Extended Response Essay Test


They represent a continuum in how much freedom of response is allowed, ranging from restricted-response essays on one end to extended-response essays on the other.

  1. Restricted-response essay
    1. limits content and response to be given
    2. can limit via how narrowly question is phrased (e.g., as specific as a short-answer question)
    3. can limit via scope of the problem posed (e.g., with introduction like that of an interpretive exercise)
    4. therefore, can approach the objectivity of short-answer and interpretive exercises
  2. Extended-response essay
    1. great freedom so that allows problem formulation, organization, originality
    2. therefore, shares similar scoring difficulties with performance-based tasks


Represent a continuum in complexity and breadth of learning outcomes assessed, with interpretive exercises on the left end, restricted-response essays in the middle, and extended-response essays at the right end.

  1. Restricted-response essays
    1. For learning outcomes not readily assessed objectively
    2. Compared to extended-response questions, they target narrower learning outcomes, such as more specific mental processes (e.g., draws valid conclusions)
  2. Extended-response essays
    1. For learning outcomes not readily assessed objectively or with restricted response essays
    2. Compared to restricted-response questions, they assess broader learning outcomes, such as integrating a set of mental processes (e.g., integrates evidence to evaluate a scientific theory)
    3. Compared to interpretive exercises, both kinds of essays can assess more complex learning outcomes
  3. See Table 10.1 on page 240



  1. Measure complex learning outcomes not measured by other means
    1. Restricted-response essays: (i) require students to supply, not just identify, the answer and (ii) can target specific mental skills
    2. Extended-response essays: emphasize integration and application of high-level skills
  2. Can measure writing skills in addition to (or instead of) knowledge and understanding
  3. Easy to construct—but only if you don’t care what you actually measure and how reliably you do so!
  4. Contribute to student learning, directly and indirectly


  1. Unreliability of scoring (unless clear learning outcomes, good scoring rubrics, practice in scoring)
  2. Time-consuming to score—especially if follow guidelines. Can be impossible if conscientious in scoring, give good feedback, and have many students
  3. Limited sampling of content domain



  • To call forth the intended student responses

Suggestions for writing essay questions

  1. Restrict use to learning outcomes that cannot be measured well by objective means (e.g., organization, originality)
  2. Write questions that can call forth the intended mental processes
    1. Easiest to do with restricted-response
    2. See sample stems on pp. 243-244
    3. For extended-response items, helps to state evaluation criteria in the question
    4. Make sure they do not target what has not been taught
  3. Phrase the question so that student’s task is clear and comparable for all
    1. Easiest with restricted response
    2. For extended-response, don’t define the task so tightly that its purpose is spoiled
    3. Rather, give explicit instructions on type of answer desired (e.g., "Your answer should be confined to 100-150 words. It will be evaluated in terms of the appropriateness of the facts and examples presented and the skill with which it is written.")
  4. Indicate approximate time limit for each question
    1. Give plenty of time (should be a power test not a speed test)
    2. Do not create overconcern about time
  5. Avoid optional questions
    1. Giving choices means students taking different tests
    2. They will not study the entire domain
  6. Review checklist on p. 248


The Scoring Problem

  • There is no single correct or best answer to an essay question, so you need guidelines—"rubrics"--for rating the quality of answers.
  • Rubric = a set of guidelines for the application of performance criteria to the responses and performances of students

Tackle it early--before you give the test

  1. Carefully specify your scoring criteria before you finalize the exam
    1. May cause you to rethink or modify the question and its accompanying performance criteria
    2. That, in turn, enhances likelihood of calling forth the intended responses
  2. Do an initial review of answers to a question to find exemplars or anchors for your scoring levels
  3. Make sure you can describe the kinds of performance (e.g., "lists two of the four key points") that qualify for each scoring level ("satisfactory," 2 points, etc.)


  • Enhances reliability, validity, and fairness of scoring
  • Saves you a lot of time and headaches when you score the exam

    You need rubrics!

    • Rubric=guidelines for the application of performance criteria to the responses and performances of students
    • Types

    Rubrics for restricted-response questions

    1. Write exemplar answer(s)
    2. Decide how to give points for each part expected for a full answer
    3. Decide the level of explanation necessary for full vs. partial credit


    rubrics for extended-response questions
    1. Specify the separate characteristics or dimensions you want to score (focus, elaboration, mechanics, etc. for an expository essay)
    2. Assign a series of levels to each characteristic (1-7, poor to excellent, etc.).
    3. Summarize the performance corresponding to each level ("main idea present but may not maintain consistent focus" for "adequate achievement" or 4 points for "focus"—example from table on p. 251)
    4. Result is a matrix against which to judge the elements of each essay
    5. Good for giving feedback to students
    6. See websites for examples (e.g., www.nwrel.org/eval/toolkit/traits/index.html )

    Holistic rubrics for extended-response questions

    1. Provides single overall score, no separate dimensions
    2. Decide how many levels.
    3. Summarize the performance corresponding to each level
    4. Easier to construct and apply than analytical rubrics
    5. May correspond better to grading needs
    6. But provides less feedback to students about strengths and weaknesses



