity to do what is best for the students. Whatever the school board's decision, it will have a significant impact on the students' lives. The citizens and students who support eliminating the fine arts funding have some convincing arguments, including the recent reduction in state funds. However, programs such as drama, music, and art provide many benefits to the students. Funding should, therefore, be provided for the fine arts programs. (Note that the last sentence states the thesis of the paper.)

Body Paragraphs

In the body of the essay, the writer uses specific evidence, examples, and personal opinions to persuade the reader that the stated position is a valid one. Each sentence must closely relate to the topic and the sentence that came before it. This way, the logic of the argument is easy to follow. Be sure to use adequate transitions as they make it easy for the reader to follow the logic of the presentation.

  • The purpose of these paragraph(s) is to defend the thesis statement.
  • Each body paragraph should open with a topic sentence that supports the thesis.
    • For example: One reason the school board should support the funding of the arts is because it provides students with a creative outlet.
  • Use examples to support the main point of each body paragraph. For the first paragraph in this paper, you should discuss why it's important for students to express their creativity.
    • For example: By expressing themselves through the arts, students are able to release their emotions and feelings in a more positive atmosphere.

Once you have drafted all three body paragraphs, you can write the conclusion of your paper.


A good conclusion leaves readers satisfied that a full discussion has taken place. Remember, this is the last chance to remind the reader and convince him/her to accept the writer's position.

Varieties of Conclusions

  • Conclusions presenting a summary
  • Conclusions presenting a final generalization.
  • Conclusions presenting a striking example.
  • Conclusions presenting a forecast.

Below are some examples of conclusions for a variety of topics.

Conclusions presenting a parting question:

Without a doubt, the present faculty disciplinary committee should be replaced by a student court. An overwhelming majority of the students favor such a change. Why, then, are the officials of this school reluctant to take action? Are they unaware of the advantages of a student-court system? Or are they simply indifferent to student opinion?

Conclusions presenting a call to action:

Since the officials of this school seem reluctant to replace the current system, we will simply have to try to make them understand the advantages of a student-court system. So let’s form a committee of concerned students to meet with the faculty--and, if necessary, with the dean and president as well. We have a right to be heard.

Revising your Paper

When you have finished drafting your essay (your introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion), you may begin the revising/editing process. Before editing the specific details of your essays, you must edit the content or make global revisions. Once the content of your essay is in place, you can revise for grammar, punctuation, and style, or make specific revisions.

Global Revisions

When making global revisions, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the thesis sentence clearly stated or implied in the introduction?
  • Can you, if asked, offer a one-sentence explanation or summary of what the paper is about?
  • Does your thesis contain the main idea of the paper?
  • Is the thesis supported in the body of the paper?
  • Is there an introduction, body, and conclusion?
  • Do you have an appropriate audience in mind?
  • Does the introduction capture the reader's attention, provide any necessary background information or definitions, and gradually lead up to the main idea of the paper?
  • Does the organization make sense?
  • Does the paper progress in an organized, logical way?
  • Have you effectively utilized transitions to connect sentences and paragraphs?
  • Is each main point represented by a topic sentence (stated or implied) at the beginning of each body paragraph?
  • Do the topic sentences relate to your thesis?
  • Are the main points of your essay fully developed?
  • Are there places in the paper where more details, examples, or specifics are needed?
  • Does the paper as a whole flow? Does it seem complete?
  • How can this paper be improved?

Specific Revisions

After the content of your paper has been modified, you can begin to edit the specific details. When making specific revisions, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you varied sentence structure, rhythm, and length?
  • Have you corrected all comma splices, fragments, or fused (run-on) sentences?
  • Have you avoided the passive voice? For example, instead of saying, "The ham was eaten by Sally," you should say, "Sally ate the ham."
  • Do the sentences agree in subject and verb? By pronoun and antecedent?
  • Have you avoided awkward sentence constructions and verb tense shifts?
  • Have you correctly used commas, semicolons, dashes, apostrophes, etc.?
  • Are your word choices clear, effective, and concise?
  • Are all the words spelled correctly?

