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Essay Composition Lesson 1 How to Write a Top Notch First Draft Essay


1. The Three Tasks

2. Classifications of Prompts

3. Strategies (Have a Formula for the Outline and Essay Before You Read the MCAT Prompt)

4. Brain Storming and Outlining

5. Good Examples and Quotes

6. Writing the Essay

Classifying the Prompts Exercise: (using AAMC Prompts)

For the following six prompts, develop general categories into which they fit. You may wish to think in terms of categories such as business, politics, and other. It is beneficial to establish categories, so that you can develop some pre-fabricated examples and quotes, to access and use during your MCA T.

"The press should be held accountable for presenting both sides of every issue." "Formal education is the best form of education."

"There are as many versions of history as there are historians. II

"A landowner should be free to do with their land as they wish." "The advent of the computer has lead to the demise of social skills." "In business, old methods are better than neW methods."

Brainstorming and Outlining Exercise using AAMC Prompts :


For the following three prompts, you should determine the key words, defining any that can establish

semantics. Once doing this, list one pro example and two can examples. Lastly, list a one-sentence guideline as to the validity of the prompt (in essence, give a rule to determine whether it is valid or invalid in a given situation).

"Advertising, although it claims to promote individuality, actually promotes conformity."

"Boundaries are defined by economics, not politics."

"The safety of a group should take precedence over the freedom of individuals ...

Collecting Good Ideas Exercise (using Class Input):

In conjunction with other students in class, list some good ideas and quotes for political prompts, good versus evil prompts, and business prompts. This shodld be the start of an ongoing list you continue to develop on your own, As you near the MCAT, you want to review and edit your list, so that it is multipurposed and easily recalled.

Baseline Essay Assessment; (using a Prompt from the AAMC Website)

Using the prompt below, write a thirty-minute essay. It will be graded and returned the next lecture.

"In politics, the popular decision is often the best decision."

1 )


The Writing Sample

Why is the AAMC asking for a writing sample? They say, it is to judge your ability to communicate. They use it to analyze your ability to acquire information, critically evaluate it, and respond in a logical manner within a time limit. The writing sample balances out the science aspects when evaluating your thinking process.

What do you need to do? According to the AAMC student manual, you must develop a central idea, present ideas cohesively and logically, and write clearly, observing the accepted practices of grammar, syntax, punctuation, and spelling consistent with a timed, first-draft essay.

What is the format and scoring? You will be given a prompt, followed by thirty minutes to respond to that prompt in writing. There will be two essays total,each allotted thirty minutes maximum. Each essay is graded by two independent graders on a scale of one (1) to six (6). In the event that they disagree by more than two points, a third grader will evaluate your work. Your essay score is an average of the two grader's scores. The score you get back on your report form is converted from these numerical values. Because you wi !I write two essays, your score on a numerical grid is from two (2) to twelve (12).. The numbers are converted into a letter scoring system from J through-T, An 0 is typically the mean score .. The letters are distributed in a manner that assumes a bell-shaped curve.

What does it take to get a 6? To receive a six, the highest score, you must present a good, solid argument. There must be clarity in your ideas and focus in your presentation. You must use interesting, eye-catching examples. Y ou must address all three tasks thoroughly. You must show facility with the language. Y ou must write a substantia.lly long essay.

What can you do to prepare for the essay? To prepare for the essay, your thinking skills need to be honed in. The writing portion is formula-based for the most part. You should have a skeleton of what YOll will be writing, adding in your ideas where they fit into the context of the essay. You should practice writing timed essays with a pen and paper, you should practice writing three-minute outlines with a pen and paper, and you should practice outlines in your head. Be able to think of two pro and con examples for any argument you hear. Some good sources for stimuli are talk radio, newspapers (especially the opinions section), and selected magazines.

What should you do in your essay? Use a black ink pen! Use quotes whenever applicable. For some reason, when you use someone else's words to support your ideas, it receives more credibility from the readers of this world. Know your audience, and write with them in mind. Use multiple examples through nut your essay. Keep the goal of your essay in the back of your mind at all times (complete the three tasks). Be organized in your presentation. Use your outline as an anchor as you write. Know exactly how many paragraphs you can complete in the allotted time, and write a completed essay.

