Preparing for the Issue Task

Since the Issue task is meant to assess the persuasive writing skills you have developed throughout your education, it has been designed neither to require any particular course of study nor to advantage students with a particular type of training.

Many college textbooks on composition offer advice on persuasive writing and argumentation that you might find useful, but even this advice might be more technical and specialized than you need for the Issue task. You will not be expected to know specific critical thinking or writing terms or strategies; instead, you should be able to respond to the specific instructions and use reasons, evidence and examples to support your position on an issue.

Suppose, for instance, that an Issue topic asks you to consider a policy that would require government financial support for art museums and the implications of implementing the policy. If your position is that government should fund art museums, you might support your position by discussing the reasons art is important and explain that government funding would make access to museums available to everyone.

On the other hand, if your position is that government should not support museums, you might point out that art museums are not as deserving of limited governmental funding as are other, more socially important institutions, which would suffer if the policy were implemented. Or, if you are in favor of government funding for art museums only under certain conditions, you might focus on the artistic criteria, cultural concerns or political conditions that you think should determine how, or whether, art museums receive government funds. It is not your position that matters as much as the critical thinking skills you display in developing your position.

An excellent way to prepare for the Issue task is to practice writing on some of the published topics. There is no "best" approach: some people prefer to start practicing without regard to the 30-minute time limit; others prefer to take a "timed test" first and practice within the time limit. Regardless of which approach you take, you should first review the task directions and then follow these steps:

  • Carefully read the claim and the specific instructions and make sure you understand them; if they seem unclear, discuss them with a friend or teacher.
  • Think about the claim and instructions in relation to your own ideas and experiences, to events you have read about or observed and to people you have known; this is the knowledge base from which you will develop compelling reasons and examples in your argument that reinforce, negate or qualify the claim in some way.
  • Decide what position on the issue you want to take and defend.
  • Decide what compelling evidence (reasons and examples) you can use to support your position.

Remember that this is a task in critical thinking and persuasive writing. The most successful responses will explore the complexity of the claim and follow the specific task instructions. As you prepare for the Issue task, you might find it helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What, precisely, is the central issue?
  • What precisely are the instructions asking me to do?
  • Do I agree with all or any part of the claim? Why or why not?
  • Does the claim make certain assumptions? If so, are they reasonable?
  • Is the claim valid only under certain conditions? If so, what are they?
  • Do I need to explain how I interpret certain terms or concepts used in the claim?
  • If I take a certain position on the issue, what reasons support my position?
  • What examples — either real or hypothetical — could I use to illustrate those reasons and advance my point of view? Which examples are most compelling?

Once you have decided on a position to defend, consider the perspectives of others who might not agree with your position. Ask yourself:

  • What reasons might someone use to refute or undermine my position?
  • How should I acknowledge or defend against those views in my essay?

To plan your response, you might want to summarize your position and make notes about how you will support it. When you've done this, look over your notes and decide how you will organize your response. Then write a response developing your position on the issue. Even if you don't write a full response, you should find it helpful to practice with a few of the Issue topics and to sketch out your possible responses.

After you have practiced with some of the topics, try writing responses to some of them within the 30-minute time limit so that you have a good idea of how to use your time in the actual test.

It would probably be helpful to get some feedback on your response from an instructor who teaches critical thinking or writing or to trade essays on the same topic with other students and discuss one another's responses in relation to the scoring guide. Try to determine how each essay meets or misses the criteria for each score point in the guide. Comparing your own response to the scoring guide will help you see how and where to improve.

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