History Source Based Essay Examples

There are two essay prompts at the end of the Praxis Core Writing Exam. The first prompt asks you to write about your personal opinions. The second essay requires you to write about the opinions of others. In this second Source-based essay, you’ll read two passages about the same issue. The passages will be written by different authors who hold conflicting opinions about the issue.

The issues in the Source-based Essay are very similar to the issues raised in the Argumentative Essay. In both cases, you’ll be asked to write about an important social issue that some people may find controversial—something like global warming, copyright restrictions, minimum wage, how to help the homeless, and so on. But unlike the argumentative essay, the source-based essay doesn’t ask for your personal opinion. Instead, you simply need to summarize the opinions of the two passage writers.

Many test-takers find summarization to be a bit easier than coming up with an original opinion. Indeed, the task of choosing and defending an opinion on an important societal issue be intimidating. But summarizing multiple sources poses its own challenges as well. Let’s take a look at what you’ll need to do.


Challenge # 1: Getting the facts right

Unless your essay response doesn’t address the topic at all, there’s no such thing as a completely “right” or “completely “wrong” answer on the Praxis Core essays. However, it is possible to summarize the information from the passages in a way that will be “wrong” in the eyes of the ETS scorers who review your Source-based Essay.

As you summarize both readings, be very careful not to misinterpret what’s being said. A clear misstatement of fact can hurt your score a lot. And a failure to understand or properly restate the opinions in the passages can also cost you dearly.

It’s just as important to make sure that you summarize all of the key facts and arguments. Be aware of how both arguments are constructed, and understand the central ideas and evidence each author uses. Include all important information from the original writings in your source-based essay. Again, leaving something important out will make your summary inaccurate and hurt your score.


Challenge # 2: Create a well-constructed argument

As you look at the heading immediately above, you may be thinking “Hey wait a minute! You said to summarize, not make an argument!” Yes, I know that we’re talking about the Source-based essay now, not the Argumentative Essay. But in the Source-based essay, you still need to put forth an argument… in a sense.

As the Praxis Core Writing Study Companion indicates on pages 35-40, you are expected to put forth an argument in your Source-based essay. But in this case, you don’t need to choose your own argument, as you would in the Core Writing Argumentative Essay. Instead, the argument is chosen for you—the Praxis specifically wants you to assert that the issue covered in the passages in an important one. You will further be expected to claim that there is significant public debate surrounding the issue at hand.

To support the argument that the essay prompt issue is an important matter of public debate, you’ll use information from both passages as evidence. The writers of the passages clearly find the issue important—otherwise they wouldn’t be writing opinionated articles about the issue. Look for author-provided evidence of the subject matter’s importance. Then look at the distinct opinions in each piece of writing. Compare these opinions side-by-side to demonstrate the nature of the controversy surrounding the topic.


Challenge # 3: Be objective

Remember that you’re not putting forth your own opinion on this second Core Writing essay. You’re merely summarizing the opinions of others, as seen in separate opinion pieces on the same topic. The idea here isn’t to side with one opinion or the other. Instead you’ll be expected to write a factual report on the issue from the two passages, taking the perspectives of both authors into account. In other words, you’re writing about a social issue and a debate related to the social issue, rather than actually taking a side within a social issue debate.

Never let your personal opinion distract you from the skills being tested in the Praxis Core Source-based Essay: reading comprehension and summarizations. And be sure to consciously shift gears as you begin this second essay task. Many students unthinkingly stay in “personal opinion mode” as they start to write the source-based essay, because they’ve just finished defending their own opinion the inital argument-based essay prompt on the test.


Challenge # 4: Keep an eye on the quality of your writing

On the Praxis Core, the key “good writing” components of the Argumentative Essay are also essential for a top-scoring Source-based Essay. To score well in this second Praxis Core essay, you need to have a logical progression of ideas that is expressed through error-free writing, just as you would in the first Core Writing Essay prompt.


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Structuring a Source-Based Essay

It is common for inexperienced writers to write a report instead of an essay when using sources. Keep in mind at all times that you are developing your own ideas, arguing your own point – not merely reporting on what others have said.

Remember the process of creating an essay of this nature. We begin with a subject of interest and pose a question concerning it. The goal is to find an answer that we can embrace as true, an action that we can follow – one that we can offer to others also.

Then we set about finding that answer – reading, talking to others, reflecting – until we find the best answer we possibly can. It may not be perfect – nothing is in this fallen world – but we believe it be the most helpful and effective we can find.

And now the task is to articulate that answer, supporting it with the best evidence we have found, for others to consider. We state our answer, our claim, and offer the supporting points in an order that will help our readers to follow easily and, we hope, come to the same conclusion. The example below shows how sources might be used, wherever necessary to build each point. If we merely reported what each source said, we would be repeating the same ideas again and again without any clear order, leaving our readers bored and confused.


I’ve not made the arguments here, but am giving an outline of how the supporting ideas flow from the primary claim, and how the sources are used as needed under each supporting point.  Note how the essay is structured according to the supporting points, and not according to the sources.

Introduction:  establishes the primary claim: We should teach rhetoric in high school because it both helps us to think and teaches us how to articulate the results of our thinking.

I. Define “rhetoric.”

• Aristotle’s Rhetoric

• Corbett’s Classical Rhetoric

II. Rhetoric is a moral art.

• Quintilian’s Institutes part 12

• Corbett’s Classical Rhetoric

III. Rhetoric helps us to think.

• Aristotle’s Rhetoric

• Plato’s “Gorgias”

• Corbett’s Classical Rhetoric

IV. Rhetoric teaches us how to analyze others’ arguments.

• Corbett’s Classical Rhetoric

• Blair’s The Art of Belles Lettres

V. Rhetoric teaches us how to articulate our ideas.

• Cicero’s Rhetoric

• Aristotle’s Rhetoric

• Blair’s The Art of Belles Lettres

• Corbett’s Classical Rhetoric

Conclusion: If we do not cultivate the art of rhetoric, we risk losing our culture to sophistic demagoguery because we will neither be able to analyze others’ arguments nor think out and articulate our own.

Note that the conclusion doesn’t just repeat the primary claim or summarize the essay. Rather, it brings out the significance of the primary claim (controlling idea, thesis). It answers the question readers always have as they come to the end of an essay: “So what?” What are the implications of your conclusions? Why should your audience act on it? What will be the negative consequences of failure to act and the positive consequences of taking action? Inspire your audience to act by showing them why it is important to do so.

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