What should you avoid in your essay? Do not attempt to prove anything right or wrong. Do not take a stance, simply provide examples and perspective. The MeAT essay is not a persuasive essay. Do not fabricate facts, examples, or information. Do not be too sarcastic, as you never know who you may offend. Do not single out any specific group with your example, unless the topic absolutely requires it.

What are some of the previous prompts? Perhaps not verbatim, the following is a compilation of selected prompts from prior MeAT exams. They have not recycled essay prompts since the inception of the essay.

"The press should be held accountable for presenting both sides of every issue." "Formal education is the best form of education."

"There are as many versions of history as there are historians." "A landowner should be free to do with their land as they wish."

"Advertising, although it claims to promote individuality, actually promotes conformity." "Boundaries are defined by economics, not politics."

"In business, old methods are better."

"In politics, the popular decision is often the best decision." "Old ideas will always replace new ideas."

The Perspective: All prompts will essentially come down to a political-economic issue or a philosophical issue. For the political-economic issues, the questions you must often address are, "what is just for all and what is best for society?" For the philosophical issues, the questions you must often address are, "does it work for the betterment of society and is more good done than harm?" Other questions that are common in philosophical debates are "does good prevail over evil and does teamwork lead to a better solution than independence?" If you can address these questions when you think of examples, you will be in great shape.

The Outline: With each prompt, you should spend about three minutes outlining your ideas, This will give you a foundation from which to build as your write your essay. In your outline, you should accomplish the

following objectives: _ _

1. Define two to three key words in the prompt

2. Think of one supportive example for the prompt

3. Think of two counterexamples for the prompt.

4. Determine the key issue that determines the validity of the prompt.

The Formula: For each essay, you have three objectives to accomplish, therefore you should have the layout of you essay pre-formatted. The following is a general approach that has met with success: .~

Paragraph 1. Deftne the key words in the prompt and then define the prompt.

Paragraph 2. Give a pro example of the quote and end the second paragraph with a transition sentence. Paragraph 3. Present first counterexample, including any facts or quotes.

Paragraph 4. Present second,_more unique, counterexample.

Paragraph 5. Present the criteria needed to assess whether the prompt is valid or invalid in any situation.

Your essays should include sentences like:

End of PI: "The statement articulates the idea that _

Start of P3: "At times, the statement, , may be shown to be true; however, there are also

instances which indicate otherwise."

Start of P5: "Several criteria must be considered when assessing the va1idity of the statement. .. "

You should not be stressed about the MCAT essays. No matter what type of writer you may think you are, the MCAT essay does not judge you as harshly as you judge yourself. There is a true tale of test-taker who had received grades that put him in the bottom fifty percent of the students in his writing classes at UCSD. This same test-raker scored in the top 0.1 % (Top 22 out of 22,000 test-takers). This was a reflection not of his writing prowess, but more so his organization and ability to think quickly. Organization is the result of entering the exam with a game plan of what you will write. The formula you are being presented here, is the same formula employed by this mystery test-taker. Use itll!

An understanding of the past is necessary for solving the problems of the future.


The people of this V>.'OFld today can trace their histories ba_ck thousands of years. Man has progressed from cave dweller to today's modern city goer. Often times, by understanding the events that have transcribed in the past, a person can better understand the situation that currently faces them. This understanding stems from more than just what happened. It stems from knowing why events took place and how they influenced others. Only with this knowledge can adequate the past be used to understand the present. One example of this comes from the conditions imposed on Germany following both World War I and World War II. After World War I, severe restrictions were placed on Germany,


which helped contribute to German economic decline. The depression that ensued made it very easy for people like Hitler to take power because the people were desparate. Following World War II, the Allies were careful to make the terms of surrender strict, but not to harsh that

15 they would precipatate later retaliation. Perhaps the clearest example of this comes from the legal system, primarily the US Supreme Court. The Court has to consider new cases and see if they have value based on the precedents set by earlier judges. Thus, the knowledge of what past judges have said, and why they said if, helps current justices resolve

20 current cases.