    1. Ease your burden by writing good questions in the first place (OH 4)
    2. Prepare outlines of expected answers in advance
      • Can redesign poor questions
      • Provides common basis for judging all students
      • Standards less likely to shift during grading
    3. Use most appropriate scoring rubric, which depends on purpose
      • Analytical, if focus is on multiple dimensions of performance and giving feedback
      • Holistic, if focus is on overall understanding rather than writing skill
    4. Decide in advance how to handle factors irrelevant to learning outcomes
      • Irrelevant skills (legibility, spelling, etc.)
      • Irrelevant or inaccurate factual information (risky to ignore, so consider warning in advance that will penalize)
    5. Evaluate all responses to one question at a time. Reorder the papers before grading the next question.
      • Maintains more uniform standards for a question
      • Distributes effects of following a good or bad paper
      • Minimizes halo effects
    6. When possible, evaluate without seeing students’ names
    7. Watch out for bluffing
      • Good questions and scoring rubrics can reduce its impact
      • See bluffing strategies on p. 256
    8. If important decisions rest on the results, use several raters
      • Reconcile any big discrepancies
      • Average the scores

    Most of the GED Reasoning Through Language Arts (RLA) exam is multiple-choice, but there is also one “Extended Response” question. This question requires you to write a short essay in response to two passages of text. The passages will present two different viewpoints on a topic. You must read both of the passages and then decide which argument is best supported. Your essay should include evidence from the passages that shows that one of the authors better argues the issue.

    Please note that you are not to write about which opinion is correct or which opinion you believe to be true. You are only asked to analyze each passage and support an argument of which passage best supports its claims. You will have 45 minutes total to read the prompt and the viewpoints given, and to draft your essay.

    Essay Quick Tips

    • Use paragraphs beginning with topic sentences to separate major ideas and to better organize your argument.
    • Utilize logical transition words to seamlessly move from one paragraph to the next.
    • Use correct spelling and proper grammar.
    • Vary your sentence structure and incorporate appropriate, advanced vocabulary words.
    • Stay on topic! Produce an outline prior to beginning your essay to organize your thoughts.

    Essay Scoring

    Your GED essay will be evaluated across three areas:

    • Analysis of Arguments and Use of Evidence.
    • Development of Ideas and Organizational Structure.
    • Clarity and Command of Standard English Conventions.

    The task may seem intimidating, but you more than likely already have these skills! Your essay will receive three scores — one for each of the listed areas.

    Since you have 45 minutes, you must make sure to effectively utilize your time; this is best accomplished by practicing essays under the same 45 minute time limit.

    Writing Guidelines

    Rely upon these timing guidelines as you write your GED essay:

    • PLAN — Spend 10 minutes reading the source material and organizing your essay response.
    • PRODUCE — Spend 30 minutes writing your (ideally) 5-paragraph essay.
    • PROOFREAD — Save 5 minutes for re-reading what you wrote and making necessary changes and improvements.

    Remember, since you are typing your essay on the computer screen, proofreading and editing can be done much more quickly than if you were reading over a handwritten essay! Five minutes may not seem like much, but you should be able to read the entire essay over at least once and correct any obvious spelling or grammatical mistakes.

    Pro-tip: Don’t start writing until you have every paragraph planned out! Outlining your argument is the best method for producing a coherent and cogent response.

    Since the GED RLA extended response is graded by the ACS (Automated Scoring Engine), it is relatively easy to score well if you rely upon a good template from which to organize your essay. Here are a few quick tips regarding clarity to help you score as highly as possible on the GED RLA Extended Response:

    Essay Template

    Paragraph 1 — Introduction

    Start with a 1-sentence general statement regarding the topic. Show that you understand the argument(s) by identifying the topic and its significance, and then presenting a bold and concise thesis statement; this can also be your major claim with regard to the arguments. Consider the following example thesis:

    Though the first argument highlights important considerations regarding (the topic of) ________, ultimately the second argument is better supported and more convincing.

    Paragraphs 2, 3, and 4 — Body Paragraphs

    When you plan your essay, you should devise your thesis (choosing which side you found to be best-supported), and carefully lay out three major reasons why it is best-supported.

    Use specific examples to support your point of view. Pull selections from the argument you are stating is best supported, and explain why they are good supporting examples, or why they make valid points of consideration.

    Each body paragraph should only focus on one major idea, and the 1–2 selections from the passage that support that idea. Try to keep the paragraphs between 4–6 sentences so that they are succinct, direct, and clear. Avoid excessive wordiness; sometimes more is not better!

    Paragraph 5 — Conclusion

    In 2–3 sentences, wrap up your thoughts, reiterating the correctness of your thesis (why the argument you chose is better supported), and perhaps leave the reader with an idea of WHY they should give more consideration to the topic. You can also use the conclusion to offer a degree of concession to the other argument, perhaps admitting that there are one or two good qualities to the other argument, before reiterating that the argument you selected is ultimately better supported and more convincing.

    Finally, don’t worry about choosing the “wrong” side. It doesn’t matter which side you choose, or which argument you choose to say is better-supported, just be sure that you can quote specific examples from the source texts to support your ideas!

    Now, review our sample prompt and practice writing an essay!

    GED Essay Prompt >>

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