Underline anything that sounds unusual or awkward. Go back and look at each of the sentences you have underlined and see how you can reword them to make them sound clearer.


Below are some sample writing prompts, similar to those used on the TAKS Test. The only way to get better at writing is to write more, so choose a prompt and try it out. Remember to choose a side and prove your point. Don't forget to use multiple paragraphs, an introductory paragraph, some paragraphs in the body of the paper, and a concluding paragraph. If you have signed up for the Continuing Ed course, you will need to use one of the prompts below to write the practice persuasive essay.

  • Service learning is the new buzzword on college and university campuses across the country. Some people believe that students should be required to perform community service for course credit before graduating, stating that service learning will help not only the student performing the community service, but also the community in general. Others believe that colleges and universities are not appropriate forums in which this should occur, or that it should be a voluntary action on the students' part. In an essay to be read by the president of a university, argue for or against required community service for course credit before graduation. Your purpose is to convince the reader that service learning should, or should not, be required.
  • There is some controversy surrounding the use of animals for testing purposes. Supporters of this issue believe that many discoveries beneficial to humanity have resulted from the testing of animals. Opponents argue that it is inhumane to use animals for testing purposes and note that often the tests performed on animals are for reasons not directly related to the well being of humanity. In an essay to be read by your peers, argue for or against using animals for laboratory testing. Your purpose for writing is to persuade your readers to agree with your point of view.
  • People have different opinions about whether or not the legal drinking age should be lowered to 18 years, as it once was. Those who support this issue argue that a person is old enough to vote and go to war, so surely he/she is old enough to drink alcoholic beverages. Opponents believe that if the drinking age were lowered to 18, car accidents and deaths would increase, as would other social problems. In an essay to be read by a government professor, argue for or against lowering the legal drinking age to 18, as it once was. Your purpose in writing is to persuade your reader that your view is correct.
  • Curriculum issues in public schools are on the rise. One issue that is being discussed regards whether or not physical education courses should be required in high schools. Proponents believe that Americans, in general, are not physically fit, and high school is a vehicle through which good health habits can be fostered. Opponents argue that there is not enough time in the day to teach all the material that must be taught, and physical education classes take up valuable time that could be used for teaching other subjects. In an essay to be read by a dean of instruction, argue for or against requiring physical education courses in high school. Your purpose in writing is to convince your reader that physical education courses should or should not be required for high school students.
  • People have different opinions about whether or not a woman should be elected as President of the United States of America. Write a persuasive essay, to be read by a government instructor, in which you give reasons to support your position. Include examples to help convince your reader that a woman should, or should not, be elected President. Your purpose in writing is to persuade your reader that your view is accurate and should be followed.
  • Many people in America do not have adequate health care benefits. Insurance policies and health care should be provided for the masses free of charge, as it is in some countries. Others believe that if we were to offer free health care, the quality of the services would decline, as doctors and others in the field would be overworked and underpaid. In an essay to be read by premed students, argue for or against free health care in America. Your purpose in writing is to persuade your readers to agree with your point of view.
  • There is some controversy over whether or not American students should be required to take foreign language classes in school. Some believe that English will be the universal language, so the need for Americans to learn foreign languages is wasted time that could be spent on other material that needs to be taught and learned. Others argue that knowing more than one language will be necessary for economic survival in the near future. In an essay to be read by foreign language instructors, argue for or against requiring students to take foreign language classes. Your purpose is to persuade your reader to agree with you.  

Writing Lectures

ACC Developmental Writing Website

Compass Objective Practice

Grammar Lecture

Grammar Tutorials

ACT Writing Practice 1

ACT Writing Practice 2

Structure of an Essay

TAKS Writing Practice

Sample of Writing Compass Test

Reviewing Punctuation Marks

Independent and Dependent Clauses

Paragraph Development

Common Spelling Errors


More Compass Writing Pointers

Compass Prep Syllabus |  The Reading Section | The Math Section | Blackboard

Created by Becky Villarreal Austin Community College 2000