Although an understanding of the events and forces of the past can help undo the understanding of current situations, some dilemmas have n? precedent. If the situation is unlike any previous problem, then oAly the no reference to the past can be used. An excellent example of

25 this is seen in the global response to the United States' use of the atomic bomb against Japan in World War II. Military capabilities of that magnitude had not been seen before, so the global response could only be based on the event, and its possible consequences. Another example of a situation without a precedent comes from the internet of today. The

30 internet makes it very easy for an individual to get access to anything they want from almost anywhere in the world. One problem that has arisen has been the question of how to regulate what children can get access to. Since a child can turn on a television computer, and keep his/her identity a secret, this makes regulation very difficult. Elected officials are

35 still trying to resolve how exactly to achieve this goal because there is no precedent for this problem.

When analyzing whether an understanding of the past is necessary for solving current problems, some criteria need to be considered. When a current situation has a historical precedent. the statement is true. This

40 was seen in the Allied terms of surrender given to Germany following World War II based on what happened after WWI. It was also seen in how the Supreme Court considers its cases. When there is no precedent, however, only the current situation can be considered in dealing with the problem. Following the use of the atomic bomb by the United states, the

45 countries of the world had to consider what to do with the potential the bomb brought. Modern politicians also have fa deal with the potential of the internet because nothing like it has ever been seen before. Thus, when considering the statement, the presence of a historical precedent is necessary in making the statement valid or invalid.

Explanation of the Essay

In the above essay, the author started off by introducing the prompt and expla.ining a little bit about man. For the first eight lines, the author is introducing

Copyright © by The Berkeley Review


The Berkeley Review Specializing in MeAT Preparation

the prompt, which is key to showing what the prompt means to you. From lines 8 through 15, the author discusses the example of Germany following World War I and World War II. Lines 15 through 20 are the example of the Supreme Court, but what is key about this example is the way it is tied back to the prompt. The author uses the words of the prompt to show how the Supreme Court example fits. This is crucial because when you explain your examples you must be sure to explain them in terms of the prompt.

For the opposing examples, the author starts off with a transition that contradicts the prompt. Lines 24-28 give the example of the atomic bomb, and how it has a lack of precedent. Lines 28-36 deal with the example of the internet, and again a lack of precedent is mentioned.

For the third paragraph. the author begins by explaining that a criterion needs to be considered when deciding if the prompt is true or not. This is a bit too formulaic. It would have been better to say that obviously there are times when the prompt is true and when it is not. What then is the deciding factor? The author's criterion is the presence or lack of a historical precedent. After stating that. the author then shows how it applies to the examples given. This is key to wrapping up the essay, and explaining the criterion.

Essay Score

The above essay would have received a score of 5 to 5-6 on the essay.

Everything was in place, and well done, but it was a bit too formulaic at times, and some of the examples could have been expiained better. On the whole. it is a very good essay.

Essay No-No'5

When writing the essay, there are certain things you should not do. Four of the most common are:

Do not take a stance.

Your do not want to offend anyone, and the prompt requires that you explain both sides.

Do not make things up.

Just go with what you know. The person reading your essay might know what you are talking about. so don't fabricate.

Do not be sarcastic.

In general, it's best to avoid pissing people off.

Do not single out any group.

Again, you never know who will be reading your essay.

Copyright © by The Berkeley Review


The Berkeley Review Specializing in MeAT Preparation


Prompt Categories

The 300 possible prompts for this year's MCAT fall into 16 general categories which are listed below:

Political (56 prompts) Education {28) Society (24)

Business (23)

Laws (22) Democracy (16) Government (14) Individual (14)

National (12) Media (11) Technology (l 1 ) History (9) Leadership 17l Science (4)

Arts 12J

Culture (2)

Many of the above categories would have more prompts, but the prompts would have fallen into one or two other categories. If you know that you don't know much about art, you don't have to worry about it too much, but if you don't know much about politics, you might be in trouble.

Essay Practice

When you practice for the essay, it isn't necessary to write an essay for each prompt. Instead, it would be a much better use of your time to simply spend five minutes outlining an essay. Think of which examples you would use, both pro and can, and what your criterion would be. If you find that coming up with exornples is your weakest area, you might want to try looking at the following website, for some assistance. It is Time's 100 most influential people of the century, and can be found here:

Occasionally, in the course of outlining prompts, you might want to write an essay, just to keep in practice. Otherwise, follow the above guidelines, and you will be in great shape for the essay portion of the test.

Copyright © by The Berkeley Review


Tbe Berkeley Review Specializing in MCAT Preparation

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