The Fundamentals of Critical Reading & Writing
"We are what we pretend to be, therefore we must be careful what we pretend to be." - Kurt Vonnegut

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Reading and Writing: Keys to Unlocking the Secrets of the World!

Keys to Taking a Test: 4 Rules of Thumb

1) Eliminate Answers: Quite often the creators of a test will include an answer that you can tell is wrong.  Try to go through the selection and determine which of the possible answers are wrong.  You will then be left with 2 - 3 possible choices.  Work through those choices and try to narrow down the possibilities.
2) Trust your first instincts: Psychologists have proven that our first instincts are usually correct!
3) Move On!: If you get stuck on one question.... don't spend too much time.  You are wasting time.  Mark the question with a "?" and then move on to the next question.  
4) Come back!:  Once you have finished going through all of the questions go back to the questions that you marked with a "?" go back to those questions and spend some more time with them.  Now that you have finished you will have plenty of time to answer the rest of the questions.  Remember the rules listed above - trust your first instincts and narrow down your possible choices.  Take you time and relax.  A calm mind is a successful mind!

Keys to Interpreting and Comprehending a Reading Selection

1) Review and Analyze the Title & the Table of Contents
The secret to improving your ability to truly comprehend and retain information from a piece of reading or literature lies in the analysis of the Title and Table of Contents.  The "Title" of a particular book is chosen for a reason. The author is attempting to guide the reader towards a main idea or theme.  The key to true reading comprehension lies in determining the theme, and its supporting details, for a given reading selection.  Next, turn to the Table of Contents.  Scan through the entire Table of Contents.  Try to "group" the items or place them within categories.  This process will enable you to have a sense of direction while you are reading the material.  Thus, you will be able to concentrate more on "what is being said" rather than spending energy attempting to figure out where the piece of reading "might" be going.  Over time this process will become more natural.  This will allow for a greater ease of understanding and retaining the key information within the selection.  Thus, the "theme" of the material will become clear.

2) What is the theme of the selection?
Every piece of writing has a main idea or a theme.  The author is attempting to convince the reader, you, of a key point or idea.  As you are  reading a particular piece of literature pay close attention to the facts and details.  Each piece of information is in the selection for a reason.  Attempt to place these facts or pieces of information within groups that can create a clear picture of setting, theme, and tone of the material.  

Steps to Writing A Five Paragraph Essay

1) Identify the "Question": What is it that you are trying to prove in the essay.  Each essay has a point that is being argued or proven.  Think of yourself as a lawyer attempting to convince a jury that your client, in this case the main idea of the essay, is innocent.  In other words - prove your point.  The key a persuasive essay is having a "Question" that is being answered.  This "Question" is often referred to as the mystical "Thesis Statement" or "Theme" of the essay.

2) Create a list of Evidence: Once you have identified your "Question" or "Thesis Statement" you must create a list of possible evidence that can be used to prove your case.  Remember, you are a lawyer trying win a case.  Attempt to create a list of "evidence" or pieces of information - create a list of 5 facts, reasons, or pieces of evidence that can be used to prove your point.  

3) Rank the evidence: A lawyer only wants to present their strongest and most convincing evidence.  The same is true for an author or essay writer.  Take the list of evidence/facts that you just created and rank the items from Strongest (the one that you feel that you can argue the best and write the most about) to the Weakest (the one that you feel least confident about and the one that you can write the least about).

4) Create the Outline: The best part about this step of the process is that the hardest part is already done.  The creation of the outline is quite straightforward.  The first and last sections of the outline are the Introduction and the Conclusion.  The rest of the outline, or the Body paragraphs, are the pieces of evidence that you listed and ranked in steps #2 and #3.  Each piece of evidence must be supported by 3 supporting details or facts.  Also, body paragraph needs to have a "Topic Sentence" or "Main Idea" and a "Transition" sentence.  The Body paragraphs will be arranged in such a manner so that the weakest argument is first and the strongest argument is last.  This will allow you to build up your argument in a convincing manner.  This will also provide structure for your essay and make it easier for the reader to follow and comprehend.  The easier an essay is to read the more convincing it is and thus the better grade it will receive!!!

The Introduction: Why do we write it?

1) To get the reader's attention!
2) To let the reader know what you are going to discuss in your essay
3) Provide examples of what you are going to discuss in the body of your essay
4) Provide info, just enough info, so the reader will want to continue reading the rest of the essay
5) Tell the reader the theme of your essay
6) Lure the reader into the essay with a "hook"
7) Provide a preview of the main ideas of your essay

The Conclusion: Why it is the most important part of your essay!

1) The conclusion wraps up, or summarizes, the content of your essay
2) Provides a summary of the main ideas of your essay
3) The conclusion ties up all of the main ideas that are related to the theme or "thesis" of your essay.  
4) The conclusion is where you add 1 new point or piece of evidence that has not been previously introduced.  This new piece of evidence or fact is something that is persuasive or "moving".  It will convince the reader that you, or your theme, is correct!

Sample Outline
I) Introduction:
        a) Theme/Thesis Statement/Question:
        b) list the pieces of evidence in the following order #1, #2, then #3
        c) Transition sentence

II) Body Paragraph #1: Fact, Evidence, Idea Ranked #3
        a) opening sentence or topic sentence
        b) supporting detail #1
        c) supporting detail #2
        d) supporting detail #3
        e) transition sentence

III) Body Paragraph #2: Fact, Evidence, Idea Ranked #2
        a) opening sentence or topic sentence
        b) supporting detail #1
        c) supporting detail #2
        d) supporting detail #3
        e) transition sentence

IV) Body Paragraph #3: Fact, Evidence, Idea Ranked #1
        a) opening sentence or topic sentence
        b) supporting detail #1
        c) supporting detail #2
        d) supporting detail #3
        e) transition sentence

V) Conclusion:
a) re-state your thesis or main idea
b) add one more persuasive point or idea to convince the reader that you are correct.  Remember, you are a lawyer and you are trying to win the case.  What is the one thing you could say to win your argument and help your client win the case.

Sample Essay: Should 16 year olds be allowed to vote?

I) Introduction:
        Thesis/Theme: The vote empowers all humans to be responsible and productive citizens of the United States

II) Topic#1: Formal Operations
        a) possess abstract thought = complete sentence
        b) ability to handle unique situations & new info = complete sentence
        c) some thought process as adults = complete sentence

III) Topic #2: Drive a Car
        a) Driving is a serious responsibility = complete sentence
        b) other people place their lives in your hands = complete sentence
        c) entrusted with a deadly machine = complete sentence

IV) Topic #3: Pay Taxes
        a) work like an adult = complete sentence
        b) pay for programs and services like an adult = complete sentence
        c) colonists fought a war over this, taxation without representation = complete sentence

V) Conclusion
        a) Summarize the main ideas in the same order you wrote about them (3 - 2 - 1)
        b) 1 New Idea: The government treats children like adults.  They are tried for crimes like an adult, they pay taxes like an adult, and they follow laws like an adult.  Yet, the government does not provide them with the most basic adult repsonsibility - the right to vote!

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 Last Modified: 17 August,2008